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Restoring 23,000ha of peatland
Restoration will be done by blocking drainage canals using compacted peat dams, with tree planting to rehabilitate the ecosystem.
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Carbon offset projects do more than compensate for emissions

We’ve come a long way in reducing Mott MacDonald’s global carbon footprint. But we wanted to ‘cancel out’ our residual emissions – to become carbon neutral.

To do that we have invested in offsetting, selecting a peatland restoration project in south Sumatra, Indonesia, which we were already involved with as technical advisor. In this interview, project manager Wim Giesen explains how this project contributes to sustainability goals. Please click on the questions to read more:

Why is Indonesia’s peatland so important?

Indonesia has the world’s second largest area of tropical peatland, but expansion of oil palm and acacia plantations, as well as intensive logging, have degraded and drained much of this land. This degradation creates dangerous, dry peat conditions which release large amounts of carbon 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 28Gt – 30% more carbon than is embodied in the biomass of all the country’s forests. Indonesian peat swamps capture between 0.5t and 1.5t of carbon per hectare per year, annually accumulating up to 2mm depth – some peat deposits are 15m thick.

But peatland is very fragile. In areas degraded by forestry, farming and drainage, as much as 50mm 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.

How did the Sumatra Merang Peatland Project help?

In 2015, devastating forest fires led to more than 2Mha of peat burning for months, causing up to 100,000 premature deaths and a further 500,000 people requiring hospital treatment. Fires in 2019 were almost as severe. Following the devastation of 2015, Indonesia’s government created the National Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) to restore the areas affected.

Merang in south Sumatra consists of deep peat, which had been subject to drainage, illegal logging and fires to the point that only 250ha of peat swamp forest remains. The Merang restoration project, implemented by local partners Forest Carbon and Global Alam Lestari, is restoring 23,000ha of degraded peatland that is a habitat for critically endangered species, including the Sumatran tiger.

What was our contribution to the project?

Our work to bring the area back to life included:

  • conducting an ecological field inventory to assess the extent of degradation and the presence of native seeds in the landscape, which could potentially grow and regenerate the landscape, given the right conditions
  • developing a reforestation and regeneration plan
  • producing a manual for establishing a peatland tree nursery

We also advised on and supervised canal blocking and developed standard operating procedures to re-wet the area and kickstart the regeneration process. As part of this work we designed compacted peat dams and showed that the original plan for 386 canal blocks could be cut to 199, cutting both time and peat dam construction costs while providing the wet conditions needed for peat to begin accumulating again.

Why did we select this offset project?

There are many carbon offset projects, and we wanted to choose one aligned with our values – one that is sustainable and brings benefits to local communities and ecosystems. We also wanted a project we were involved in. We bought offset credits that will finance the rehabilitation of degraded peatland, with a storage capacity of 31,000t of carbon – equivalent to our global residual carbon emissions in 2019/20. We’ll invest in offsetting year on year.

What other benefits does the project bring?

By stabilising the land, flood risk has been reduced, as has the possibility of fires during the dry season. The risk of chronic air pollution and risks to human health, as experienced during the fires of 2015 and 2019, has also been reduced.

To date the project has created 88 long-term jobs for local people, who are employed on site for monitoring, replanting and patrolling roles and in off-site activities such as managing the plant nurseries.

A Sumatran tiger was recently photographed in the project area. In addition, the Merang Peatland Project is creating the conditions for recovery of endangered sun bear and rhinoceros hornbills. It forms a part of a corridor that links with nearby Sembilang National Park. Wildlife is returning to this once highly biodiverse area.

A Sumatran tiger was recently photographed in the project area. In addition, the Merang Peatland Project is creating the conditions for recovery of endangered sun bear and rhinoceros hornbills. It forms a part of a corridor that links with nearby Sembilang National Park. Wildlife is returning to this once highly biodiverse area.

Wim Giesen, Project manager

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