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Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy

According to estimates released this week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fire Emissions Database, there have been nearly 100,000 active fire detections in Indonesia so far in 2015, which since September have generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity. Following several recent intense outbreaks of fires—in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014—the country is now on track to experience more fires this year than it did during the 2006 fire season, one of its worst on record.

Emissions Spikes Caused by Burning Peatlands

Global Forest Watch Fires shows that more than half of these fires have occurred on peatland areas, concentrated mainly in South Sumatra, South and Central Kalimantan, and Papua. These regions continue to suffer major fires as the fire alerts density map below shows, with few signs that occurrences are diminishing.

The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years. Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion (such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations) leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions. Fires also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), but peat fires may emit up to 10 times more methane than fires occurring on other types of land. Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands.

Putting the Data in Perspective

What does a climate catastrophe look like in a real world context? Since September, daily emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded daily emissions from the entire U.S. economy on 26 days. To put it into perspective, the U.S. economy is 20 times larger than Indonesia’s. Van der Werf pointed out in a recent report that emissions from these fires over a three-week period are also already higher than the total annual CO2 emissions of Germany.

For Indonesia, the Climate Challenge Is a Land Management Challenge

Reducing emissions from fires is a significant challenge. Last month, Indonesia released a draft of its new climate plan, or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), ahead of the climate negotiations taking place at the Paris COP in December. The draft INDC calls for at least a 29 percent emissions reduction below business as usual by 2030— and up to 41 percent in reduction with international assistance and cooperation. While the new data shows how fires present a major challenge to reaching this goal, Indonesia can still make progress if the government focuses on better land planning, improved law enforcement, and alternatives for small farmers to burning land. If Indonesia is to meet its climate commitment, making significant investments in these areas to prevent future fires must be the first step.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post omitted the word "million" from a figure for the overall emissions of Indonesia's fires this year. The number has been updated to read "1,043 million metric tons".


Dear Sirs, To fight global warming, have the United Nations create 'The Global 50/50 Lottery', the world's first honest global lottery, to raise the massive funds needed to buy clean electricity generating wind, solar, ocean and water systems, to replace the electricity from our coal burning electric power plants, which are emitting the carbon dioxide that is causing global warming. Remember, human greed is like a force of nature that can move mountains. If we can exploit it to fight global warming, we just might beat it!

You're barking up the wrong tree.

Clean energy is not the issue (although it is true that Indonesia is an oil producer.) Forest fires has nothing to do with the production of clean energy

Forest land is being cleared by slash and burn practices. In Indonesia forests are being burned down to make way for plantations - sometimes rubber but mainly palm oil.
The real solution to this problem is to find out who's behind the burning, which companies are buying from these guys, and hang them out to dry.

I agree. I have lived in Indonesia and seen massive areas of former forest/jungle cleared to make way for Plam Oil plantations. When I lived there, there was much press about Malaysian companys being the main perpetrators of the burning for clearing. Is this still the case? How can we confirm this, and what can be done?

I totally agree, The cross over between government and private interests in this slash and burn process is so linked that there is no will to do anything about this problem except lip surface. The financial benefit and greed is so huge that all will be done to hide the real culprits.

This is an endemic issue in Indonesia that has to be dealt with but will be a very slow process that requires strength and education of the youth.

It's no use writing reams and reams about the haze!
Indonesia don't give a damn if its annual haze kills thousands of their own citizens in addition to those in the region.
The only thing that WRI can do is to get the UN to impose an immediate ban on all pulp/paper products and oil palm products from Indonesia with immediate effect.
That's only for a start.
If they still don't learn their lesson, then a complete sanction a la Iran must be imposed immediately on them.
That is the only way to make them stop this deadly nonsense that has been going for two decades.
Is WRI up to it?????????

Demand for sustainable commodities |

Hi Damocles. I think you flatter us at WRI with your over-estimation of our influence! Something to consider here is the role that third-party certification of commodities could play. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil for example, has significantly fewer fires on certified "sustainable" concessions when compared with other palm oil producing land. Certification for timber and woodpulp could have a similar effect. Certification could be scaled up by increased consumer demand for sustainable products, perhaps driven by passionate people such as yourself! You can read more here.


James Anderson | World Resources Institute

We in Malaysia have enough / year in year out the same thing and this year is a catastrophe.

A few months ago, the seasonal weather forecasts were already strongly indicating that this year was going to be a problem year in Indonesia regarding fires, haze and emissions from biomass burning....

Please correct your math on the impact of Indonesia's burning peatlands on global warming. Methane's correct CO2 equivalent (84-100x worse than CO2 for 20 years; 21-34x only after 50-100 years). For the first crucial 20 years, burning peatlands could have ~4x the impact stated above; i.e. "Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 800 times greater than fires on other lands."

Methane warming potential |

Hi Gabriele, thanks for your note. Indeed the methane emissions from Indonesia's fires could cause an even greater warming impact than estimated, which makes the crisis all the more urgent. We use the widely accepted 100 year time horizon in line with common GHG accounting practices and the source cited in the blog. Here's some more information:

Your additional analysis is most welcome- please continue to share.

-James Anderson | World Resources Institute

One world, if you stuff it up! That's it!, There is no more.

Not to worry, the Yanks are hankering to go to Mars!
That could be a way out!

Yes, this is completely intolerable, criminal, and despicable. It is certainly a hell of a lot more important than conflicts between the Israelis and the so-called Palestinians. It needs some serious attention. Why our President, Barack Hussein Obama, who supposedly is trying to lead the world into combating climate change, is doing nothing with his bully pulpit about this, is beyond me.

For five days now on my way home to school , I was wondering why there was a widespread" fogs" across the rice field and the highways when fogs naturally don't reach down in these low areas in the past months and years. It was when my mom informed me that it wasn't a fog but a haze and emission coming from Indonesia's forests fire reaching us in the coastal areas of Mindanao.

People are affected here especially kids suffer from respiratory diseases,adults suffered the same ,worst some succumb to death. It is very alarming! there must be an urgent action for the Indonesia's gov't to handle and solve such carelessness.

I believe if nature takes care of others, humans must do the same.

If humans are too greedy to gain and take advantage of others no matter what it cost them, then we stop existing.

" Nature is not a place to visit, it is H O M E."

Let us be in one way or the other take a stand to help save lives,
OR . . .
... it will be destroyed without us taking the risk .

The destruction of millions of acres of oxygen producing forests worldwide, particularly in equatorial rainforests, have had a measurable negative impact on the ratio of oxygen/carbon dioxide balance globally. Why is this never mentioned during the discussion?

We should approach the owners of such industries that are the main cause.

Thank u.

The owners of these companies should be contacted, but also the owners of those companies that are buying the palm oil from them! Isn't doing something like burning entire regions of forests and peat lands for profit a crime against humanity? Not to mention the killing of wildlife that cannot escape these fires and/or whose only habitat is destroyed. And more into it, the killing of endangered and threatened species. I'd say this is definitely criminal. While working on the "Indonesia: Illegal Burning" campaign on, I noticed that wherever there was fire, there was a large palm oil company not very far away! And for some, especially in the media to blame this on "small farmers" is such a blatant lie it's disgusting! A "small farmer" is NOT going to burn down forest areas the size of entire towns! Wherever there had been fires, the areas have been sectioned off (for planting) with the apparent use of GPS. This is not something a "small farmer" is going to utilize.

One last point: More effort has to be made to make EVERYONE aware of this major criminal problem. When the majority of the people are unaware of a problem, to them it's as if there isn't a problem!

ask the Suhartos and the Salims.......specially Antoni Salim......he was the most aggressive in palm oil plantations from forests t

Maybe the United Nations should ring the bell a little bit louder...
Because on their website, although there are very other serious problems which are making the big titles, it seems that the destruction of Indonesian forest, which might be a geocide, isn't worth a news article.

Since methane is highly combustible burning creates a lot of atmospheric CO2 but how does burning add methane to the atmosphere?

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