Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Protecting Sumatra's peat lands vital for saving the environment

Jonathan Woodliff in the Jakarta Post: With only 19 days to go before the critical UN climate summit in Copenhagen, environmental activists are right to be highlighting Indonesia's unenviable position as one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. There is no doubt that long term abuse and mismanagement of the nation's forests is the main cause, which is why Greenpeace set up a "Climate Defenders Camp" on the Kampar Peninsula in Central Sumatra three weeks ago.

Burgeoning population pressures, rampant illegal logging and widespread forest fires release millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is significantly contributing to the global warming crisis.

When I first flew over the Kampar Peninsula in Riau province eight years ago, massive swathes of natural forest had clearly been destroyed. A complex network of canals had been chiseled out to provide access for illegal loggers. Most of the forest closest to the surrounding water had disappeared, and there was much evidence of devastating slash-and-burn farming. It looked like a free-for-all haven for encroachment, where anyone could take what they wanted, turning the area into a desolate and barren wasteland.

In addition to being home to endangered animal species such as the Sumatran tiger, the clouded leopard and Wallace's hawk eagle, as well as to many local communities who depend on the forest for their livelihoods, this peninsula is one of the largest remaining peat swamps on the planet.

Peat lands play a major role in regulating global climate, acting as "carbon sinks", storing more carbon dioxide per unit area than any other ecosystem. Their protection is absolutely vital if irreversible climate change is to be averted….

A 1556 map of Sumatra

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