Indonesia to Allow More Palm Oil From Peat Lands: Watch Greenhouse Gas Emissions Go Through the Roof

oil palm plantation photo

Oil palm plantations store less than 20% the carbon of intact forest. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim

The Feb 13 issue of the Jakarta Post is reporting that Indonesia’s Agriculture Ministry will issue a decree allowing businesses to expand palm oil plantations on peatland. Why should you care? Because when you chop down the trees in these rainforests growing on peaty soils massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions stored in the peat get released. And despite Agricultural Ministry statements to the contrary, the trees in palm oil plantations won’t absorb even a fraction of the emissions the old forest did:Policy Is Short-Sighted and Factually Inaccurate
Gatot Irianto, head of the research and development at the Agriculture Ministry said,

We still need land for oil plantations. We must be honest: The sector has been the main driver for the people’s economy.

We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe.

We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities [sic].

The peatland will produce emissions only in the opening of the land, but this will be reabsorbed after new trees are planted.

Let’s break those quotes down:

Global Warming Will Erase Economic Gains
It is true that Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil (with Malaysia a close second...) and that it has been a growing sector of the economy. What is if not entirely false, but rather entirely short-sighted and misguided, is that continuing to expand palm oil plantations at the expense of the nation’s environment, biodiversity, rights of local people and continually rising greenhouse gas emissions will have long term benefits in Indonesia. In fact, it is likely that despite any added wealth brought in by expanding palm oil plantations on peat soils, the negative effects of climate change will wipe it all away.

Oil Palm Plantations Much Worse Than Intact Forest
The notion that the oil palms in these plantations will absorb anywhere near as much carbon as the intact forest is ludicrous: Intact forest on peaty soils in Borneo (where most of the plantations are located) store on average 306 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year; a palm oil plantation on the same soil stores 54 tonnes per hectare per year. I suppose it could be worse though: If converted to other cropland that would go down to a mere 2 tonnes per year.

Indonesia is currently the third largest carbon emitter in the world; according to the World Bank this is primarily because of clearing forests on peat soils (often through burning) for agriculture. Not taking this into account, Indonesia ranks 20th in the world.

All of this isn’t to say that palm oil itself if the problem. There are ways to grow oil palms in sustainable ways, but clearing large areas of forest growing on peat soils, further endangering wildlife (the orangutan being the most prominent example), and destroying biodiversity in general is not the way to do it.

via: The Jakarta Post and Biofuels Digest
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