Key Facts: Why we need Indonesia’s rainforests

The biodiversity of Indonesia’s rainforests is among the planet’s highest: orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos all call them home. These days, home is a pretty risky place. All of these mammals, and countless other species, are listed as critically endangered, due largely to habitat destruction from deforestation.

Indonesia’s forests contain:

10% of the world’s mammal species
16% of our planet’s bird species
11% of earth’s plant species

Logging these rich biospheres for pulp, paper and clothing, then replacing them with acacia tree and palm oil plantations is short sighted — the forest equivalent of paving paradise to put up a parking lot.

Species Under Stress

Orangutan_Indonesia_KSauve_DSC6928September 21, 2014
Photo by K. Sauve

It is feared that the already stressed Sumatran elephant population might be extinguished in the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape due to a new plantation recently approved by the government.  Of the ~500 remaining Sumatran tigers, it is estimated that at least 20% live on unprotected land at high risk for logging.

For orangutans, life is not better. A 2003 report from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species counted 7,300 Sumatran orangutans in the wild. That number has since declined to a conservative estimate of 6,600 and it is thought Sumatran orangutans will be the first Great Ape species to go extinct.

Major Carbon Pool

Often growing on peat domes 10 – 20 metres deep, Indonesia’s rainforests are incredible storehouses of carbon. It is estimated that Indonesia’s peatlands and rainforests store at least 70 billion tons of carbon

Rapid Deforestation and Degradation

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Indonesia is deforesting at an alarming rate – 40% of its forest has disappeared in the last 50 years. Eighty-five percent of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stem from deforestation (37%), peatland disturbances (27%) and other land use activities (21%) (National Council on Climate Change, 2010). Logging and forest clearance has made this largely rural country the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, second only to China and the US.

Why is Indonesian deforestation having an especially negative impact on our climate?

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Indonesia’s rainforests are unique in their carbon-storage capacity. In addition to the trees, the peat in which they grow is a carbon sponge. When drained to support fast-growing palms and other plantation trees, the peat decays quickly, releasing its stored carbon into the atmosphere.

The Forest Stewardship Council considers forests growing in peat deeper than 25 centimetres to be of High Conservation Value. In Indonesia, rainforests frequently grow in peat more than 10 metres deep. That’s some deep peat! Some of the deepest anywhere, in fact.

The UK government-commissioned Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change found that “curbing deforestation is a highly cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” When you factor in its peat, that’s especially true for Indonesia’s forests.

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