Protecting peatlands could reduce forest fire risk

Protecting Indonesian peatlands could reduce the impacts of forest fires, according to a new study. 

Currently, the Indonesian government has committed to restoring 2.5 million hectares of degraded peatland, with a projected cost of between US$3.2 and US$7 billion.

According to the study, led by the University of Leeds, the 2015 fires in Indonesia resulted in economic losses totalling US$28bn, resulting from damage to plantations, forestry and agriculture, CO2 emissions and health impacts due to exposure to air pollution.

The researchers have demonstrated that the benefits of effective Indonesian peatland restoration will outweigh the cost of restoration. 

The study states that if restoration had already been completed, the area burned in 2015 would have been reduced by 6%, reducing CO2 emissions by 18%, and particulate matter (PM2.5) emission by 24%, preventing 12,000 premature mortalities.

The lead author of the study, Laura Kiely said: ‘There are wide-ranging benefits of peatland restoration, from local reductions in property loss, regional benefits to air quality and public health to global benefits from reduced CO2 emissions.

landscape photo of coconut trees

‘Not only do fires destroy agricultural land and disrupt transport, tourism and trade, but peatland fires also cause large CO2 emissions. Between 1997–2016, fires in Equatorial Asia — most of which were in Indonesia — were responsible for 8% of global fire carbon emissions in 1997–2016.

‘Indonesian peatlands store an estimated 57 gigatonnes of carbon, roughly 55% of the world’s tropical peatland carbon. There is clearly a worldwide benefit to restoring and safeguarding Indonesian peatlands.’

Deforestation and drainage associated with expanding agriculture have caused extensive destruction to Indonesian peatlands, making the naturally fire-resilient peatlands more susceptible to fire. 

The study, therefore, highlights the importance of the amount of land restored and where the restoration occurs. It states that restoration should be targeted to areas that have proven to be most susceptible to fires in the past.

Professor Dominick Spracklen at Leeds added: ‘Monitoring is needed to assess whether peatland restoration efforts are successful. Local support of peatland restoration and fire reduction schemes is a key factor to their success.

‘Future climate change will put Indonesian peatlands — and peatlands all over the world — at greater risk to further degradation and fire. The efforts being made by the Indonesian government to restore their peatlands could be leading example in the years to come.’



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