Deforestation Must Stop to Curb CO2 Emissions
Source: European Commission, Environment DGPublished May 30, 2008
Clearing tropical forests and peat swamps has a significant environmental impact, in particular on climate change.
Sumatra in Indonesia is one region that serves as an example of how forest clearance can contribute to carbon dioxide emissions and loss of biodiversity, according to a new report. Around 20 per cent of the world's CO2 emissions are caused by deforestation, often in countries like Indonesia and Brazil with rich biodiversity.
Indonesia is one of the world's largest carbon emitters. Between 1990 and 2007, the estimated total emissions from the Indonesian province of Riau were 3.66 Gt of CO2, including emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and decomposition and peat burning.
Carbon sequestered by the acacia and palm oil plantations that replaced much of the forest was estimated to be 0.24 Gt CO2. The average annual CO2 emissions from deforestation in Riau Province between 1990 and 2007 was equivalent to 79 per cent of Indonesia's total annual emissions from the energy sector in 2004.
In Riau Province in Sumatra, 4.2 million hectares (around two thirds) of tropical forests and peat swamp have been cleared in the last 25 years. Riau's deforestation is driven by large pulp and paper companies, as well as a number of palm oil companies. The harvested wood from the forests is used in pulp mills.
Around a quarter of the forest has been replaced with industrial pulpwood plantations, with about a third of the cleared land now used for industrial oil palm plantations. The remainder has been left as wasteland or is now covered by various smaller scale land uses.
Riau's biodiversity rich non-peatland forest, home to the endangered Sumatran elephant, has almost all been cleared with the exception of small blocks of protected forests.
The industry has now turned to clear natural forests on Riau's vast peat lands that are estimated to hold Southeast Asia's largest store of carbon and contain key habitats for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger. Sumatra is the only place on Earth where elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinoceroses co-exist, but in Riau, Sumatran elephants and tigers are disappearing faster than their forests and may become locally extinct in a few years' time if deforestation continues.
The report calls on both the Indonesian government and industry to create incentives to prevent all further deforestation and forest degradation on peat lands, using mechanisms to encourage commercialization of environmental services, such as avoiding deforestation, water and soil protection and biodiversity conservation.
The report also suggests that all remaining unprotected peatland forest and other forests with high conservation values should be declared as nationally controlled protected areas and that new pulpwood or oil palm plantations only be established on existing wasteland on non peat soil. Global consumption of pulp and paper and palm oil is the underlying cause behind Riau's deforestation, the report concludes.
Market forces may help prevent further forest destruction through carbon trading schemes that would benefit the local economy and outweigh incentives for further industrial development of the land.