Indonesia: Forests and climate up in smoke

Feature story - 10 October, 2007
Never has the threat to the world’s forests been more acute nor the risk of dangerous climate change so imminent. With about one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions being caused by forest destruction we are highlighting how Indonesia is at the heart of this problem.

Local children on a wooden raft surrounded by smoke from tropical rainforest on fire in Indonesia.

Indonesian forests are being destroyed faster than any other major forested country, for logging and oil palm plantations.

This destruction has obvious, immediate consequences for the unique plants, animals and people who call the Indonesian forests home. These forests contain between 10 and 15 percent of all known species of plants, mammals and birds that make up the world's treasure chest of biodiversity. Orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, more than 1,500 species of birds and thousands of plant species are all part of the country's natural legacy. But many of these unique forest-dwelling animals, including the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger, are on the brink of extinction.

While the loss of forests is bad enough, there's a double blow for the environment from forest clearance in Indonesia. Beneath most of this forest are thick layers of peat that lock up millions of tones of carbon. Once the forest is cleared the peat swamp is drained and often also burned to make the soil more suitable for palm oil plantations. Burning of the forest and peat results in huge amounts of greenhouse gases making Indonesia the world's third largest climate polluter.

Brazil is the fourth largest climate polluter, with up to 75 percent of its emissions coming from land conversion and deforestation mainly in the Amazon.

More emissions than transport

Globally deforestation and forest fires account for approximately 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's more emissions than the world's entire transport sector. If global deforestation is left unchecked it will continue to accelerate the rate of global warming.    

This urgent global problem needs a global solution. We have launched a Forest Defenders Camp on the boundary of forest clearing in a region of Sumatra. In the coming weeks we'll be highlighting scale of the destruction and who's responsible. But also in Indonesia lies the start of that global solution.

Indonesia will be hosting the next round of international climate talks in December. Governments from around the world will gather in Bali to negotiate about extending the Kyoto Protocol, the only international agreement containing legally-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

We aim to ensure that deforestation is included in the next phase of the Kyoto agreement extending beyond 2012. The decisions that governments make in the near future are critical for securing the financing and capacity needed by countries to safeguard their tropical forests and to allow them to make a serious contribution to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Stabilising the world's climate depends on countries agreeing to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from the energy and industrial sectors and completely halting deforestation. And, above all, ensuring that this is firmly written into the revised Kyoto Protocol.

About the camp

Read more about our Forest Defenders Camp.


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