The bog barons: Indonesia's carbon catastrophe (Part 3)

EoF News / 05 December 2007

By Fred Pearce, New Scientist magazine -- 1 December 2007 (part 3)


Some accuse APRIL of putting up a green smokescreen while it trashes another rainforest. The company insists it is sincere. Only it can save Kampar, with its carbon, its tigers and the few dozen indigenous Akit hunter-gatherers that live there, APRIL claims.


"If nothing is done, the parks will all be gone in 10 years," says Jouko Virta of APRIL, who is credited with the "greening" of the company. "The government should use us to protect conservation areas in return for being allowed to make productive use of the rest."


It's not just about keeping migrant farmers and illegal loggers out. The company also claims its engineering expertise can reduce emissions. It wants to close as many of the canals draining the bog as possible, and then maintain water levels as high as is possible while still allowing acacia to grow. "We believe that we can cut CO2 emissions by 80 to 90 per cent by minimising the dry zone," says Virta.


At WWF they remain unconvinced. "I don't believe them," says Stuewe. "They have failed in Tesso Nilo and they would fail again in Kampar. Both APRIL and APP have built roads into the Kampar dome, into the heart of the biggest carbon store in southeast Asia. They are stakes into the heart of the bog."


Some think the only solution is to conserve all of Kampar by shutting the roads and closing the canals. What about the government? Indonesia is a democracy, but one mired in corruption and with confused and contradictory laws.


Arguably, neither APRIL nor APP should be allowed to work on most of the peatlands at all. According to Indonesian law, nobody is allowed to exploit land where the peat is more than 3 metres deep. Yet the government has awarded logging and plantation concessions on such land. Bathgate admits that many APRIL concessions are on peat 6 to 8 metres deep. Are those concessions invalid? Or does a concession trump the law? Nobody knows.


The next steps to resolving Kampar's future could come during the upcoming negotiations in Bali. At the conference, Indonesia is planning to make the case that any successor to the Kyoto protocol should reward countries in the developing world with carbon credits for avoiding carbon losses from deforestation and drained peatlands.


Just as rich countries and companies can get tradeable credits for cutting emissions, the idea is that developing countries should get credits for avoiding future increases. It has strong support from many countries.


"The world has to provide incentives for Indonesia to preserve its peatlands," says the country's head of forestry research, Wahjudi Wardojo. For him, the nearly 2 billion tonnes of CO2 a year being released from the country's peatlands are a massive bargaining chip. And companies like APRIL argue that the prospect of revenues from carbon credits would justify reducing their own emissions and managing land already leaking carbon into the air.


In all, an estimated 155 gigatonnes of CO2 remains locked away in the waterlogged peatlands of south-east Asia. That's as much as the entire world's fossil fuel emissions for the past five years. There's no doubt that the continued destruction of peatland forests will greatly accelerate climate change. The question is: does the world trust the barons of the bogs to protect them in future as well as they have wrecked them in the past? And if not, what's the alternative?




part 2


part 2