Indonesian province of Riau has declared a state of emergency, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said, after President Joko Widodo urged regional authorities to avoid a repeat of fires that smothered Southeast Asia in smog in 2015.
The government of Indonesia seeks to control the slash-and-burn land clearances for palm and pulp plantations which send clouds of toxic smoke over the region each year causing damage to public health, the climate and the economy.
The early move is intended to help Riau, which sits a stone’s throw across the Malacca Strait from wealthy city-state Singapore, to begin taking preventive steps for the anticipated extra dry conditions in 2018’s season.
The 2015 fires were among the worst on record, straining ties with neighbors, and costing Indonesia an estimated 220 trillion rupiah ($16.5 billion) in economic losses, or about 1.9 percent of gross domestic product. The fires destroyed 2.6 million hectares of plantations and forest which released an estimated 1.75 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is more than Germany or Japan’s total annual emissions. The haze that blanketed the entire region caused an estimated 100,000 premature deaths, due to the exposure to the toxic smoke.
Last year, EPN released a document revealing that pulp plantations on peat soil in Indonesia, even without fires, release more than 80 million tonnes of CO2 every year. To put these figures in perspective, excluding downstream emissions, the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia therefore emits more greenhouse gases than Finland.
The reality is tragically simple: dried peat provides large scale amount of fuel that transform single hotspots into a huge waves of fire. In order to protect peatland and reduce the deadly effect of fires and haze, reforms must occur, including a phase out of plantations on drained peat and re-wetting and restoring them as soon as possible.