|Protecting wetlands will contribute significantly
to the fight against climate change because of wetlands’ ability to store
carbon, experts say. Matthew Warren, a researcher from the US Forest Service,
said Saturday that there could be no fight against climate change without
conserving tropical wetland forests.
“It is a fact that wetlands store a lot of carbon that has the potential
to be lost to the atmosphere more rapidly than any other tropical forest
type,” he told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a three-day journalism
workshop, “REDD+ and the Role of Wetlands”, in Sanur, Bali. The workshop
was held by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
Warren said the best possible thing to
do in order to cope with climate change was to preserve what already exists.
“If you drain the wetlands then you allow organic soil to have oxygen.
The oxygen then is used by microorganisms to decompose organic matter and
produce carbon dioxide [that goes out into] the atmosphere,” Warren said,
adding that it would also cause burning merely through the combustion.
Wetlands, comprising mangroves and freshwater
peat forests, account for 6 percent of the total land in the world while
sustaining 40 percent of the biodiversity. A recent study showed that Southeast
Asia is home to 25 million hectares of peatland, or 56 percent of all tropical
peatland. Indonesia has 23 percent of all
the mangrove forests on earth. Mangroves have important and essential functions
for coastal protection, supplying energy and nutrients to coral reefs,
protecting marine ecosystems from sedimentation and pollutants and as preserving
ground for fisheries.
Conserving tropical wetland forests is
therefore one of the most important things Indonesia can do to reduce the
impact of climate change. “Do not allow them to be drained and burnt because
that will release carbon,” Warren said, adding that 25 percent of all carbon
emitted into the atmosphere comes from wetlands being drained and burnt
to become agriculture areas.
Indonesia now ranks as the fifth largest
carbon emitter in the world due to its frequent forest fires and the massive
conversion of peatlands. Louis Verchot, a CIFOR senior researcher, said
fossil-based emissions in Indonesia were low compared to forest-based emissions.
“It’s clear that emission reduction activities are related to what happens
in the forests. And, what happens is, very high emissions come from peatlands
and everybody, including the Indonesian government, believes that the emissions
from peatlands are going to grow,” he told the Post.
More effort needs to be made to preserve
peatlands by avoiding the further expansion of oil palm plantations or
plantations for pulp wood within tropical peat forests. “Better spatial
planning may contribute to the more successful protection of peatlands,”
said Verchot, adding that certain planning processes in Indonesia were
contrary to the common understanding of the scientific community.
Efforts have been put in place at different
levels to protect forests. But, challenges have occurred with decentralization.
“I don’t get involved in the process on the ground, but I have talked with
communities who decried how land decisions were made. “Many new [palm oil]
plantations were installed deeper than three meters, whereas we know that
there is a law in Indonesia saying that no plantations are permitted in
peatland deeper than three meters,” Verchot said. Still, many local administrations,
especially at the regency level, have allegedly given the green light to
such illegal activity.