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Environment

9 reasons why Indonesia matters in the fight against climate change

Women harvest rice in the remote village of Tanjung Alam ('Corner of Nature') in the highlands of Jambi Province, Sumatra. This village has a robust landscape of sustainable agroforestry operations. | Flickr: Rainforest Action Network

Hey you- let’s play a game. I name a word, and you guess the place I’m thinking of.

Ready? Go.

Deforestation.

If Brazil or the Amazon came to mind, then good job. Deforestation is a MAJOR problem in the Amazon, and Brazil has historically been one of the top greenhouse gas emitters, due to the clearing and burning of forests.

But actually, I was thinking of Indonesia. The Southeast Asian nation has recently creeped up the ladder in the race to destroy the planet, and that’s no bueno.

If we want to fight the devastating effects of climate change, we can’t ignore what’s going on in Indonesia. Here’s what you need to know:

1. According to The Guardian, Indonesia is the world's third-largest producer of greenhouse gases, coming in hot behind China and the US. 85% of the country’s emissions come from forest destruction and degradation. Now, I’m not saying that there are good types of greenhouse gases, but the fact that the majority of them are coming from forest destruction is especially troubling since primary forests are the largest above-ground carbon stores in the world. So they’re not only causing carbon, but taking away one of the few ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

2. The Amazon and Congo have the largest stretches of tropical forest in the world, but guess who’s third? You got it! Indonesia.

Pak Ahkmat, a fisherman and farmer from the village Desun Gembira, says the rivers he depends upon for survival have been destroyed by forest clearing at Asia Pulp and Paper’s PT BDL timber plantation, which is located on top of his community’s land. | Photo: David Gilbert/ RAN

3. A new study suggests that nearly twice as much primary forest is being cut down in Indonesia as in Brazil-who used to be the global leader. While it’s great to see Brazil acting more responsibly, this news is pretty embarrassing for Indonesia, not to mention bad for the rest of us.

4. The same study also found that the country’s recent rate of forest loss is twice as devastating as the government claimed. I’m sure it was just a simple math mistake though, right, leaders of Indonesia?

5. So what does that mean in terms of land? Researchers at the University of Maryland have some idea. They report that Indonesia lost 15 million acres of forest between 2000 and 2012.

The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province | Photo: Aidenvironment

6. Indonesia is home to both rainforests and peatlands. FYI, peatlands are just wetlands with a thick water-logged organic soil layer (peat) made up of dead and decaying plant material. While rainforests tend to steal the spotlight, water-dense peatlands are important because they help prevent flooding and they ensure a supply of clean water throughout the year. They’re also carbon rich which means their disruption leads to significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes.

7. One reason that rainforests and peatlands are being cleared in Indonesia (as well as in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea), is to build oil palm plantations. Oil palm grows best in low-lying, wet, tropical areas. Try to avoid purchasing the stuff unless you’re sure it’s made sustainably.

8. Fibre plantations, however, are an even bigger driver for deforestation in Indonesia.

This photo is from an investigative report from Rainforest Action Network that found wood fiber linked to the clearing and conversion of Indonesia’s rainforests. | Flickr: Rainforest Action Network

9. I’ll end on this cheesy note, courtesy of Greenpeace: “Indonesia is a treasure chest of biodiversity; it is home to between 10 and 15 per cent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds. Orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, more than 1,500 species of birds and thousands of plant species are all a part of the country's natural legacy.” A TREASURE CHEST people. We can’t stand for this!

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Christina Nuñez