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Indonesia confirms that peatlands will be converted for plantations

Indonesia’s Minister for the Environment has approved a decree that will allow the conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for oil palm plantations, reports The Jakarta Post.

Rachmat Witoelar said that oil palm plantations will only be established in areas where peat is less than 3 meters (10 feet) deep. Conversion will require an environmental impact analysis (Amdal).

“The conversion of peatlands is possible for certain criteria, but should be done very selectively,” Rachmat told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “The conversion is strictly forbidden in [peatland] more than 3 meters deep.”

Rainforest clearing for an oil palm plantation in Kalimantan. Dr. Gatot Irianto, the head of Research and Development Agency of the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, has defended the decree with by falsely claiming a ‘carbon savings by oil palms’.

Rachmat noted that the Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono had not discussed his peatlands-for-oil-palm decree with Indonesia’s National Commission for Climate Change which had been established to coordinate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation. Scientists estimate that drainage and destruction of Indonesia’s peatlands may account for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in some years, making the country the third largest source of emissions after China and the United States.

Indonesia has some 20 million hectares of peatland but WWF-Indonesia estimates that 398,000 hectares (983,000 acres) of very deep peatlands were deforested annually between 2000 and 2005, mostly for timber and the establishment of plantations. More than 3 million hectares are degraded.

The decree brings to the end a 15-month moratorium on conversion of peatlands. The ban was initiated by President Yudhoyono ahead of the Bali climate conference in December 2007.

Environmentalists say the decision will have global environmental consequences.

“This decree ignores the major impacts that such plantations will have in terms of carbon emissions, biodiversity and increased flooding. It highly conflicts with the attempts by the EU, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palmoil (RSPO), the UN Climate Conference and the Convention on Biological Diversity to save these carbon rich and biodiversity rich areas,” said Wetlands International in a statement. “The decree makes it uncertain for Indonesia to receive support from REDD, a future forest – climate scheme to reward countries that reduce their emissions from deforestation as these emissions are now likely to increase.”

“Allowing the destruction of more peatlands is a disaster for the fight against climate change, and will only confirm Indonesia’s status as the world’s third biggest polluter,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Bustar Maitar told The Jakarta Post.

“With the general elections coming up, the Agriculture Ministry’s plan is fishy, because it seems like an attempt to satisfy the country’s powerful paper and palm oil industries at the expense of the environment.”

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