Pulp and palm oil the villains in Sumatra’s global climate impact and local elephant losses
Pekanbaru, Sumatra: Turning just one Sumatran province’s forests and peat swamps into pulpwood and palm oil plantations is generating more annual greenhouse gas emissions than the Netherlands and rapidly driving the province’s elephants into extinction, a new study by WWF and partners has found.
The study found that in central Sumatra’s Riau Province 4.2 million hectares of tropical forests and peat swamp have been cleared in the last 25 years. Forest loss and degradation and peat decomposition and fires are behind average annual carbon emissions equivalent to 122 percent of the Netherlands total annual emissions, 58 percent of Australia’s annual emissions, 39 per cent of annual UK emissions and 26 per cent of annual German emissions.
Riau was chosen for the study because it is home to vast peatlands estimated to hold Southeast Asia’s largest store of carbon, and contains some of the most critical habitat for Sumatran elephants and tigers. It also has Indonesia’s highest deforestation rate, substantially driven by the operations of global paper giants Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL).
The report by WWF, Remote Sensing Solution GmbH and Hokkaido University breaks new ground by analyzing for the first time the connection between deforestation and forest degradation, global climate change, and population declines of tigers and elephants.
The province has lost 65 per cent of its forests over the last 25 years and in recent years has suffered Indonesia’s fastest deforestation rates. In the same period there was an 84 per cent decline in elephant populations, down to only 210 individuals, while tiger populations are estimated to have declined by 70 per cent to perhaps just 192 individuals.
“We found that Sumatra’s elephants and tigers are disappearing even faster than their forests are in Riau,” said WWF International’s Species Programme Director, Dr Susan Lieberman. “This is happening because as wildlife search for new habitat and food sources, they increasingly come into conflict with people and are killed.
“The fragmentation and opening up of new forest areas also increases both the access and the opportunities for poaching. Therefore, a concerted effort to save these forests will contribute significantly to slowing the rate of
global climate change, and will give tigers, elephants, and local communities a real chance for a future in Sumatra.”
Led by global paper giants APP and APRIL, the pulp & paper and palm oil industries are driving Riau’s Sumatran tigers and elephants to local extinction in just a few years by destroying their habitat, the study found.
At last December’s Bali Climate Change Conference, the Indonesian minister of Forestry pledged to provide incentives to stop unsustainable forestry practices and protect Indonesia’s forests. The governor of Riau province has also made a public commitment to protect the province’s remaining forest.
“If the commitments by the Indonesian government are implemented, it will not only save its endangered species but actually slow the rate of global climate change through the carbon savings,” said Ian Kosasih, director of WWF-Indonesia’s forest programme.
Carbon emissions are likely to increase, the study predicted, as most future forest clearance will be conducted in areas with deep peat.
“If government and local industry were to create positive incentives for projects to reduce emissions by saving forests in Riau Province, it would both protect the province’s massive carbon stores and also contribute to the economies of local communities that are dependent on these forests,” said Kosasih.
As part of its efforts to save Sumatra’s remaining natural forests, WWF is working urgently with the Indonesian government and the pulp and palm oil industries to identify and protect the forests that are home to elephants, tigers, orang-utans and rhinos. Sumatra is the only place on Earth where all four species co-exist.
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