- Emissions from fires burning across Indonesia's peatlands and forests have now surpassed Japan's annual emissions and could pass Brazil's by the end of the week,
- But emissions have slowed in recent days with the return of rainfall to parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan which have been most affected by fire.
- Nonetheless, vast areas of Indonesia are still affected by choking air pollution, which is estimated to have caused more than 500,000 cases of haze-related respiratory illnesses and killed more than a dozen people.
While rain showers have diminished the number of fires burning across Indonesia’s peatlands and forests in recent days, the fires have now surpassed Japan’s annual emissions and could pass Brazil’s by the end of the week, according to analysis by Guido van der Werf of the Global Fires Emissions Database (GFED).
Van der Werf estimates that Indonesia’s fires have released 1.64 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere since the beginning of the year. The vast majority of those emissions have come since early September, when the impact of the regional El Nino-driven drought began to take hold. For the past two months, the rate of emissions from the fires have outpaced emissions from the entire U.S. economy, when measured on a daily basis.
But emissions have slowed in recent days with the return of rainfall to parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan which have been most affected by fire. For example, only 19 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on October 31, down from much higher levels earlier in the month. As a result, air pollution levels have been improving — on Sunday, Singapore’s Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at “moderate”.
Nonetheless, vast areas of Indonesia are still affected by choking air pollution, which is estimated to have caused more than 500,000 cases of haze-related respiratory illnesses and killed more than a dozen people. Last week Greenpeace released images showing conditions in Central Kalimantan, where pollution has registered at record levels.
Along with the photos, Greenpeace also released new data on the fires based on analysis of more than 100,000 hotspots. The activist group found that 36 percent of fires were located in pulp and oil palm concessions. Roughly half the fires were located in just two provinces — Central Kalimantan (25 percent) and South Sumatra (22 percent), while about a tenth of hotspots were burning in Indonesian New Guinea, considered the country’s “last frontier” in terms of intact forests.
There remains considerable debate as to how long Indonesia’s current fire crisis may last. Some analysts believe we may be seeing the end of the crisis now; others suggest that drought conditions could extend into January. In either case, the damage from the fires has already been considerable, costing Indonesia’s tens of billions in economic losses, straining diplomatic relations between Indonesia and its neighbors, and sending hundreds of thousands to hospitals. The ecological damage wrought by the fires and associated air pollution is largely unknown, but fires have spread into some of the most important refuges for endangered orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo.