Can Peat Turn REDD in Copenhagen?

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By Unna Chokkalingam

5 November 2009 | Much of the talk in the three hours of the GTZ-organized REDD donor information sharing meeting in Jakarta this morning centered on peat. Peat was said to account for 50% of Indonesia's carbon emissions as a result of drainage, degradation, oxidation and/or burning. Rehabilitating such degraded peatland would help reduce Indonesia's carbon emissions drastically and go a long way to meeting the President of Indonesia's declared target of 26% emission reductions by 2020.

The Australian REDD demonstration site in Central Kalimantan is on peatland and they are working towards developing methods to estimate reliable and consistent estimates of peat stocks and emissions. Numbers they developed could be used as inexpensive proxies for future REDD projects and for national carbon accounting on peat. Graham Applegate, Senior Technical Forest and Climate Specialist from AusAID, stated, "We will bring the methods and numbers to the UN Climate Change talks in Copenhagen to inform the REDD discussions that it is possible to meet the methodological challenges and that peatland should be included in the plusses following REDD." The Dutch were supporting this effort.

Rehan Kauser of the Asian Development Bank indicated that they were conducting a REDD and peat national policy review with the National Climate Change Council of Indonesia and would bring a forestland and peatland carbon sequestration roadmap to a workshop they organize in Copenhagen next month. The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) were working on peat carbon. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional grouping was working on some text to put forth to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Others in the room also concurred on the importance of peat.

 
Now wait a minute, peatland and REDD?

 


REDD has evolved and expanded a long way since its origins as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation to become REDD+ and REDD++. Forested peatland would be a part of REDD because of the standing forests atop the peat soils. However, peat soil conservation or degraded peatland rehabilitation does not feature in the series of pluses generated by negotiators in the consolidated and abbreviated REDD text at the Bangkok Climate Change talks in October 2009. Peat did not appear in any way, shape or form in the text, not even in brackets indicating one or more countries' desire to include it and others disagreeing or uncertain.

So where does all this talk and frenetic activity on peat and REDD originate from and where does it aim to go? Scientific articles, NGO and media reports in Indonesia starting from the COP13 talks in Bali have elaborated on the importance of inclusion of peat soils (included deforested degraded peatlands) under any REDD agreement. This would be critical to preserve the large stores of CO2 within that when emitted through drainage, development and burning gives Indonesia the dubious distinction of being one of the largest GHG emitters in the world. Besides CO2 emissions, peat fires also lead to copious amounts of smoke and haze that blanket Indonesia and its neighbours for months in the dry season. Intact forested tropical peatlands also tend to be critical for biodiversity conservation, hydrological regulation and fisheries. So all in all restricting peatland development and preserving them for their environmental values was thought to be a good proposition and perhaps funding for conserving peatlands and their Carbon stocks could be found under the REDD framework.

If peat is believed to be so important to be included under REDD+ by all and sundry, why does it not specifically feature in the pluses being considered which includes everything from maintaining existing carbon stocks and enhancing removals, increasing forest cover through afforestation and reforestation, enhancement of carbon stocks through sustainable forest and land management or sustainable management of forests? "And land" seems to be the only concession to possible inclusion of peatland. Does any negotiating country actively push for peatland inclusion in REDD? Why not? Is the importance of peatland degradation and associated emissions a purely Indonesian issue that takes on gigantic proportions when viewed within the Indonesian context and is it of no importance to other negotiating countries?

A Belarus delegation presentation on the importance of peat submitted to the UNFCCC indicates otherwise. Global CO2 emissions from drained and/or burned peat have strongly increased since 1990 to reach roughly 1.8 Gtons per year. Since 1990, peatland emissions have increased in 50 countries, more than 40 of them developing countries. Indonesia, Russia and the EU 27 are the world's largest emitters from drained peatland.

The Indonesian Government agencies were not present at the Jakarta meeting to elucidate their stand - they were at the Barcelona Climate Change talks negotiating for REDD+. The scope of REDD, i.e. the elaboration of the activities to be included under the pluses does not appear to have been discussed further in Barcelona. The new paper released on 5 November 2009 still retains the same text as the earlier one from Bangkok in October with respect to scope.

Will someone respond to the voices and inputs from Jakarta and consider peat in the next round of discussions in Copenhagen? We will wait and watch as the talks and text unfold.

This story originally appeared on the eko-eco blog. To view it in its entirety, click here.