Indonesia Has Its Own Burning Amazon

Spotlight Activity: Indonesia Has Its Own Burning Amazon

Indonesia has its own forest burning, like Brazil, and these fires are also the result of agriculture.

The production of palm oil requires the clearing of biodiverse forests and mangroves. These forests have contributed large amount of dead plant material over the millennia which accumulates as carbon rich soil, called peatland. These forests will only accumulate carbon in peat when the soil is wet. Clearing forests and draining for agriculture causes these peatlands to catch fire during the summer if they are exposed. Agriculture, particularly palm oil, is the cause of the 2019 haze. Indonesian peatlands can be up to 20 meters deep. Indonesia’s peatlands contain an estimated 55 gigatons of carbon, or about 27 years of total Indonesian carbon emissions. Half of Indonesia’s peatlands are degraded. In 2015 alone, 1 gigaton of carbon was released from peatland fires. The summer of 2019 may have similar disastrous emissions because it was dry.

In May, the start of the dry season, there was no rainfall in some areas. Some of this is attributable to the El Nino event, which decreases rainfall from warmer ocean surface temperatures. However, climate change exacerbates these natural processes. July was the hottest month on record globally. There have been 74,000 fires across Indonesia as of September 16, 2019. 5,086 hotspots have been identified since September 19th. The fires have caused transboundary haze, resulting in dangerous PSI (pollutant standard index) levels in all of Singapore. The PSI levels are even higher for Indonesians in areas with these fires; Sumatra, Riau, and Kalimantan in particular. In 2015, the haze from fires caused 140,000 cases of respiratory illness in Indonesia. These fires appear to be the worst since 2015. 800,000 acres have burned, mostly in and around palm oil plantations. These fires are often caused by land clearing and intentional burning.

Status: Falling Behind

Indonesia must improve forest and land laws that protect carbon stocks. Indonesia has a vast policy suite to prevent land fires, punish those responsible, and improve degraded land. They are just not at a scale that can match global climate processes, such as El Nino years, prolonged droughts, and global temperature rises.

Key efforts that must be ramped up include:

  1. The Peatland Restoration Agency (Badan Restorasi Gambut, BRG): BRG must re-wet and restore land more quickly. BRG must push companies to provide restoration plans.
  2. The moratorium on land clearing in conservation forest and peatland must be extended to secondary forests and enforced more effectively. The Ministry of Forestry and Environment should revoke licenses for those who violate. 
  3. Mandatory reports on forest fire controls: only 22% of forestry business permit holders submitted forest fire control reports. Even fewer companies have provided restoration plans for their degraded peatland. 
  4. 200 companies have been identified as responsible for starting fires, though Indonesian authorities have only committed to action against 30. Punishment for forestry and land violations must be taken more seriously, especially among corporate violators. The government itself even estimates that 80% of the fires were deliberately set. The government audit agency could do more to investigate these companies and determine which breach regulations.
  5. Firefighters are ill-equipped to handle land fires. Many of the firefighters are local volunteers. Indonesia must beef up efforts, train responders, and provide more resources to responders. 

Take Action

Climate Scorecard has provided the contact information to the agencies responsible for each of the policies and programs listed above. Reach out to this list of organizations and explain why they have a crucial role in preventing these fires. 

Send Action Alert Message to:

  1. Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG): and 021 319 012608
  2. Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK):  (021)-5730191 
  3. Contact RSPO companies and ask them to develop a restoration plan: Reach out to non-RSPO companies to join RSPO.
  4. Indonesian National Audit Agency (BPK):  (021) 25549000 ext. 3912
  5. Indonesia National Board for Disaster Management (BNBP): (021) 29618775

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