Why is Indonesia’s peatland so important?
Indonesia has the world’s second largest area of tropical peatland, but the expansion of oil palm and acacia plantations, as well as intensive logging, has degraded and drained much of this land.
This degradation creates dangerous, dry peat conditions. Large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere as the peat erodes and especially if it catches fire, which is becoming more common with climate change.
Peat is partially decomposed, accumulated plant matter which, when it was growing, absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere. It is estimated that Indonesia’s peatland stores a total of around 28 gigatons: 30% more carbon than is embodied in the biomass of all the country’s forests. Indonesian peat swamps capture 0.2 to 0.7 tons of carbon per acre per year (0.5 to 1.5 metric tons per hectare per year), annually accumulating up to 2 mm in depth. Some peat deposits are 49 feet (15 meters) thick.
But peatland is very fragile. In areas degraded by forestry, farming and drainage, as much as two inches (50 mm) depth of peat is lost each year, releasing all that carbon back into the atmosphere. This process is further increased by fires, and the loss of peat leads to land subsidence and increased flooding. Peat is sponge-like and its loss also reduces water absorption and retention, which further increases the risk of floods. Flooding is clearly bad for people who live and farm locally, causing damage to property and crops. These aren’t wealthy people, so the cost of repairs and the loss of income really hurts them.