Photo Credit: Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

COP26: Peatlands for a Better Future Climate

Author: Vong Sok, Etwin Sabarini, Ahmad Dermawan, Sinta Silviana  |   January 31, 2022  |   Initiatives

The effects of climate change have been felt in every aspect by every country in every region of the world. However, the impacts are felt mainly by vulnerable communities.

Addressing climate change requires concerted and immediate global efforts. The recently held COP26 in Glasgow concluded with all countries agreeing to keep the 1.5 ℃ goal alive and finalising the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement. The Glasgow Climate Pact stresses the importance of scaling up action on dealing with climate impacts, recognises the crucial role of science in the decision-making process, steps up action to reduce vulnerability, strengthens resilience, and increases the capacity of people and the planet to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and increases the financing for developing countries. The Pact includes the agreement of countries on a series of climate mitigation actions, some of which concern the “phase-down of unabated coal power” and “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies,” as well as “mid-century net zero.”

Peatlands are highly space-effective carbon stocks: they cover only 3 per cent of the land but contain more carbon than the entire forest biomass of the world. Southeast Asia has a peat area of 23 million hectares (ASEAN, 2021), accounting for 40 per cent of all tropical peatlands worldwide. It is estimated that ASEAN peatlands store approximately 68 billion tons of carbon, i.e., 14 per cent of carbon stored in peatlands globally (Lo & Parish, 2013). Human interventions such as logging, slash and burn practices, deforestation, and agricultural drainage, result in increasing wildfires (see for example Leng, L.Y., Ahmed, O.H., Jalloh, M.B. 2019) and degraded ecosystems that have transformed ASEAN’s carbon-rich peatlands into massive carbon emitters over the last few decades.

A series of discussions was organised at the Peatland Pavilion during COP26, where the ASEAN Peatland Partners contributed two sessions, the “Importance of ASEAN Peatlands in Contributing to Global Climate Change Mitigation” on 2 November 2021 and “Towards a Climate Adapted Southeast Asia Through Integrated Peatland Management” on 3 November 2021. The protection and restoration of peatlands were cited by the ASEAN Member States as critical to combating haze pollution and climate change. Peatlands and their rich biodiversity play an essential role in reducing carbon emissions, climate change adaptation, and providing sustainable livelihoods to local communities. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight the peatland ecosystem services under various policy and management scenarios and practices, specifically peatland restoration and management policies and implementation progress, scientific knowledge and practical lessons learned, and experiences with best practices for sustainable peatland management.

Realising the importance of peatland, haze pollution, and climate change issues, the ASEAN Member States adopted the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) [ASEAN, 2019] and the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) 2006-2020 as guidelines to manage peatland and haze pollution in the region. In particular, APMS guided actions to support the sustainable management of peatlands in the region. The APMS’s overarching goals were to (i) raise awareness and capacity about peatlands; (ii) address transboundary haze pollution and environmental degradation; (iii) promote sustainable peatland management; and (iv) promote regional cooperation.

At the Peatland Pavilion side event of COP26, ASEAN highlighted the importance for enhanced regional cooperation on sustainable forest management. Indonesia is home to more than 80 per cent of the region’s peatlands (ASEAN, 2021a). As the largest peatland country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia experiences forest and land fires almost every year and contributes to haze for neighboring countries (See for example Sze, J. S., et al. (2019). In recent years, Indonesia has made efforts to reduce the number and magnitude of forest and land fires by using a combination of policies, agencies, best practices, and technologies (Watts, et al. (2019). As a result, Indonesia has successfully reduced deforestation (See for example Wijaya and Samadhi, 2019) in the last several years and restored degraded peatlands for a cumulative area of 835,300 ha between 2016 and 2020 (Badan Restorasi Gambut, 2020).

In Malaysia, the government kept the promise it made at the 1992 Rio Convention to devote half of the nation’s land area to forest. Peatland has long since featured in national plans, with substantial achievements. Yet challenges remained. Fire was an ever-present threat despite decreasing in scale and impact, thanks to effective management. Rapid development of urban areas put pressure on peatland but the high-level commitment from federal and state levels governments has allowed Malaysia to maintain peat extent as planned (Dato’ Dr. Hj. Mohd Puat bin Dahalan, 2021).

Meanwhile, the government of the Philippines has been working with communities to protect the peatland landscapes and improve local livelihoods. Learning from Indonesia and Thailand, it ensured the direct participation of communities in land-use planning, ecotourism, and restoration which is key to success. Together with the communities, the government developed biodiversity-friendly livelihoods that are already contributing to local resilience to extreme weather events (Tagtag, 2021).    

According to the ASEAN State of Climate Change Report published in October 2021, ASEAN Member States will work collaboratively towards achieving the ASEAN 2050 net-zero transition targets (ASEAN, 2021b). Many ASEAN Member States have yet to set any specific target for net zero-emission, but several are working hard to redesign their policies to meet the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets (ASEAN Centre for Energy, 2021; UNFCCC NDC Registry, n.d.). Singapore (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, n.d.), Cambodia (General Secretariat of the National Council for Sustainable Development/Ministry of Environment, the Kingdom of Cambodia), and Malaysia (Argus, 2021) have announced an ambitious plan to achieve carbon neutrality as early as 2050, while Indonesia plans to achieve net-zero emissions (NZE) by 2060 or sooner (Climate Action Tracker, 2021). In addition, Lao PDR also shared a conditional greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target reaching net-zero in 2050 (Lao PDR NDC, 2021), Cambodia gave an aspirational official emission reduction scenario reaching net-negative by 2030. Brunei Darussalam set a target of a 20 per cent reduction of GHG emissions by 2030, and Thailand aims to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 and net-zero emissions “in or before 2065” (Philippine News Agency, 2021). Indonesia highlighted its efforts to decrease deforestation and forest fire and rehabilitate mangrove areas so its abundant natural resources can be used as a net carbon sink by 2030. Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use signed by Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Viet Nam aims to contribute to regional efforts to halt biodiversity loss, reverse land degradation, and enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation (UK COP26, 2021).

Sustainable peatland management is a low-hanging fruit strategy in mitigating climate change. With peatlands acting as natural carbon storage, it is important to strengthen climate action through peatland management. The new ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy and National Action Plans will be more streamlined to address climate change issues,   particularly focusing on improving climate mitigation and adaptation, including resource mobilisation and support for peatland management and restoration. Maintaining the peat ecosystem as a place to absorb and store carbon reserves is a future challenge. Several ASEAN countries and partners have an opportunity to pursue peatland management and restoration beyond the common practices of peatland conservation or haze mitigation to include addressing climate change issues locally, nationally, and globally. #

The article was originally published on The ASEAN Volume December & January 2022 (Double Issue)

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