When tropical peat forests are felled, a high level of the greenhouse gas CO2 is released.
This CO2 originates from the wood and from the dried peat soil that oxidises after extraction. Finally, peat bog fires often start in the drained peat soil which once again results in CO2 emissions. Carbon that has slowly accumulated over the course of centuries is released as a result. This also causes a rich ecosystem to go to waste.
In collaboration with several international universities, policymakers, politicians and other interested parties and within the scope of the Carbopeat project, Alterra is studying:
- The amount of carbon sequestered in peat bogs worldwide The global significance of tropical peat soil
- The relationship between land use, ground water levels and CO2 emissions
- The opportunities for compensation for and trade in carbon
- The interaction between carbon, climate and man
- How the carbon sequestered in peat may be managed in a cost-effective manner
From sequestration to source of emissions
Tropical peat soil areas occupy only 0.25% of the total land surface. However, this peat does contain 3% of the worldwide quantity of carbon sequestered in the soil and forests. The exploitation of the peat forests effectively converts these regions from a giant carbon storage area to a considerable source of emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2. These peat bogs are located primarily in developing countries. Seventy per cent of the world’s tropical peat bogs may be found in Southeast Asia. For this reason, Carbopeat is focusing primarily on this area.
In the past, the local population extracted wood, bark, resin, latex and other raw materials from the peat bog areas and the system remained in balance. These days however, these areas are being drained on a massive scale, and converted to palm oil plantations. As a result, the system disappears and a great deal of CO2 is released. By assigning an economic value to the worldwide interest in CO2 sequestration, the way in which peat bog areas will be exploited in the future will hopefully change.
Dissemination of information
Carbopeat aims to ensure that the information gathered on the relationship between the exploitation of peat forests and CO2 emission becomes known worldwide and that it is included in the discussions conducted at international platforms such as the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the European Union.
At the climate conference held in Bali in 2007, an agreement was made that it must be made economically attractive for developing countries to manage their peat carbon stocks wisely in the future as well. The challenge is to design practical applications for this REDD programme (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries), and also allow it to benefit the local population.