Peatlands in Indonesia store about 57 gigatons of carbon or 20 times the amount of carbon in ordinary mineral soils. Carbon stocks stored in peat soils will be released into the air if peatlands are drained or converted. Meanwhile, peat stores about 30% of the world’s carbon.
Although they cover only about 3% of the land area worldwide, peatlands have the highest carbon storage capacity compared to other types of land and vegetation. Peatlands that are still in near-natural state can store more than 550 gigatons of carbon or 42% of all carbon stored in soil. In Indonesia alone, peatlands reach a total area of 13.43 million hectares (BBSDLP, 2019) and are estimated to store up to 57.4 gigatons of carbon (Page et al., 2010).
However, the conversion of peatland into plantation and industrial areas keeps occurring. Most of these conversions use drying, burning, and deforestation methods, releasing carbon stocks from peatlands into the atmosphere. In addition, degraded peatlands become dry and flammable, thereby increasing the intensity of carbon stocks released into the atmosphere.
As an illustration, burning peatlands to be converted into oil palm plantations is estimated to release up to 427.2 tons of carbon per hectare. It is not surprising that the total carbon emissions from degraded peatlands are estimated to reach 63% of the world’s total carbon emissions.
Peatland fires also release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, including methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide (CO2) due to its higher heat-holding capacity. Not only is it more dangerous, the methane released from peatland fires can be up to 10 times higher than fires on other land types.
Greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will retain heat from the sun, thereby increasing the earth’s temperature. This process, also known as the greenhouse effect, can accelerate climate change. Therefore, protecting and preventing the destruction of peatlands is very important in efforts to prevent climate change.