Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Indonesia’s burning issue

Indonesia’s burning issue NASA Earth Observatory
20 Nov
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.

Related items

Geographical Week

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


Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester




Travel the Unknown


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

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...


In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…


New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…


In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…


Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…


Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…


New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…


Public transport in India could be on the verge of…


To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…


IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference: Alberta host dresses non-renewable…


Increased carbon dioxide is affecting freshwater ecosystems


The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the…


Deforestation is having an unexpected effect in the Amazon: fewer…


The iconic Douglas fir tree, familiar to fans of the…


Rocky Mountain forests are not regenerating after wildfires


Cape Town is edging closer to ‘Day Zero’, the long-feared…


Ongoing restoration projects are breathing new life into Florida’s Everglades


Despite protests, an experimental pedestrianisation system is proving to be…


National Archives map historian, Rose Mitchell, highlights some of the…


An expedition into the Jordanian desert is helping teachers and…


Trivia fans take note, Mount Hope in the British Antarctic…