Putting out Indonesia’s Fires
Every year, forest fires ravage Indonesia, causing massive environmental, social, and economic devastation. Perhaps even more alarming is the climate impact – and this year's fires are the largest in nearly 20 years.
MANILA – Every year, forest fires ravage Indonesia, causing massive environmental, social, and economic devastation. This year’s fires are the largest in nearly 20 years, destroying three million hectares of land and causing an estimated $14 billion in losses related to agriculture, forest degradation, health, transportation, and tourism.
Perhaps even more alarming is the climate impact. Indonesia is already among the world’s biggest carbon emitters. Thanks to the fires, its daily average emissions this September and October were ten times higher than normal. On October 14 alone, emissions from the fires soared to 61 megatons – nearly 97% of the country’s total emissions for that day. As a result, this year’s fires – coming just weeks before the current United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, where world leaders plan to finalize a global pact limiting carbon emissions – have underscored the urgent need for Indonesia and its development partners to act quickly to address this regional and global scourge. If we don’t, climate change will be even more difficult to combat.
The cause of Indonesia’s recurring infernos is the common practice of lighting fires to clear land for palm oil production, exacerbated by a prolonged dry spell partly attributable to El Niño. While stricter enforcement of rules against deliberate fires in Indonesia’s 1999 Basic Forestry Law and the 2014 Law on Plantations will help, far more needs to be done.