UN praises Indonesia's peatland management efforts

Firefighters exstinguish a peatland fire in Pekanbaru, Riau province, on Feb 1, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

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

"The destruction of peatlands around the world will be a major blow to the Paris Treaty and for younger generations," Mr Solheim said on Friday (March 23).

The 2015 treaty is an agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that aims to mitigate global warming, among other things.

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 peatland 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 a transboundary haze that blanketed the region and 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 prevent 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 also established the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2016, helmed by former director at WWF-Indonesia chief Nazir Foead, whose aim is to restore damaged peatland on companies' concessions and government land.

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

The Congo basin and Indonesia are home to the largest concentration of peatlands in the world. "The Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo must learn from Indonesia," he added.

Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said her country will lead the "South-South cooperation" to tackle issues affecting the Congo Basin peatland, Indonesia's Antara news reported on Saturday.

Ms Siti, who was the keynote speaker at the GPI meeting, said the 2015 crisis in her country was a valuable lesson for the government which led to new policies to improve peat governance and the prevention of peatland fires.

"Indonesia managed to reduce the fires as much as 93.6 per cent," she said in her speech, according to Antara news.

"This success is a testament to the seriousness of President Joko Widodo to make common land and forest fire prevention in peatlands a national priority."

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