From: Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published April 27, 2012 09:38 AM

Palm oil is a major driver of peatlands destruction in Indonesian Borneo

Developers in Indonesian Borneo are increasingly converting carbon-dense peatlands for oil palm plantations, driving deforestation and boosting greenhouse gas emissions, reports a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research concludes that nearly all unprotected forests in Ketapang District in West Kalimantan will be gone by 2020 given current trends.

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The study, which was led by Kim Carlson of Yale and Stanford University, is based on comprehensive socioeconomic surveys, high-resolution satellite imagery, and carbon mapping of the Ketapang, which is home to some of the most biodiverse forests on the planet including those of Gunung Palung National Park.

Carlson and colleagues found that while developers focused on lowland forest areas for conversion between 1994-2001, the subsequently focused of peatlands. By 2008 nearly 70 percent of new plantations were established on peatlands, spurring substantial carbon dioxide emissions. The study projects that up to 90 percent of emissions from palm oil plantations will come from peatlands by 2020.

The findings are timely because the Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil industries are currently making a case that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's emissions estimates for palm oil production are too high. In concluding that palm oil-based biodiesel won't sufficiently reduce emissions relative to conventional fuel, the EPA assumed that 9 percent of Malaysian and 13 percent of Indonesian palm oil is produced on peatlands. The new study suggests that future oil palm development may be concentrated of peatlands, boosting the carbon footprint of palm oil, thereby undermining the palm oil industry's protests.

Photo shows Deforestation in Ketapang District, West Kalimantan, courtesy Mongabay.

Article continues at ENN Affiliate: Mongabay.

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