In New York, and in protests around the world this week, everyone is wondering how to stop our world’s tropical forests from literally being engulfed in flames — and exacerbating climate change in the process.
The sense of global frustration at the tragedy of the fires in the Amazon, and now Indonesia is palpable. Yet there is a solution which is being implemented on the ground that is working. The following fire data can speak for itself, demonstrating that active forest management can work if it follows a standardized approach where results are verified by third parties.
The number of hotspots, or fires detected by satellite or other remote sensing, jumped by more than a thousand instances this September, bringing Indonesia’s total to more than 5,000 this year. An estimated 200 individuals have been arrested for illegal land clearance practices after starting fires to increase agricultural production. Such agricultural conversion often creates fires that spread out of control to ravage vulnerable ecosystems.
CIFOR reports that more than 70% of all fires in Indonesia occur on peatland, which have far-ranging health and biodiversity impacts, and can release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The fires are affecting the entire region — Singapore reported its worst air-quality in three years, and the government of Malaysia began issuing masks to more than 2 million residents as particulate matter levels reached an extremely unhealthy 273 micrograms per cubic meter of air on September 19th.
The economic drivers of deforestation are complex, and a multitude of organizations, governments and individuals are working hard to curb the drivers of forest fires, land clearance and unsustainable environmental practices that are driving climate change.
At the ground level in Indonesia however, the solution is straightforward. Active peatland forest management and restoration can protect at-risk areas from further destruction. Forest Carbon and its partner Global Alam Lestari restore tropical peatland forests through water table management, enrichment planting, forest patrols and community livelihoods development. These peatland areas are rich in biodiversity, and are often home to endangered species, such as the Sumatran tiger found in Forest Carbon’s Sumatra Merang Peatland project (SMPP).
Of the more than 5,000 hotspots reported in Indonesia this year, none have occurred in the 23,000-hectare SMPP concession. Such results come from having a staff of more than 55 in the field, extensive fire-fighting equipment and strong partnerships with neighboring concessions that support the team as they respond fires in the wider landscape that put the project at risk.
The community of market-based projects in Indonesia is growing, and other projects besides Forest Carbon’s are also stopping forest fires and providing long-term protection for vulnerable landscapes and the communities that rely on them. Hotspot data for the Katingan project in Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo is also impressive, showing the project surrounded by fire events but with none of them spreading inside the borders of their concession.
Initiatives such as the SMPP and Katingan demonstrate an increasing interest from the financial sector in market-based solutions to conservation. The SMPP project is financed by a $5.6 million investment from Althelia Climate fund, owned, by Mirova Natural Capital, a subsidiary of Natixis Investment Managers, which have over $1T in assets under management.
By November the project will certify and produce carbon credits, which serve as a payment for results framework to allow consumers and companies to support the project. Results are verified through internationally recognized standards such as Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity (CCB) standard.
Carbon credits need to be part of a holistic toolkit for climate action that includes adherence to Science Based Targets, pushes companies towards Net Zero impact and supports carbon removal as well as sequestration. Yet, additional capital is critical for the conservation space, which faces what McKinsey estimates as a $400 billion conservation-finance gap. As corporations face more discerning consumers, tightening regulations and make voluntary commitments to account for the true environmental cost of their operations, we could be facing an opportunity generate forest finance on a never-before seen scale.
To truly curb and maybe one day reverse global deforestation trends, we must harness the same economic forces that are driving deforestation in the first place. Projects like the SMPP offer an economic alternative to land clearance, and carbon sales create sustainable revenues that incentivize landscape protection activities that last decades.
Forest Carbon is at Climate Week to sign a collaboration agreement to develop additional forest restoration projects across Indonesia. Momentum is growing — at the UN General Assembly, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla issued a call to action for nature-based solutions, in a commitment to restore 2 million hectares of Peatland, stating, “We hear you Greta Thunberg. Our house is falling apart”. Hotspot data show that active peatland management works and can be a critically important tool in global efforts to save our shared tropical forests.