Plantations on peatlands will no longer be supported by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a framework for industrialized countries to reduce their emissions via projects in developing countries, reports Wetlands International.
The decision, which came last Friday during the executive board meeting, will bar biofuel plantations established on peatlands from earning carbon credits that could then be sold to industrialized countries to “offset” emissions. The concern is that under the CDM, carbon finance is used to perversely subsidize conversion of carbon-dense peatlands for oil palm plantations, a process that generates substantial greenhouse gas emissions, thereby undermining any potential carbon dioxide savings from use of palm oil-based biodiesel.
“We are very relieved that within a year, the CDM Board has decided to revise the existing methodology,” said Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International in a statement. “This decision now ends a perverse incentive for development of plantations on peatlands.”
A Wetlands International statement explains:
Last year, the CDM Executive Board approved a methodology that now gave till last week CDM credits to biodiesel plantations on so-called ‘degraded lands’ in developing countries. The CDM allows industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B Party) to reduce their emissions via projects in developing countries. Such projects can earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits, which can be counted towards meeting Kyoto targets. This methodology was meant to stimulate sequestration of carbon via replanting of degraded, devegetated land areas with renewable energy crops as alternative for conventional diesel.
In practice, this methodology gave an additional financial boast to new palm oil plantations on the logged peatswamps in Southeast Asia. These ‘degraded’ lands however still contain large amounts of carbon in the case of water logged organic peat soils. This carbon will be rapidly released upon drainage for plantations.
Draining and clearing of peat forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Research led by Dr. Susan Page University of Leicester found that producing one ton of palm oil on peatland generates 15 to 70 tons of CO2 over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat decomposition and emission from fires associated with land clearance. In other words, biodiesel produced under such conditions has a greater climate impact than conventional fossil fuels.
As such, environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on the conversion of peatlands for biofuel production. Already about 33% of all oil palm is on peat, according to Wetlands International.
The decision by the CDM Executive Board now removes one incentive from peatland conversion, although developers—especially in Indonesia—are still targeting peat swamps for expansion. Peat lands tend to be cheaper and more available than other soil types suitable for oil palm cultivation.
(06/10/2010) The body charged with establishing a framework for a global climate treaty will account for emissions from peatlands degradation, a source of roughly 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The decision by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays the groundwork for new measures to protect and restore wetlands, says Wetlands International.
(06/03/2010) Indonesia’s chief economic minister said on Wednesday that the government will not revoke existing forestry licenses to develop natural forests under a billion dollar conservation deal signed last week with Norway.
(01/19/2010) A study issued by Indonesian government recommends a moratorium on peatlands conversion in order to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target pledged for 2020, reports the Jakarta Post. The report, commissioned by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), says that conversion of peatlands accounts for 50 percent of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions but only one percent of GDP. A ban on conversion would therefore be a cost-effective way for the country to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 percent from a projected baseline by 2020. But the recommendation is likely to face strong resistance from plantation developers eager to expand operations in peatland areas. Last year the Agricultural Ministry lifted a moratorium on the conversion of peatlands of less than 3 meters in depth for oil palm plantations. Environmentalists said the move would release billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
(11/04/2009) The EU is the world’s second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from peatlands drainage, after Indonesia, reports the first country-by-country assessment of peat stocks. The study, conducted by Wetlands International and Greifswald University, found that drainage of wetlands for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction causes 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Emissions from fires and peat mining (for horticulture and fuel) amount to another 700,000 million tons per year.
(08/06/2009) A new study finds oil palm plantations store less carbon than previously believed, suggesting that palm oil produced through the conversion of tropical forests carries a substantial carbon debt.
(07/22/2009) Indonesian palm oil producers are eying forest conservation projects as a way to supplement earnings via the nascent carbon market, reports Reuters.
(06/04/2009) Indonesia’s decision earlier this year to allow conversion of up to 2 million hectares of peatlands for oil palm plantations is “a monumental mistake” for the country’s long-term economic prosperity and sustainability, argues an editorial published in the June issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
(03/30/2009) Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is increasingly seen as a compelling way to conserve tropical forests while simultaneously helping mitigate climate change, preserving biodiversity, and providing sustainable livelihoods for rural people. But to become a reality REDD still faces a number of challenges, not least of which is economic competition from other forms of land use. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the biggest competitor is likely oil palm, which is presently one of the most profitable forms of land use. Oil palm is also spreading to other tropical forest areas including the Brazilian Amazon.
(07/22/2008) Biofuels meant to help alleviate greenhouse gas emissions may be in fact contributing to climate change when grown on converted tropical forest lands, warns a comprehensive study published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Analyzing the carbon debt for biofuel crops grown in ecosystems around the world, Holly Gibbs and colleagues report that “while expansion of biofuels into productive tropical ecosystems will always lead to net carbon emissions for decades to centuries… [expansion] into degraded or already cultivated land will provide almost immediate carbon savings.” The results suggest that under the right conditions, biofuels could be part of the effort to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.
(12/17/2007) Researchers have confirmed that converting peat forests for oil palm plantations results in a large net release of carbon dioxide, indicating industry claims that palm oil helps fight climate change are unfounded, at least when plantations are established in peatlands.
(11/23/2007) Members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission are distributing materials that misrepresent the carbon balance of oil-palm plantations, according to accounts from people who have seen presentations by commission members. These officials are apparently arguing that oil-palm plantations store and sequester many times the amount of CO2 as natural forests, and therefore that converting forests for plantations is the best way to fight climate change. In making such claims, these Indonesian representatives evidently are ignoring data that show the opposite, putting the credibility of the oil-palm industry at risk, and undermining efforts to slow deforestation and rein in greenhouse gas emissions.