Sunday, November 12, 2006

South-east Asia's Peat Fires and Global Warming

Press release
-for immediate release-

South-east Asia's Peat Fires and Global Warming
Joint Press Release by Ecological Internet, Biofuelwatch, Watch
Indonesia and Save the Rainforest (Germany)

November 11th, 2006

At Nairobi, governments are debating the future of the Kyoto Protocol and action to prevent the most serious impacts of climate change. So far, they appear to have ignored pleas to address one of the greatest single sources of carbon emissions: the destruction of South-east Asia's peatlands and forests. The annual emissions from annual peat and forest fires are about five times as great as the total annual emission cuts which the Kyoto Protocol aims to make by 2012, from 1990 levels.

Indonesia alone holds 60% of all tropical peat, containing some 50 billion tonnes of carbon. This is equivalent to 7-8 years of global fossil fuel emissions. Timber and oil palm plantations are draining the peatlands and also pushing local communities and small-holders into peat areas and rainforests. Once this peat is drained, all this carbon will eventually be released into the atmosphere, unless the peat is subsequently re-flooded and restored. Annual fires, many of them set deliberately by plantation owners, speed up the process.

This year's fire season has been one of the worst on record. Wetlands International warned earlier this week that the boom in biofuels is speeding up the destruction, and further that one tonne of palm oil grown on peat is linked to the release of around 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide released from that peat. Due to its low cost, palm oil is set to become the prime feedstock for biodiesel. Biofuelwatch member UK Green Party Councillor Andrew Boswell says from Nairobi: "Over 6600 people from 75 countries have emailed governments to call for real action to address the causes of the annual peat and forest fires. So far, there are no signs that delegates have listened. UNFCCC exists to prevent dangerous climate change and to stabilise levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This will be even harder to achieve unless tropical peatlands are protected and restored. Ecological Internet, Biofuelwatch, Save the Rainforest (Germany) and Watch Indonesia are calling on the Conference to agree to international assistance with fighting the fires which are still burning on Borneo, and to set up a working group which will draw up proposals for the protection and restoration of the peatlands which must report back within a year. They stress that those proposals must be developed in close co-operation with local communities and the South-east Asian NGOs representing them and must take full account of the needs of local people, and also of the need to protect those forests which are not part of the peatlands. "

Andrew Boswell, Biofuelwatch: Nairobi contact 0720833788 (until 17/11
only); from outside Kenya 254-720833788

Dr Glen Barry, President of Ecological Internet, USA:
GlenBarry@..., Tel +1 920 776 1075


1. Biofuelwatch is a UK campaign which seeks regulation to ensure that only sustainably-sourced biofuels can be sold in Britain in the European Union. See Biofulewatch

2. Ecological Internet (EI) provides the most successful Internet based environment portals, search engines and international Earth advocacy network ever, regularly achieving environmental conservation victories around the world. EI specializes in the use of the Internet to achieve environmental conservation outcomes. Ecological Internet's mission is to empower the global movement for environmental sustainability by providing information retrieval tools, portal services and analysis that aid in the conservation of climate, forest, water and ocean ecosystems; and to commence the age of ecological sustainability and restoration. On average 30,000 visits a day are made to our environmental portals. See
Ecological Internet

3. Save the Rainforest (Rettet den Regenwald e.V.) campaigns against the abuse of rainforest by industrialised countries and organises support for indigenous people in the forests. See
Save the Rainforest

4. Watch Indonesia is a German-based working group for democracy, human rights and environmental protection in Indonesia and East Timor. See Watch Indonesia

5. For a fully referenced background paper about the peat and forest fires in south-east Asia, and their contribution to global warming, see Biofuelwatch PDF

6. For the figures provided by Wetlands International, see Wetlands International

Friday, November 10, 2006

Burning Peatland is threatening the Orangutan

Burning Peatland is threatening the Orangutan

BOS Mawas, PRESS RELEASE, Friday 10th November 2006

Pandu B.Wahyono, manager of Mawas Conservation Program of The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), is overwhelmed by this year’s fire desaster in Mawas. Since the great fires in 1997/8, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) has never experienced such terrible fires again.

BOS Mawas (Mawas means Orangutan) aims to convert approximately 500.000 hectares into a Mawas reservation. This land is situated in Central Kalimantan between the Kapuas and the Barito Rivers. It mainly consists of tropical swamp forest, under which precious CO2-rich peat, and even peat domes thicker then 15 meters, can be found. The Mawas area consists of many different landscapes and ecosystems. Some areas still are virgin swamp forest, home to approx. 3000 wild orangutans. Other forests have been logged for about 20 years and are therefore highly degraded. The worst destruction took place in the western part of Block AB, where a misguided governmental project had been planned. There, the ambitious million hectar ricefield project (Proyek Pengembangan Lahan Gambut, PLG), a project of the Suharto era, allegedly was to raise the economical welfare. Now, this exPLG area is drained, dead and cleared land. Furthermore, it still has major negative impacts on the neighbouring peatlands, because the drains feed on the water, which is stored in the peat like in a sponge.

In Mawas, many peat domes with a thickness up to 20 meters can be found. These peat domes grow very slowly and only under specific conditions. Over 5,000 years organic material has been accumulated under very acidic conditions to form this extraordinary carbon sink, which is highly important as a fresh water supply for the river systems. When these peat domes are logged or planted with oil palms, they dehydrate and collapse. Large amounts of CO2 are emitted because of the drainage. Annually, 600 million tonnes of CO2 are emitted in Indonesia alone by the oxidation of peat. Another 1.5 billion annually emitted CO2 result from forest and peat fires. Normally, the peat is soaked with water, but once the peat is drained, it ignites easily. Peat fires burn underground, they travel unseen beneath the surface and break out in unexpected locations.

Although BOS fire fighters are on duty in Mawas night and day, since yesterday (even supported by fire-fighting plans) large areas of peat forests were burnt. The peat swamp forest of Mawas is home to about 3000 wild orangutan. Only recently, 148 orangutans have been translocated to Blocks AB in Mawas. Now the fires are threatening the unique biodiversity of the peat swamp forest, they put one of the last wild orangutan populations into danger, and they may release the three gigatonnes of carbondioxide which are bound in the peat.

Kisar Odom, representative manager of the BOS Mawas Conservation Program and leader of the research and development team, is constantly monitoring the orangutans. “Several orangutans have tried to escape the fires, others have already crossed the Mantangai River to an area that is regarded to be safer. We are constantly monitoring the situation and, thankfully, have not yet found one dead orangutan.” Ironically, now, while observations are badly needed to monitor the situation of the threatened orangutan population, Kisar Odom and his team have difficulties observing the animals because of the thick smoke.

Three orangutans had to be saved from fires and translocated to a safer forest. Those orangutans had not long ago been introduced to a forest in Block AB which was regarded as safe. But during the last months, 17.815 hectares or 17 % of this forest has been destroyed by fire.

“Fleeing from fires or wandering around in search for food, orangutans often enter oil palm plantations and eat palm seedlings. Farmers, defending their harvest, often hit or kill the animals.” Willie Smits, the founder of the BOS Foundation, further explains that “10-15 orangutans recently died as a result of their injuries. Currently, 120 orangutans are treated in three rehabilitation centres, suffering of dehydration, acute breathing diseases, and starvings and even from wounds.”

Last month, more than 30 Orangutans had to be rescued. They were either driven out of their forest by fires, or they were desperately looking for food in plantations, because their habitat has been destroyed by oil palm plantation companies.

“At the moment we are putting a lot of energy in law enforcement. We hope that offenders and involved parties will be prosecuted. We are supporting the government’s efforts in taking action against plantation companies that are suspected of burning the forest to establish new plantations.” Hardi Baktiantoro, assistant manager of the BOS orangutan reintroduction centre Nyaru Menteng, says. Additionally to law enforcement, BOS conducts community development and education programs in Central and East Kalimantan, with the aim to prevent land clearing, illegal logging, animal abuse and forest fires.

Ironically, more and more oil palms are planted to produce “biofuel”. In Indonesia one quarter of all oil palm plantations are grown on peat land. According to several environmental organisations the establishment of oil palm plantations is not only responsible for a great loss of animal lives and biodiversity, but also for immense emissions of carbondioxide. Data from Wetlands International show that 1 tonne palm oil grown on peat land results in the release of about 20 tonnes of CO2.

Thus, the so called “biofuel” is rather responsible for unrecoverable destruction of unique biodiversity and for irretrievable release of green house gases from ancient carbon sinks than to be the renewable sustainable energy source we are searching for.

By Rita Sastrawan
BOS International

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Indonesia: Smoke and Corruption

Source: Copyright 2006, Jakarta Post
Date: November 7, 2006
Original URL

Indonesia must certainly approach this yearly problem with a high degree of seriousness. In fact, Indonesia should ratify the ASEAN transboundary haze agreement. But Indonesia also has something to tell to its neighbors -- in particular those who harbor members of the corrupt elite, who move around like smoke.

The smoke from Indonesian forest fires has created havoc not only in various parts of Indonesia, but in Malaysia and Singapore too. The Malaysians, acting to protect their interests, have made an open demand to the Indonesian government to stop the fires. They have even brought the issue to ASEAN. Singapore, while reacting less aggressively, is also unhappy with the way Indonesia has dealt with the smoke.

In an article written by Todung Mulya Lubis called Singapore Paradox (Kompas, Nov. 2), the nation-state is accused of abetting Indonesia's corruption problem. Singaporeans have argued corruption is rampant here because Indonesia has not made a serious effort to fight it. But Singapore itself is a safe haven for corrupt Indonesians. Thus, the paradox is that while Singapore claims to be one of the "cleanest" countries in the world, it provides a den for its dishonest neighbors.

Smoke and corruption have a common thread. Indonesia can argue that it does not intend for the fires on its territory to send smoke to neighboring countries. Smoke is spread by the wind, which is not under the control of Indonesian government.

By the same token, Singapore can argue it does not intend to spread corruption, since it has very strict laws in that matter. They might point out that corrupt people, from Indonesia or anywhere, can come and go to Singapore, as do other people from ASEAN countries. But the problem is, in Singapore they are not considered practitioners of corruption, but investors.

So, will the next ASEAN conference focus on smoke? If it does, Indonesia should raise the "Singapore paradox."

The problem of smoke is usually not discussed in terms of sovereignty. Since smoke is no respecter of borders, every country can demand that the country in question fix the problem. That makes sense.

Diplomats tend to view corruption, however, from the standpoint of state sovereignty. If Indonesia raises the issue of corruption in Singapore, it can be accused of interfering in Singapore's affairs and violating Singapore's sovereignty. It is the right of the Singaporean government to decide who can and cannot enter its sovereign territory.

The problem of smoke and corruption should be instead be understood from the perspective of "global public good." In her book bearing that term as its title, Inge Kaul argues that as globalization becomes intensive and extensive, the public good cannot be viewed simply in terms of one's country or region. What affects one country or region can affect countries around the globe. Pollution, for example, including global climate change and the greenhouse effect, are global concerns. So is oil policy. Global public good should overcome the constraints of sovereignty.

If clean air is a global public good, what about a "clean neighborhood"? The problem of corrupt people who move from one country to another should be tackled within that framework. "Good governance" refers to the fight against corruption at the national level, and a "clean neighborhood" policy would entail a similar effort at the regional and global level.

No country can argue that corruption is strictly a national problem. We are living in the era of globalization. Bad operators fly around the world and can move their money around the world with the click of a mouse. If one country wants to eliminate corruption, other countries must join its efforts, just as in the case of preventing global warming.

A "clean neighborhood" should be considered one of the "global public goods." It is high time to have a treaty to establish a clean neighborhood.

ASEAN may become a pioneer as the first international organization to tackle this issue. If it can force Indonesia to deal with the smoke, it should be able to put Singapore under similar pressure to cleanse its territory of both domestic and global corruption. That would create a truly clean neighborhood.

The writer is a lecturer on globalization at the Postgraduate School of Political Science, University of Indonesia.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Borneo on Fire...

Below is a piece from BBC News online. We have worked in the field alongside these rescue teams and know how bad things are. The fires in Borneo will only get worse as more peat is cleared for oil palm plantations, meanwhile the orangutans will continue to suffer. These fires are strong evidence that Kyoto should really call an emergency meeting to bring in new measures to protect existing forest. Can we really wait till 2012?

Orangutans perish in Borneo fires
By Lucy Williamson, BBC News, Jakarta

Fires on the island of Borneo may have killed up to 1,000 orangutans, say animal protection workers in Indonesia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation says the animals are facing severe problems as their natural habitat is burnt away.

Rescue workers have found several dead orangutans in burnt-out areas, but have no way of reaching animals still trapped in the burning forests.

The fires have been raging across central Borneo for months.


One of those involved in the rescue effort, Pak Hardy, told the BBC that more than 40 animals had been saved after finding their way to the edges of the fires. Many have severe burns.

Others have been killed by local people after eating from the area's profitable oil palm plantations.

One of the problems, says Pak Hardy, is that erosion of the animals' natural habitat means there are few places for them to go to avoid the fires.

The teams have put up posters asking local people not to kill orangutans which are fleeing the fires and to contact them instead, but it is not working.

Four times in the last 24 hours Pak Hardy's team has been too late.

Threats to orangutans' natural habitat are largely responsible for them becoming an endangered species.

Indonesia's annual problem with forest fires is widely blamed on farmers and logging companies clearing land for oil palm plantations.
The fires routinely cause a smoky haze to settle over a wide area and have brought criticism from Indonesia's neighbours as well as from environmental groups.