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Indonesia puts people and environment first in peatland restoration efforts

'Three Rs' key to effective management, say delegates at CIFOR-ITPC webinar
Peatland restoration initiative managed by PT Mayangkara Tanaman Industri (MTI). CIFOR/Ricky Martin

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Renewed efforts must be made to rewet and revegetate peatlands throughout the Indonesian archipelago, according to participants at a recent online workshop.

If the swampy ecosystems are restored, millions of people will benefit, said experts attending the webinar, which was co-hosted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the International Tropical Peatlands Center (ITPC).

More than 350 delegates from 34 countries, including leading international researchers and policymakers, met using Zoom to help develop a set of criteria and indicators designed to monitor the results of restoration efforts. Supported by the Indonesian government, the United Nations and other partners, participants discussed the initial process of determining key aspects and an appropriate methodology for identifying indicators to monitor peatland restoration.

“One of the main messages we heard today is that peat must be wet, it must be vegetated and it must generate income so that it alleviates the poverty of the local community,” said Daniel Murdiyarso, a principal scientist at CIFOR. “The question is how to measure that and what kind of tools we need to use to look at the success, or perhaps failure, of peatland restoration.”

In recent decades, peatlands worldwide have been degraded, drained and burned, mainly for agricultural and forestry purposes, adding some 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year to the atmosphere. This amount of released carbon constitutes about 5 percent of the total global carbon budget.

Experts are getting ready in anticipation of the launch of the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. Deforested and degraded peatlands must be included if global targets are to be met.  As well, peatlands are a key component of Indonesia’s efforts to reduce emissions through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) required by the Paris Agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“In their natural condition, peatlands support a large variety of habitats and provide a home for biodiversity,” said Alue Dohong, vice minister of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, in his keynote address. “In spite of their importance for environmental services and as economic sources, tropical peatlands are among the most vulnerable ecosystems and are threatened by anthropogenic activities.”

Peatlands are among the most important ecosystems on Earth. They cover only 3 percent of its land surface, but store twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests, performing a vital role in the fight against climate change. These wetlands are rich in organic matter accumulated over thousands of years and deliver essential services to people and the planet by regulating floods, providing food and supporting biodiversity.

“Indonesia has more than 500 tropical peatland ecosystems that stretch from Aceh to Papua – about the distance from Portugal to Moscow,” said Nazir Foead, head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), in his opening remarks. “Tens of millions of people live in our peatland areas, so we have to find solutions for farmers cultivating this land without compromising the integrity of the ecosystems.”

As part of its own NDCs, Indonesia has committed to restoring 2 million hectares of peatlands. To this end, the country has established a dedicated peatland restoration agency (BRG) and banned the use of fire for clearing peatlands as it can release 10 times more carbon than non-peat forest fires. Home to 36 percent of the world’s tropical peatlands, Indonesia ranks among the top five emitters of greenhouse gases due to peatland degradation and fires. The agency has coordinated restoration efforts in seven Indonesian provinces under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. These activities are centered around three Rs: rewetting drained peatlands, revegetating landscapes and revitalizing local communities’ socio-economic conditions.

Successful restoration leads to positive outcomes and helps achieve the targets of improving habitat conditions and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to CIFOR’s Rupesh Bhomia, who moderated part of the webinar. It is therefore important to be able to monitor restoration activities and document the success of interventions in a systematic and organized manner.

Monitoring procedures allow scientists to adjust their approach to peatland restoration over long time periods, while enhancing transparency and accountability under the UNFCCC guidelines. In this context, the criteria and indicators approach can be used once the purpose of monitoring is clearly defined and targets are established. To be effective, criteria and indicators should cover biophysical, social, economic and governance aspects based on a range of characteristics, including relevance and ease of application, according to the speakers. The criteria and indicators can also draw on principles used for existing criteria and indicators in multilateral agreements, such as the Ramsar Convention and the U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda.

The online workshops included presentations from Sri Parwati Murwani Budisusanti, Director of Peatland Degradation Control at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry; Lera Miles from the U.N. Environment World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) and Maria Nuutinen from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Topics included the regulatory framework, theoretical principles, international agreements and advanced techniques (satellite monitoring) that are relevant for peatland monitoring and restoration.

“It may be possible to have a core set of indicators that can be aggregated across different scales, such as estimates of avoided greenhouse gas emissions or the number of people involved or employed in restoration,” Miles said in response to a question from a participant. “Otherwise, where different indicators are used for the same topic in different places, one can look at the direction of change of indicators and see how many are increasing or decreasing.”

The FAO’s Nuutinen advocated holistic, robust and coordinated ecosystem monitoring that emphasized peatland rewetting; wetland species cover and soil monitoring; as well as an early-warning and early-action system focusing on prevention of fires. The main goals for peatland restoration are to maintain biodiversity, regain water-related ecosystem services, avoid greenhouse gas emissions, stop the loss of coastal and riparian areas due to subsidence, and put an end to peatland fires, she said.

The second half of the webinar featured four speakers, including: Budi Wardhana, deputy for planning and cooperation at the Peatland Restoration Agency; Azwar Ma’as from the University of Gadjah Mada; Agustinus Tampubolon, a paludiculture specialist in the Ministry of Environment and Forestry; and Sonny Mumbunan from the University of Indonesia. They covered topics such as peatland water balance, paludiculture (wetlands farming), as well as financing for restoration efforts. Haris Gunawan, the Deputy for Research and Development at the Peatland Restoration Agency, wrapped up the webinar with a call to consider criteria and indicators holistically based on four main pillars: biophysical, social, economic and governance.

The criteria and indicators are expected to be set by the end of this year, according to Murdiyarso.

The webinar was the first in a series of four designed to delve deeper into related topics and identify appropriate criteria and indicators through a consultative and participatory process incorporating suggestions from all stakeholders.

Participants were also alerted to the rescheduling of the 16th International Peatland Congress, which will take place on 2–7 May 2021 in Tallinn, Estonia. This year’s event was postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on this topic, please contact Rupesh Bhomia at R.Bhomia@cgiar.org.
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