Indonesia’s burning issue

Indonesia’s burning issue NASA Earth Observatory
20 Nov
2015
Extreme forest and peat burning in Indonesia has released over three times the annual fossil fuel emissions of the United Kingdom

Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest tropical forest, in which over 100,000 individual fires have been burning in recent months, primarily across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Consequently, up to 1.74 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent had been released between the start of August (when the fires began burning) and the middle of November, making Indonesia one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in 2015, with daily emissions exceeding the entire US economic output.

‘The present-day peat fire dynamic of insular Southeast Asia is the consequence of what might be described as a “perfect storm” of events that provide the key ingredients for fire activity, namely an abundance both of fuel and of ignition sources,’ says Susan Page, professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Leicester.

Page states that over the last two decades, the region has experienced some of the highest rates of forest loss and disturbance anywhere in the tropics, with a particularly high loss rate for peat swamp forest. This is largely, she claims, a result of conversion to large-scale palm oil and pulpwood plantations – these plantations on peat increased in area by 12 per cent annually between 2007 and 2010. ‘The advent of these monoculture plantations has seen landscape-scale forest clearance and peat drainage but also widespread use of fire as a cheap, fast and effective means to clear large areas of forest debris and regrowth,’ she says.

In the past, small-scale use of fire posed limited risk of large-scale damage, but degradation and drainage of the peat swamps has converted a once fire-resistant landscape into a fire-prone one, in which there is abundant fuel for smouldering ground fires. Page stresses that the Indonesian peatlands store about 57 billion tonnes of carbon, which, if released by burning, could convert to as much as 210 billion tonnes of CO2.

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Mountains

Norway is to undercut a mountainous peninsula to create the…

Mapping

Benjmain Hennig explores global mortality with maps

Water

Last winter’s cold conditions contributed a further influx of road…

Water

As one of America’s biggest cities, supplying clean drinking water…

Cities

Cape Town’s Foreshore Freeway Bridge has been left unfinished for…

Mapping

An interactive map highlights the shocking number of ongoing conflicts…

Mapping

Repurposed NASA maps show the racial diversity (and segregation) of…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps Europe's public train networks

Mapping

A new map of global landslide susceptibility reveals vast geographical…

Deserts

For decades, scientists have been divided over how these eerily…

Forests

The first count of global tree species reveals how many…

Cities

The new ‘world’s longest flight’ now spans a distance of more…

Mountains

For the Swiss, the iconic yellow postbuses are much more…

Water

After years of inaction, could the clean-up of the Venice lagoon…

Water

Following the recent success of New Zealand’s Whanganui river, India’s…

Forests

The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)…

Mapping

Where are Europe's earthquakes located? Benjamin Hennig maps the answer

Forests

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Forests

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Mapping

Drought in the region is turning to full famine –…