Indonesia haze sends a clear message on climate | WWF
Indonesia haze sends a clear message on climate

Posted on 24 November 2015

Greenhouse-gas emissions from forest fires in Indonesia this year outstripped those of some of the world’s largest economies.
Greenhouse-gas emissions from forest fires in Indonesia this year outstripped those of some of the world’s largest economies.

With more than 120,000 incidents reported, 2015 has been one of the worst years for forest fires in Indonesia on record. The fires have released an estimated 1.75 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere – more than the total emissions of Japan or Germany. At the height of the burning in September and October, emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded those of the entire US economy for 26 days out of 44.  

While this year’s fires have been exceptional, “the haze” has become an almost annual event, bringing hazardous levels of air pollution across Indonesia and neighbouring countries. The impacts this year have been exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has brought hotter, drier weather to Indonesia. But this is a manmade disaster, not a natural one. 

The fires are mainly set deliberately to clear forested land, which is then converted to plantations for palm oil, paper and timber. As a result, swathes of Indonesia’s forests and peatlands are being transformed from carbon sinks to carbon sources – to say nothing of the catastrophic impact on priceless biodiversity, wildlife and the cost to indigenous peoples and local communities; to their health, livelihoods and long-term economic opportunities.

“As the haze lifts, the message is clear,” said Peter Graham, head of WWF’s Forest and Climate Programme. “The haze created from the burning of forested peatlands in Indonesia, spreading across neighbouring countries, is a very visible indicator of emissions of greenhouse gases affecting us all. We cannot wait until 2020 to act. Collectively, we have the means to act now.”

“The land sector – which includes forestry and land-use change, along with agriculture – is responsible for around a quarter of all greenhouse-gas emissions. Governments must make a real commitment to conserve forests as part of their contribution to the new global climate regime to be agreed in Paris next month, and to act now to prevent more catastrophes such as we’ve seen in Indonesia.”

A key part of the solution is REDD+, a mechanism that provides developing countries with incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and to conserve, sustainably manage, and enhance forest carbon stocks. WWF wants governments to guarantee financial support for REDD+ in the new climate agreement, and to take urgent action to end deforestation and forest degradation.

In the Indonesian provinces of Central Sumatra, Central and East Kalimantan, as well as Papua, WWF is helping to develop REDD+ strategies in partnership with government, communities, NGOs, and the private sector. For example, we have been working with village communities to protect forests and support a shift to sustainable forest management practices. This has the added value of recognising local rights, reducing the negative impact on the climate as well as on biodiversity, and delivering long-term income and employment. For example, WWF helped villages in East Kalimantan establish Community Forest Areas with District government support, protecting over 30 thousand hectares of tropical forests.

“The best way to bring forest fires and the emissions they cause under control is to tackle the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation," said Zulfira Warta, who leads WWF Indonesia's work on REDD+. "We know how to put out the fires, but preventing them requires cooperation, commitment and action by government, business, civil society, and community leaders.

“REDD+ offers an unprecedented opportunity to scale up cooperative action like we are seeing in East Kalimantan; to rapidly deliver huge benefits for people, biodiversity, and the climate.”  
Cleared forest for ladang burning. Kutai National Park, East Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia.
© Alain Compost / WWF