Wetlands International

Welcoming the protection of the Tripa peat swamp (Aceh), fearing for similar cases


Source: Wetlands International

Bogor, Indonesia -- Wetlands International welcomes the decision by the Indonesian government to protect the Kallista Alam peat swamp forest area (1650Ha) in Tripa, Aceh. We also recognise the issue identified by Dr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (head of Indonesia’s climate team) who mentioned that 'The case of Kallista Alam in Aceh is the typical problem we are facing.” Wetlands International fears for the many similar cases in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Dr Mangkusubroto also stated that “some parts have been turned to palm oil plantations, some have been burned, and it turned out the permit does not exist'.

This observation that parts of the peatland have been developed and degraded is indeed extremely important. In this regard, Wetlands International fears that the official revocation of the oil palm plantation concession and subsequent protection of the Kallista Alam peatland area may not ensure that the area and its biodiversity will indeed survive in the long term. The Kallista Alam area is just a small part of the larger Tripa peat swamp forest area, which consists of very wet and hydrologically very sensitive peat domes.

Peatland degradation causing emissions, soil subsidence
The natural very wet condition prevents the organic material from decomposing, which has caused peat to accumulate for over thousands of years. When such a peat dome is fragmented in partly protected and partly developed areas (e.g. oil palm plantations), the drainage in the developed areas will also affect the hydrology in the protected area. As a result, the protected area will dry out and the peat carbon will oxidise, resulting in high CO2 emissions and thus contributing to climate change[1]. The drainage and oxidation of the peat dome will cause it to subside until the surface reaches such a low level that drainage will not be possible anymore, causing severe flooding and loss of land in the long term.

In other parts of the world this phenomenon has already been experienced, like in the Netherlands and the USA, which therefore needed to build dikes to prevent large land areas to be flooded (one-third of the Netherlands lies below sea level mainly as a result of peatland subsidence). Whereas in the temperate zone and in densely populated high economy areas it is possible to address this issue to some extent by building dikes and pumping out the rainwater, this will not be possible in the vast coastal swamp areas of Sumatra and Borneo, which receive over 10 times more rain. The only way to prevent major flooding in these areas is to stop current unsustainable land uses and rehabilitate the original peatland hydrology.

Many more similar cases
There are many more areas similar to Tripa in Indonesia, but also Malaysia, where peatlands are already fragmented by oil palm plantations, pulp wood plantations and other drainage-reliant land-uses. As a result, Indonesia has a disproportionately high emission of greenhouse gasses. The Indonesian government has therefore taken a wise step to establish a Moratorium on peatland conversion and enable some time to review the current and planned land uses and their impacts and options for remediation of the problems.

Removing existing plantations
Halting expansion of plantation development on peat is just one important step, but removing existing plantations will be necessary to effectively address the enormous peatland emissions and to prevent the long term disastrous scenario of flooding and land loss along thousands of kilometres of coasts and rivers. While this requires major public investment, like the 1 billion Euro committed by Norway under its climate deal with Indonesia, it may also be of interest to the emerging voluntary private sector driven international carbon market.

Call to the Government of Indonesia
Wetlands International calls upon the Indonesian government to regard peatland degradation not only as a climate issue, but especially consider also the impact of peatland subsidence, flooding and land loss which will impact the economy of future generations.

Wetlands International has been supporting the coalition for the protection of Tripa since 2009. See our press releases:

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