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Indonesia lost 8.8m ha of forest in the 2000s, generating 7 billion tons of CO2

Conversion of forest to oil palm plantations in Borneo. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation could have been reduced by hundreds of millions of tons had a moratorium on new concessions in high carbon forest areas and peatlands been implemented earlier, reported a researcher presenting at a forests conference on the sideline of climate talks in Doha.

The analysis — presented by Jonah Busch of Conservation International (CI) and based on work by researchers from CI, the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Resources Institute, the University of Maryland, the Woods Hole Research Center, and the Packard Foundation — estimated how much Indonesia would have reduced deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions had it implemented its moratorium on new logging, timber, and palm oil concessions in 2000 instead of 2011. The study concludes that had Indonesia enacted the policy sooner, it could have cut 578 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by reducing deforestation by 4.7 percent or 414,000 hectares during the period. The reduction would have represented about 8.3 percent of Indonesia’s 8.71 billion tons of total emissions. Had a stricter interpretation of the moratorium (one the applied to all forest and peatland storing more than 150 tons of carbon per ha) been put into place, emissions reductions could have amounted to 1.367 billion tons by saving 1.486 million ha of forest.

Slide from Busch’s presentation. Courtesy of Busch.

Overall the study found that Indonesia lost some 8.78 million hectares of forest and emitted 8.71 billion tons of CO2 (7 billion of which resulted from land use change) during the period. Oil palm and timber (including pulp and paper) concessions represented 38 percent of deforestation but 46 percent of emissions nationwide. The study didn’t evaluate the plantation sector’s impact on forest and peat degradation, an important source of emissions in Indonesia.

The study found that concessioning an area for either timber harvesting or oil palm conversion substantially boosted the deforestation rate: “On average, oil palm concessions increased deforestation by 60%, and timber concessions increased deforestation by 110%,” stated Busch’s presentation. Oil palm concessions lost forest at a rate of 1.6-2.4 percent during the study period, while forest in timber concessions was cleared at 0.3-3 percent per year. Forest in logging concessions declined at 0.5 percent annually.

Going forward, Busch concluded that if Indonesia wants to achieve its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-41 percent from a 2020 baseline, it would need to expand the scope of its current moratorium beyond primary forests and peatlands, to include secondary forests and existing concessions where conversion hasn’t yet taken place. He suggested that a national price on carbon could be be an alternate approach to reducing carbon emissions in Indonesia. For example, he estimated that a compliance-based cap-and-trade system which priced carbon at $2.05 per ton of CO2 emitted would have achieved the same 578 million ton-reduction as the moratorium had it been in effect during the period.

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