Indonesia praised for efforts on peatlands

Officials fighting a peatland forest fire in Riau province on Feb 20. Indonesia has more than 15 million ha of peatland.
Officials fighting a peatland forest fire in Riau province on Feb 20. Indonesia has more than 15 million ha of peatland.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesia's efforts in restoring peatland destroyed by fire can serve as an example to other countries facing similar issues, United Nations environment chief Erik Solheim has said.

"The destruction of peatlands around the world will be a major blow to the Paris treaty on climate change and for younger generations," Mr Solheim said in a statement issued on Friday.

In praising Indonesia for its success in peatland governance, Mr Solheim, who is executive director for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said the international community is paying close attention to how Indonesia manages its more than 15 million ha of peatland, one of the largest such areas in the world.

Peatlands are carbon-rich and highly flammable during the dry season, and release high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Illegal forest fires on peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2015 led to transboundary haze that blanketed the region and resulted in record air pollution levels across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore for months that year.

Since then, Indonesia has managed to limit the amount of land burned and prevented a repeat of the 2015 crisis.

President Joko Widodo has also made the issue of illegal forest fires and peatland management in his country a national priority.

He established the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2016, helmed by former conservation director at WWF-Indonesia Nazir Foead, whose aim is to restore damaged peatland on companies' concessions and government land.

Last Thursday, while speaking at the Peatland Global Initiative Partners (GPI) meeting in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, Mr Solheim asked both the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo to take lessons from Indonesia's experience in the restoration of its peat ecosystems.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has said Jakarta would lead "South-South cooperation" to tackle issues affecting the Congo Basin peatland, Indonesia's Antara news reported yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia praised for efforts on peatlands'. Print Edition | Subscribe