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Preserving peatlands benefits orangutans, makes economic sense, experts say

The presence of 'charismatic' species may boost the marketing value of carbon credits for corporations.

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Photo courtesy of Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (13 January 2012)__Preserving peatlands for their high carbon content make economic sense as significant funding flow in from financial schemes such as REDD and benefit orangutans who prefer these habitats compared to tropical forests on mineral soil, experts say.

The high water level in peatlands allow flowers and fruit to be available all year long for orangutans, said Laura D’Arcy, the Zoological Society of London’s Co-Country Coordinator in Indonesia. “Across Borneo, you can clearly see that where they have peatland forests, there’s a higher density of orangutans,” she said at the sidelines of a workshop on great apes held in the campus of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia, today.

Carbon credits generated from protecting forests that have “charismatic” species like orangutans and tigers also would get first preference from businesses looking to invest in REDD+, said D’Arcy. “The company can put them as flagship species and say that the credits they’re buying go directly into conserving these species,” which will improve its public image.

Forests have received renewed attention as the global community recognizes the role that they play in storing carbon and the potential to slow global warming by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as REDD+. With fresh funds coming in under climate change schemes, environmentalists are studying how to include biodiversity conservation as a co-benefit to keeping trees for the sake of carbon and are urging for its corporation into such schemes.

There are about 1.3 Bornean orangutans, or Pongo pygmaeus, in a square kilometer of peatland forests compared with only one orangutan in a similar area of lowland forest on mineral soil, according to a study by Paoli et al, published in Carbon Balance and Management journal in 2010. The number of the endangered species has dropped by over 50% in the last 60 years, according to the IUCN, with the latest estimate of between 45,000 to 69,000 orangutans across Borneo (Singleton et al, 2004).

In terms of biodiversity in general, lowland forests on mineral soil have much higher biodiversity levels than peatlands, according to Paoli et al. About three-quarter of Indonesia’s 140 plant species categorized as critically endangered can be found in forests on mineral soil, while those on peatlands only have 15 percent of them.

Looking from emissions perspective, forests on peatlands store about eight times more carbon than mineral soil, including above and below ground storage, according to the study. Protecting these resources is therefore key in the fight against climate change.

A report from Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), in collaboration with PanEco, ICRAF, YEL and GridArendal, calculated that the carbon value of swamp forests in Sumatra, Indonesia, was between US$7,420 and $22,090 per hectare for a 25-year period. The carbon value of forests on non-peatlands was estimated to be between $3,711 and $11,185 per hectare in the same period, according to the study, which was published last year. In comparison, oil palm plantations, which give the highest yield of all land use types, were estimated to worth $7,832.

Economic calculations show that “it doesn’t make sense to clear forests on peatlands,” said Johannes Refisch, GRASP Programme Manager. A conservation scenario would benefit local communities more than the business as usual scenario, while providing the same level of income for the local and central government, he said.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020 and by 41 percent with outside assistance. As much as 85 percent of the country’s emissions come from deforestation and land use change.

The workshop was the second of a series on “Great Apes and Poverty Linkages”, organized under the auspices of the Poverty and Conservation Learning Group (PCLG), and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United States Fish and Wildlife (USFW), the Arcus Foundation and the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). The event was hosted by CIFOR and the Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA) of Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry.

Visit the workshop’s page to watch videos of presentations from the experts, read related blog stories and see pictures from the event and field trip to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.

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