Indonesia’s decision this week to restrict any activities that could damage the country’s peat-filled wetlands is “the kind of leadership that the world needs right now,” according to United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Erik Solheim.
The announcement Monday by Indonesian President Joko Widodo “could help prevent wildfires and billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades,” the Washington Post reports, representing “a major boon for both public health and the global climate.”
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“Indonesia is known for its tropical peatlands—bogs filled with carbon-rich, partly decomposed organic matter, or peat,” the Post explains. “Recently, though, Indonesia’s peatlands have been faced with growing threats from human activity, mainly agriculture.”
Local people sometimes drain the bogs and set fires to clear land for farming. But “in particularly dry years, these fires have been known to spiral into enormous blazes that pour hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and threaten thousands of people with respiratory illness.”
By curtailing that activity, Widodo’s announcement could be an important milestone in the effort to get carbon emissions under control.
“If you are able to eliminate those ignitions, then you could do away with the fires,” said carbon cycle specialist Guido van der Werf of VU University in Amsterdam.
“By strengthening the efforts to prevent damages to peatland such as by banning virtually all conversion of peatlands for certain plantations and by encouraging peat restoration, this regulation will be a major contribution to the Paris climate agreement and a relief to millions of Indonesians who suffer the effects of toxic haze from peat fires,” added Nirarta Samadhi, director of World Resources Institute Indonesia.