Kiki Taufik is Global Head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s forest campaign | November 15th, 2020
Much of the destruction to Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have taken place behind the veil of COVID-19 restrictions, says Greenpeace’s Kiki Taufik.
Much of the destruction to Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have taken place behind the veil of COVID-19 restrictions, says Greenpeace’s Kiki Taufik.
ASEAN – Forest fires are a major source of transboundary haze in the ASEAN region. It is particularly pronounced in the dry season during the first half of the year for the Mekong subregion and second half of the year, most notably from July to September, for the southern ASEAN region.
Translator: Antara, Editor: Petir Garda Bhwana | June 28th, 2020 TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – With Indonesia still in the grip…
SINGAPORE – JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia has scaled back protection for some of the world’s most important tropical forests ahead of the worst season for fires because of budget cuts due to the coronavirus, the environment ministry said.
Forests don’t make headlines; forest fires do. Unfortunately, in the past year, forests have been in the news for the wrong reasons.
Wildfires are common during dry seasons in many forests around the world and contribute to the health of the forest by making way for new life. But the frequency and ferocity of fires is increasing. Major fires have burned across all continents except Antarctica in the past year. These fires are a harbinger of a new normal in a changing climate as scientists have longed warned.
Three damaging wildfires stood out: In Australia today, the scale of the fires is unimaginable. They are affecting an area bigger than small European countries and having enormous impacts on people and wildlife. They still aren’t extinguished, and future fire seasons could be even worse.
2019 also saw an uptick in fires in the Amazon Basin. There was a concern that the fires were following an increase in deforestation, which was later confirmed by official Brazilian data, and a deeper concern that parts of the forest may be reaching a tipping point.
In the Arctic, we saw troubling images of fires in Siberia and Alaska. Fires in the great boreal forests that circle the entire northern hemisphere are natural, but the scale of the fires in 2019 was unprecedented, with record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle.
While different in scale, each of these fires has had significant effects: more and more people are being killed as fires become the new norm in many countries. Air quality is impacted as fires blanket whole regions with haze cities – Australia has recorded the worst pollution levels in the world – and wildlife is increasingly impacted. This all contributes to more carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
But this is not a story of despondency. Nature may be on the front lines of a changing climate. But it can also be one of our strongest allies to reduce emissions globally as well as enhance resilience for communities and landscapes. Nature-based solutions can deliver up to a third of the emission reductions needed to keep temperatures below 2oC. To harness this potential there are three strategies that the world must urgently prioritise:
1. Stop deforestation
Deforestation remains at near-record highs despite significant investment from the private sector to reduce deforestation in supply chains. The challenge is significantly more complex than any single actor can solve alone. Heading into 2020, it’s clear that companies need to redouble their efforts but also work more closely with governments and the finance sector to eliminate commodity driven deforestation.
We also need to recognise that an increasing amount of deforestation is driven by illegality and criminality in many countries, as well as by poverty. We must increase the political will to eradicate criminality, and we need to support greater investment in development and creation of economic alternative for smallholder farmers in situations where converting forest may be the difference between hunger and health.
None of this is easy that is why there is an urgent need for concerted collective action – looking at and working to improve all parts of the whole. That is how we stop deforestation.
2. Work together to manage fires
Learning to better manage fires will be critical for enhancing resilience and reducing the impacts of more intense and frequent fires. But there are few mechanisms to share knowledge and practices globally. Global Forest Watch and other platforms now offer more interactive tools for monitoring fires, but we are not learning nor celebrating the success of fighting fires.
For example, Indonesia has experienced several catastrophic forest fires, often made worse by peat land with a huge carbon store, which once ignited is difficult to extinguish. The fires of 2015 were estimated to have killed 100,000 people. The dry season of 2019 also threatened to be difficult, but improved fire management from both the government, which established a Peat Restoration Agency in 2016, and leading private companies like APRIL and APP, who run Fire Free Village programs around their estates have been successful at reducing instances and severity of fires.
In addition, indigenous communities around the world have worked with fire for centuries in many countries around the world to manage their landscapes. By setting fires early in the season, they can avoid catastrophic fires in the height of the dry season. I had the honour to spend a week with Aboriginal Rangers in the Kimberly and saw the pride and cultural significance of this work. There is potential to scale these efforts.
3. Accelerate restoration
Last, but by no means least, we need to unleash a global restoration movement. There is growing understanding that reforestation and better land management is one of the best solutions we have to actively drawdown carbon from the atmosphere and lock the carbon up in our forests, grasslands and wetlands. Scientists estimate there were 6 trillion trees after the last ice age, but we are now down to a little over 3 trillion.
The World Economic Forum launched a new platform 1t.org, a multistakeholder effort to support efforts to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world. By growing, restoring and conserving a trillion trees or more over the course of the next decade, we have the chance to reduce climate risk, enhance water security, reverse biodiversity declines and create millions of rural jobs.
None of these strategies are easy. But by eliminating deforestation, improving fire management investing in restoration, we have the chance to enhance our resilience in the face of changing climate, reducing climate risk, reversing biodiversity declines and enhancing water security. Most importantly we also have the opportunity to create millions of jobs for rural communities.
As we start new decade, it is imperative that we commit together to co-create a forest-positive future.
This article is related to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January 2020.
Recent rains in both countries have helped put out the wildfires, which were likely started by farmers and ranchers using slash-and-burn agricultural methods.
New peatlands research center aims to reshape conservation efforts
Indonesia “I can keep my land fertile and I’m able to work regardless of the season, but my neighbor who uses the burning method has difficulties during the rains because their land becomes a swamp,” said Akhmad (Taman) Tamanuruddin, addressing delegates at the launch of a new peatland research center in Indonesia.
Taman is a farmer in Palangka Raya, the capital of Indonesia’s province of Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. He rejects the traditional local practice of using fire to clear residue from the fertile peatlands before planting his crops.
Instead, he applies herbicides and lets the old vegetation die off and decompose, allowing it to become a natural fertilizer.
Traditional burning practices are under scrutiny by scientists and policymakers because peatlands are effective carbon sinks. They are made up of layers of decomposed organic material built up over thousands of years. When they burn, warming gases are released into the atmosphere exacerbating climate change. Fires often burn out of control, damaging vast areas and drying out the land, rendering it useless for farming.
In 2015, the impact of wildfires was far-reaching. Fire destroyed more than 2.6 million hectares of land — an area 4.5 times the size of the Indonesian island of Bali, according to the World Bank. The price tag for the damage was more than $16 billion, the bank said.
Indonesia has since boosted efforts to ban the use of fire to clear forested peatlands to plant oil palms, maize or rice by establishing the Peatland Restoration Agency in 2016.
Legislation banning fire use to clear land was introduced in 2009 and 2014.
Research compiled in Riau province by Indonesia’s Forestry and Environment Research, Development and Innovation Agency (FOERDIA) of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) shows that land prepared by burning vegetation before planting is more productive. They examined peatlands cultivated for oil palm, rubber, corn, rice, and other food crops.
Oil palm yield in burned peatlands was found to be almost 30 percent greater than in those that were not, producing yields of about 13.3 tons per hectare a year. In peatlands that were not burned, yield was only 9.4 tons per hectare a year. Rubber tree yields were found to decrease on average by 46 percent if the land was not burned. Corn yield disparities were even more extreme.
Burning resulted in higher soil fertility in the peatlands. It also reduced acidity, contributing to the higher yields.
Aware of the yield benefits, many farmers involved in the study disregarded prohibitive legislation and burned off their fields. Of the study participants, only 49.3 percent stopped the practice, while 45.2 percent of respondents continued and 5.5 percent said they would give up on farming as they did not see any alternative to burning.
“Some farmers are unwilling to cultivate corn without burning since the yield will drop sharply and produce only a third or a quarter,” said Murniati, a scientist with FOERDIA.
“They were afraid to use the burning techniques but they don’t have enough money to finance the no-burning techniques,” Murniati added, explaining that farmers are scared of incurring penalties for violating anti-burning laws but feel they have no choice but to face the risk.
Since he got involved in sustainable agriculture, Taman has trained hundreds of farmers. He adds fertile soil, dolomite, and manure to his land and plants a variety of crops, including corn, chili, and vegetables.
Initially, the cost of farming in this manner may seem more expensive, but over the long term it saves him money, Taman said, explaining the environmental benefits.
Although burning more resistant vegetation is a less expensive and easier solution, it can strip nutrient levels in the soil and spoil the peatlands in the long run.
As farmers, we need more support for infrastructure to lower costs, Taman said.
“We at least need proper roads and bridges in our village to cut distribution expenses,” he added. “It can help us big time.”
Currently, poor infrastructure causes high costs for herbicides and harvested crops. Farmers are forced to rent cars to cover a short 250-meter distance because trucks cannot fit into narrow roadways.
Finding other livelihood options might be key for helping local communities thrive while conserving peatlands, according to Dede Rohadi and Herry Purnomo, scientists with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) currently working with MOEF and several partners.
The Haze Free Sustainable Livelihoods project led by CIFOR, MOEF and the University of Lancang in Riau aims to find alternatives for farmers who cultivate crops in the province.
“We try to empower communities so they can maximize the existing livelihood potentials in their village,” said Rohadi, who leads the project.
Some villages already cultivate honey, develop fisheries and grow food crops such as chili peppers and pineapples.
In addition to the Haze-free Sustainable Livelihood project, CIFOR is currently coordinating the Community-based Fire Prevention and Peatland Restoration project with Riau University, local government, communities, and the private sector.
The latest commitment from the governments of Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo, to establish the International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC) promise for peatland preservation efforts. ITPC is currently based at CIFOR in Bogor, near Indonesia’s capital Jakarta.
It provides valuable opportunities for cooperation in the global south to ensure policymakers, practitioners, and communities have access to trustworthy information, analyses, and the tools needed to conserve and sustainably manage tropical peatlands.
Although peatlands extend over only 3 percent of the world’s land mass, they contain as much carbon as all terrestrial biomass and twice as much as all forest biomass.
About 15 percent of known peatlands have already been destroyed or degraded.
2018/11/08, Environment | By Helena Varkkey
Transboundary haze is a form of seasonal air pollution affecting up to six Southeast Asian countries on an almost annual basis.
The first reports of this phenomenon emerged in the 1980s, and the most recent serious episode took place in 2016. The most affected countries are Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. The particulate and aerosol matter that makes up the haze originates from forest and peat fires occurring during the dry season, mostly in Indonesia. When this permeates the troposphere and travels across national borders, it is known as transboundary haze.
The countries and people within reach of this smoky shroud suffer serious health, economic, and environmental consequences during each episode. The fine particles in the haze permeate deep into the lungs, which can cause serious respiratory problems, especially among young children and the elderly, sometimes resulting in death. Ophthalmological, dermatological, and psychological issues are also commonplace.
Sick days taken and school closures (during which parents often stay home to care for their children) cause significant losses in workforce productivity. These countries’ tourism industries suffer as well, as visitors have no interest in hazy skylines. Agricultural productivity and the general state of the environment also decline as the haze blocks out the sun and slows down photosynthesis.
With the countries affected all situated within the Southeast Asian region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was quickly looked upon to be the driver of a workable regional solution to the haze. ASEAN began to formally identify transboundary haze as part of its remit in 1985. However, despite various ASEAN agreements, initiatives, and task forces since then, the haze persists. The haze’s effect on member countries is dire, and its causes are seemingly well understood, so ASEAN’s continued inability to effectively mitigate it is puzzling.
Scholars have laid the blame for ASEAN’s “failure” to solve the haze on weak regional governance; specifically, the limitations of its model of regional engagement through consensus, non-interference, non-confrontation, sensitivity, and politeness, as well as non-legalistic procedures – the so-called “ASEAN Way.” Describing this model as a “doctrine” to be adhered to at all costs, scholars such as Vinod Aggarwal and Jonathan Chow argue that member states’ desire to eliminate the haze has been unable to compete against the stronger desire to comply with the ASEAN Way.
However, other ASEAN observers, such as Tobias Nischalke and Shaun Narine, have argued that member states do not blindly follow the ASEAN Way. Nischalke’s research uncovered many examples where the ASEAN Way was only moderately adhered to at best. This contention was the entry point of my research: has ASEAN been failing on the haze because states are duty-bound to adhere to norms that do not encourage effective regional environmental governance? Or have the states been choosingto adhere to these norms because it is in their interests to do so? If so, what are these interests, who has been shaping them, and why are they not in line with a haze-free ASEAN?
To answer these questions, I spent six months in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia conducting semi-structured interviews with over 100 individuals with experience in haze governance, including government and ASEAN officials, journalists, plantation company representatives, non-governmental organization workers, and academics.
During these conversations, several points became clear.
Firstly, the type of fire matters. While regular forest fires are most common, they usually burn tree canopies. This produces little smoke and often results only in short-term, localized haze. Peat fires, on the other hand, can spread below the surface, reaching soil. Carbon-rich soil produces especially thick and sooty smoke when burnt, and this smoke can travel great distances. These fires are also harder to put out. Hence, a small amount of fires (on peatlands) are responsible for a large portion of transboundary haze.
Secondly, peat is not naturally fire-prone. In their natural state, peatlands are flooded year-round – fires only occur when peatlands are drained in preparation for planting. This dries out the peat and makes it flammable.
Thirdly, due to the importance of peatlands as carbon sinks, Indonesian law generally does not allow these areas to be developed. Despite this, and due to the decreasing availability of mineral soil, an increasing amount of peatlands have been opened for agriculture, especially for palm oil. A trend emerged, where the increasing severity of the haze matched the region’s palm oil boom in recent decades.
Further interviews revealed that large plantation companies, both local and from Malaysia or Singapore, have managed to obtain licenses to access peatlands to plant crops like oil palm. Some of these companies deliberately use fire as the cheapest and quickest way to clear the land for planting. Even if these companies do not deliberately burn, the act of draining these lands makes them prone to accidental fires.
I found that strong patronage networks in this sector have enabled this to happen. Patronage is defined as a situation where an individual of higher socioeconomic position (patron) uses his influence and resources to provide protection or benefits for a person of lower status (client), who reciprocates by offering support and assistance to the patron. In this case, government patrons have provided the benefit of licenses to their clients, the business elites who own or are affiliated with these plantation companies. Furthermore, clients have also enjoyed their patrons’ protection from prosecution for haze-producing fires.
These networks are at work even at the ASEAN level. When they represent Indonesia at ASEAN, the patrons are still compelled to protect their clients. An effective ASEAN haze mitigation strategy would mean that their clients would lose access to lucrative income, and risk being prosecuted. Hence, these patrons choose to use the ASEAN Way, especially the principles of non-interference and non-legalistic procedures, to block any meaningful strategies. Malaysian and Singaporean patrons follow suit, as they also act to protect their own complicit companies. I argue that these patronage networks better explain the decisions made at the ASEAN level that have led to the failure of the bloc to solve the haze problem.
Since my field research, there have been some positive developments. The government of Singapore has shown a shift in its national interests, away from protecting its clients and toward the well being of its people. After several public displays of frustration with ASEAN’s lackadaisical efforts, Singapore ultimately passed its landmark Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014, which empowered its courts to prosecute any party (even non-Singaporean) found to have caused haze in Singapore.
Singapore, however, has not yet been able to use this act in court, largely due to the non-cooperation of Indonesia. While ASEAN member states still meet regularly to strategize on haze matters, the strategic use of the ASEAN Way continues to limit any meaningful progress. However, as Singapore has shown, change is not impossible. I remain hopeful that other member states will eventually follow in Singapore’s footsteps to act in the common interest of the people of the region.
Helena Varkkey is a senior lecturer in the Department of International and Strategic Studies at the University of Malaya. She received her PhD in international relations from the University of Sydney in 2012 and her first book, “The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage,” was published by Routledge based on the above research in 2016.
Read Next: INDONESIA: Palm Oil Linked to Deforestation Remains on Store Shelves
This article was originally published in AsiaGlobal Online, a Hong Kong-based source of Asian perspectives on global issues. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article.
TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
Source Link: https://international.thenewslens.com/article/107781
Acid rain was a major environmental problem in the 1970s and 1980s. The phenomenon was caused by the reaction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power factories with moisture in the atmosphere to generate acid, which fell onto earth as rain, poisoning lakes and destroying forests.
The situation began to improve in 1990 when the United States government and economists introduced a cap-and-trade system for power producers, which put in place a cap on permitted emissions and enabled companies to trade leftover allowances, said Richard Sandor, chairman and chief executive officer of the American Financial Exchange, an electronic exchange for financial institutions.
Sandor, who played a key role in orchestrating the cap-and-trade scheme to tackle acid rain, was speaking at a lecture organized by the National University of Singapore in the Southeast Asian city-state.
“The idea was to put a cap on the number of emissions nationally, and then lower the cap over a period of time,” he said. There was the outcry that electricity prices would skyrocket, America’s competitiveness would be hurt, and power-producing states such as Ohio or Illinois would go bankrupt.
Instead, a decade after the first cap-and-trade programme was implemented, emissions were down to around 4 million tonnes from a high of 18 million in the 1980s.
“Electricity prices went down. The cost to the US economy was $1.2 billion, but there was an annual reduction of $123 billion in medical expenses associated with lung diseases,” said Sandor, who is also known as the “father of carbon trading” for his work on carbon markets around the world. “That does not include 37,000 lives a year saved nor the restoration of rivers.”
But could market-based solutions solve the persistent problem of transboundary air pollution in Southeast Asia, asked moderator Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large for Singapore’s foreign ministry.
Also known as the haze, it is caused by forests fires in Indonesia as land is cleared for palm oil plantations, said Koh.
Sandor offered two pieces of advice: to create a regional solution and to put a price on pollution.
Drawing from the example of acid rain, he said that the creation of local laws to regulate emissions from coal-fired plants resulted in utility companies building taller smokestacks so that emissions would blow into another state where the regulations didn’t apply.
“We thought of sulfur dioxide as a local problem, but it was as regional as [the haze] in Southeast Asia. It requires a regional agreement because local command and control, where there are externalities involved, just doesn’t work,” Sandor said.
When told that Asean—a political bloc of 10 Southeast Asian countries—already has an agreement to combat the haze, Sandor said pricing could be another solution.
Cap-and-trade markets work because companies find that it pays to pollute. “The question is, how do people get paid not to pollute?” he said. If polluters realize they could make money from cutting emissions—by selling leftover emission quotas, in the example of acid rain—they would do it.
Sandor was optimistic about the future of blockchain-based market trading, which could also empower small producers to access bigger markets. There has been a lot of hype and speculation around cryptocurrencies, which are digital tokens whose transactions are recorded on the digital open ledger that is blockchain technology, he said.
But the underlying blockchain technology is much more impactful as it can be used to facilitate trade in clean energy, as seen in South Africa’s Sun Exchange platform WePower from Lithuania, Sandor explained.
Recalling his work in Kerala state in Southern India in 2007, Sandor said he and the Chicago Climate Exchange partnered a non-governmental organization to encourage farmers to collect manure and process it using biodigesters. The methane produced was used for household cooking, and the carbon credits produced sold on the Exchange to provide additional income.
But a key obstacle was the need to travel to these remote villages to verify the carbon offsets were indeed being made, noted Sandor.
“If we had the blockchain and remote sensing … we could’ve reached 20 million rural poor [versus 150,000] because all they would’ve needed were cell phones and remote sensors and I could’ve built a blockchain registry,” he said.
Farmers who have mobile phones can record information about their crops and sustainability certification credentials on the blockchain, and take advantage of that transparency to connect with larger, international markets, said Sandor. “This is a way for an Indian farmer with a small plot of land to—because the information is recorded—be a supplier to Walmart that could never be without this technology.”
He added: “The message is: embrace change, don’t be bothered by blockchain, it’s no different to the cellphone or CNN. It’s information.”
Source Link: https://www.eco-business.com/news/is-there-a-market-based-solution-to-southeast-asias-haze-problem/
By Gregory McCann