Boosting Indonesia’s wetlands science is key to tackling climate change

Wetlands contain more carbon than any other forest, and they're under threat.

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BOGOR, Indonesia (7 June, 2012)_Greater scientific understanding of Indonesia’s rapidly disappearing carbon-rich wetlands is needed to help mitigate the effects of climate change, according to a study by the Center for International Forestry Research.

Daniel Murdiyarso, co-author of Addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation in tropical wetland ecosystems of Indonesia, said while mangroves, peatlands and other tropical wetlands contain the highest carbon stocks of any forest type, many nations and policy makers lack even basic data about these fragile ecosystems.

More energy and funding should go toward boosting multidisciplinary and collaborative scientific research, the CIFOR scientist said, acknowledging the challenges, especially during times of limited resources and competing priorities.

The hope is that such efforts would help push the issue to the front of the global climate agenda.

The deficit of knowledge about wetlands extends to Indonesia, home to some of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon pools, Murdiyarso said.

The sprawling archipelagic nation accounts for half the tropical peatlands, which contain more than 30 billion tons of carbon, and nearly a quarter of the world’s mangroves, said Murdiyarso.

“Managing such a large deposit of carbon through sustainable land management would significantly contribute to mitigating climate change,” he said, including for mechanisms like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+.

Sadly, much of Indonesia’s precious wetlands are under threat from large-scale drainage, burning and land-conversion, including for unsustainable oil palm and pulp wood plantations, he said. Such disturbances can cause these ecosystems to release “significant” volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exposing local communities to risks such as extreme weather, rising sea-levels, as well as threatening their livelihoods and food security.

“Degraded wetland ecosystems can increase the vulnerability of communities, which in turn can be driven to engage even more extensively in short-term and exploitative coping strategies,” according to the CIFOR study, explaining that some could engage in even more intense aquaculture.

To reverse the current trend, Murdiyarso argues science must champion greater awareness of wetlands and to promote dialogue with policy makers in order to find a balance between conservation, climate and economic development agendas.

This may be especially true when it comes to land-use policy touching on mangroves, which protect low-lying coastal zones from storm surge, high wave, and salt intrusion.

Steps such as revising the currently “inadequate” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change definition of wetlands and securing long-term analysis of land cover would also need to take place, he said. In Indonesia, changes could include forming a climate change advisory body for wetlands, as well as participatory action research.

Remote sensing, free data exchange and transparency are also key recommendations in the paper. Meanwhile, communities could also take part in change monitoring, knowledge building and sustainable management.

In addition to locking away carbon, wetlands, such as mangroves, provide energy and nutrients to coral reefs, buffer coastal zones against tropical storms and are valuable fish and wildlife nurseries – all factors that could help protect communities deal with climate variability and change.

Weak enforcement of illegal deforestation laws, however, means that the destruction and deforestation of tropical wetlands continues at an alarming rate.peat

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