This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
The forest fires that raged through Indonesia throughout September released at least 708 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a report published on Nov. 25 by the EU-backed Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) found. That number is nearly double the 366 million tonnes of emissions released by the forest fires in the Amazon this year.
“What has stood out with the recent fires in Indonesia is how high the daily total fire intensity and estimated emissions [are] than the average of the previous 16 years,” Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the CMAS, told Mongabay.
This year’s forest fires were the most intense in the past two decades, even worse than the fires that raged through Indonesia in 2015. That year, forest fires in the provinces of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi emitted 884 million tonnes of carbon.
A World Resources Institute report found that as the forest fires burned in 2015, Indonesia’s carbon emissions surpassed those of the entire United States for 44 days. It was second only to China.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that this year’s fires emitted nearly as much carbon dioxide as Canada produces in a year. One of the primary reasons they emitted so much carbon was because nearly a quarter of the total area affected consisted of peatlands.
Nearly 36 percent of the world’s tropical peatland is located in Indonesia. In the past, peatlands were seldom used because they were not arable, but the increasing demand for plantation development increased demand for peatlands, mostly from farming giants that exploit them. Most peatlands are located far from residential areas, making it easy for developers — many of which use unsafe land clearing methods and siphon resources at locals’ expense — to obtain permits to farm the area. These corporations are largely responsible for land clearing practices that sparked the forest fires. Peatlands contain large stores of carbon, which are released into the air when burnt.
Peat fires are difficult to extinguish once ignited. The fire burns steadily under the soil, which, in many cases, can only be put out with rain. Without much rain this year, firefighters had to put out the fires manually.
This summer, fires destroyed 850 thousand hectares of land in six Indonesian provinces. While the fires were primarily sparked by land-clearing methods, the summer heat and lack of rain made it worse.
The fires also caused a thick haze to spread to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia, lowering the air quality of millions.
These rising carbon emissions is a main roadblock in Indonesia’s target to cut emissions by 29 percent by 2030, Anggalia Putri Permatasari, a researcher from the Madani Sustainable Development Foundation said in an interview with Mongabay.
She added that Indonesia should anticipate more forest fires in the coming years. Indonesia must map out the forest fires’ heat centres in relation to carbon emissions in order to better understand the pattern of these yearly forest fires.
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