Indonesia’s forest fires make it the world’s fourth largest CO2 emitter

Haze from Indonesia’s forest fires. Photo credit: Naz Amir via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

Forest fires which have been smoldering over Indonesia for weeks are now so severe that last month a national emergency was declared. A dramatic increase in carbon emissions has also been reported.

Indonesia who before the fires, were at number six among the world’s highest CO2 emitters, have since climbed even higher. According to the World Resource Institute, Indonesia has jumped to number four, surpassing Russia. The number one reason for it’s already high CO2 emissions is not due to the burning of fossil fuels, but the rapidly increasing levels of deforestation, mainly due to the high demand for palm oil combined with this year’s devastating forest fires, adding a large chunk to emissions.

Analysis from the Global Fire Emissions Database has found that emissions from this year’s fires have reached 1.62 billion metric tons of CO2—bumping Indonesia from the sixth-largest emitter in the world up to the fourth-largest in just six weeks. It also found that emissions from Indonesia’s fires alone are approaching the total annual emissions of Brazil. Forest fires this year alone have tripled Indonesia’s entire annual emissions.

The number of fires having broken out in Indonesia so far this year is the highest since 1997. A staggering number of 127,000 have been detected. And not only does clearing forests to make way for palm oil plantations on its own have a big climate impact, these very actions are also being blamed for the rise of forest fires due to the slash-and-burn technique that is used to clear the forests. Around 60% of Indonesia’s emissions is due to deforestation.

This is bound to be a talking point at the Paris COP21 UN climate summit which is less than a month away. Indonesia has pledged to reduce deforestation and cut emissions by 29%, something that critics now say will be a lot more difficult due to the forest fires and serious steps are now needed to be able to meet that goal it is argued.

But the forest fires also have serious human health impacts; the toxic haze from the fires creates dangerous air pollution. The air pollution impacts have stretched to the neighboring countries Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines too. An estimated 500,000 cases of haze-related respiratory illnesses have been recorded across southeast Asia as well as the deaths of at least 19 Indonesians. Many more are expected to die from the impacts of the smog in the future due to long-term health impacts, with an estimate of as many as 40 million Indonesians having been affected.
Questions are now likely to be asked if the Indonesian government will demand tougher regulations towards to palm oil industry to not only reduce deforestation but also to prevent future forest fires.

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