Indonesian forest destruction dammed

Feature story - 29 October, 2007
Our volunteers and local forest communities have halted the destruction of an area of swamp forest in Sumatra, Indonesia. They are building five dams across three-metre deep canals used in logging and draining peatland for conversion into a commercial palm oil plantation.

Greenpeace activists work with locals to halt drainage by constructing dams on the peatland canals. This will prevent the peatland from drying out and releasing carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Destroying the forest there would not only breach Indonesian regulations for forest protection, and an Indonesia's Presidential decree, but would also lead to the release of large quantities of greenhouse gases.

Thick layers of peat underlie most of Indonesia's swamp forest. Over time, the peat layer has locked up millions of tonnes of carbon. Once forests are cleared, peat swamps are drained and decompose to release the stored carbon as carbon dioxide. Forests are often also burned, prior to the planting of palm oil saplings, further compounding the climate problem.

Such is the scale of forest destruction across Indonesia that the huge amounts of greenhouse gases being emitted have made the country into the world's third largest climate polluter, behind the US and China.

More than 30 volunteers will work for a week with people from the nearby village to construct the dams. By halting drainage operations, the dams will prevent the peatland from drying out and releasing carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas. The dams will also prevent the palm oil company from illegally burning the currently waterlogged peatland, which would otherwise further add to global warming.

Update - 31 October:

Swedish petrol giant ditches plans for deforestation bio-diesel made from palm oil.

"Palm oil companies are breaking the law and draining the very life out of Indonesia's remaining peatland forests," said Hapsoro, Greenpeace South East Asia forest campaigner. "And they are adding substantially to the problem of global warming."

The damming is taking place on a plantation held by the PT Duta Palma company. Our on-site investigations of the peatlands, conducted from the Forest Defenders Camp in Riau, and together with peatland experts, have brought to light the flagrant violations of regulations intended to protect these areas.

Exposing the destruction:

This urgent problem needs a global solution. We have set up the Forest Defenders Camp on the boundary of forest clearing in a region of Sumatra.

Check out life at the camp and why it's there:

More about the camp and updates on their weblog.

In addition to efforts to highlight and halt peatland forest destruction in this one particular area, we are also attempting to promote long-term solutions to deforestation in Indonesia.

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.

We know it is possible to keep the worst impacts of climate change - such as extreme weather events, water crises and increased hunger - from putting millions of people at risk.

This will take a revolution in the way we use and produce energy, and a strong commitment to halt deforestation worldwide. More governments need to commit to tougher emissions reduction targets in the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

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