Peatland fires are a major source of atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia. The environmental damage associated with these fires, and the negative impact of the resulting haze for human health, transport, tourism and economic activity, have made them a cause of major international concerns. The fires are typically lit for agricultural purposes, but are often exacerbated by droughts induced by climate anomalies from the Pacific (El Niño Southern Oscillation: ENSO) and Indian Ocean (Indian Ocean Dipole). But in June 2013, a wet year, peat land fires generated high pollution levels over Sumatra, Malaysia and Singapore. Last year’s crisis indicates that prevention of fires on peat lands every year – not just El Niño (dry) years – is essential to reduce trans-boundary haze.
A landscape approach seeks balanced trade-offs between agricultural expansion, peat land and forest conservation, and reduction of fires. This may be achieved by harmonizing national, provincial, and customary land-use regulations, by establishing equitable land ownership and distribution of benefits for indigenous groups, small migrants, mid-level investors in agriculture, and companies, and by keeping a strong stance against illegal land speculators from all levels.
Presentations from the event:
This learning event:
- Examined the causes and impacts of these apparently anomalous fires (2013 and 2014 fires)
- Explored to what extent conflicts over land ownership between communities and companies cause fires and how conflicts could be solved through mediation.
The key questions and issues addressed in the session included the following:
- Were the pollution levels generated by the 2013 (a non El Niño year) fires higher than those in the last two major El Niño years (1997 and 2006)?
- Were climatic conditions prior to the 2013 fires dry or wet?
- Which kind of vegetation burned? And who owns that land?
- How much greenhouse gas was emitted by the 2013 fires?
- Did conflicts over land ownership between communities and companies play a role?
- How could conflict mediation solve the fire crisis?
- CIFOR Southeast Asia haze crisis
- Page, S. E. et al. The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997. Nature 420, 61-65 (2002)
- Heil, A. & Goldammer, J. Smoke-haze pollution: A review of the 1997 episode in Southeast Asia. Regional Environmental Change 2, 24-37 (2001)
- Murdiyarso, D. & Adiningsih, E. S. Climate anomalies, Indonesian vegetation fires and terrestrial carbon emissions. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 12, 101-112 (2007)
- Suyanto, S. Underlying cause of fire: different form of land tenure conflicts in Sumatra. Mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change 12, 67-74 (2007)
- Suyanto, S., Applegate, G., Permana, R. P., Khususiyah, N. & Kurniawan, I. The role of fire in changing land use and livelihoods in Riau-Sumatra. Ecology and Society 9, 15 (2004)