The Source, our Annual Review 2019

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil adopts standards to limit peatland degradation

Over 25 years a hectare of oil palm plantation on peat will emit more than 2000 tonnes of carbon dioxide amounting to about 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year in Indonesia alone -- more than half the coun- try’s total emissions, according to Kristell Her- goualc’h, a scientist at the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The problem is made worse by fire – either those that occur naturally, or those that are de- liberate to clear existing forests. Wet peat does not burn because the moist conditions prevent oxidation and keeps fires from starting. New threats to Indonesia peatland But, while the RSPO has taken positive steps to curb peatland degradation through drain- age, peatland in Indonesia, in particular, is fac- ing a new threat. The Indonesian government’s relaxation of regulation protecting carbon rich peat landscapes now only requires land concession holders to maintain the water ta- ble in the highest point of a peat dome. Areas with a peat depth of less 3m are now exempt from having to use the drainability assessment procedure. The resulting peatland degradation is expected to jeopardise the goal set by the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) to restore 2.4 million hectares of peatlands by 2020. Paludiculture as an alternative Plantations that must be phased out under the drainability assessment guidelines can either be phased out or transition to paludiculture, the cultivation of more water-tolerant crop types such as sago without major degradation to the peat.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has adopted new standards on peat- land draining, developed in partnership with Wetlands International, to help curb the deg- radation of peatswamps that would contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The RSPO, a trade body that certifies palm oil across 3.89 million hectares in south America, west Africa and Indonesia, will use the drain- ability assessment (DA) procedure to assess the potential for replanting based on ground water levels and drainage possibilities. Dipa Rais, Technical Officer Hydrology at Wet - lands International Indonesia, who worked on the assessment with the RSPO since 2017 said: “Global production of, and demand for, palm oil has increased rapidly in the last decade. A huge part of it comes from drained peatlands. Without careful planning for the future of these peatlands, reaching drainabili- ty limit will be inevitable along with numerous associated damages.” “The official adoption of the assessment can contribute in preventing future irreversible damage to hydrology, ecology and economy of peatlands and communities at landscape scale. Permanent flooding, salt water intrusion, pyrite oxidation and increased management costs, are just few examples of these foreseea- ble harm,” he added. Going up in smoke The major issue with draining peat for growing palm oil is that the peat, comprising partially decayed plant material, oxidises as it dries out, releasing the carbon into the air as carbon dioxide. This causes the land to subside and is a major source of emissions.

Plantations of oil palm, for which natural peat swamps are drained across the tropics, dramatically reduce the coverage of these rich wetland ecosystems. They are a major driver of the loss of tropical peatlands globally and threaten their biodiversity and carbon storage.



Wetlands Annual Review 2019

Wetlands Annual Review 2019

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