A misguided attempt by Indonesia's former dictator, Suharto, to turn more than one million hectares of peat swamp forests on the island of Borneo into vast rice plantations has created an environmental problem with a global impact. Instead of a rice bowl, the landscape now burns every year, accelerating climate change.
For the past 26,000 years, Borneo's peat swamps have been absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. In this article in Nature, Peter Aldhous describes how instead, their fires are now releasing large quantities of the greenhouse gas. Researchers have estimated that the 1997 fires released between 13 and 40 per cent of what is typically released by burning fossil fuels in one year.
Several recent initiatives aim to reverse the drying out of the swamps, mostly by building dams that help keep the water from draining out of the peat. The Climate Change, Forests and Peatlands in Indonesia project has built seven dams, with mixed success. The Centre for International Cooperation in Management of Tropical Peatland at Indonesia's University of Palangka Raya is also building dams and monitoring their ability to limit carbon dioxide emissions. But in other areas, the central government is making the situation worse by trying to rehabilitate the landscape using inappropriate methods.
Link to full article in Nature