As world leaders gather in Paris to discuss the global response to climate change, we assess the impact of the widespread forest fires in Indonesia. Set to clear land for paper and palm oil production, the fires have not only destroyed forest and peatland, but also severely affected public health and released massive amounts of carbon.
Nasa satellites have detected more than 130,000 fire hotspots across Indonesia this year
A long dry season and weather patterns created by the El Niño phenomenon created highly flammable conditions for fires to spread over the summer.
These fires were concentrated disproportionately on land earmarked for agriculture
Indonesia produces the most pulpwood, timber and palm oil in the world. Each year vast tracts of land are set alight to clear the way for their production. The government imposed a moratorium in 2011 to protect 43m hectares of forest and peatlands, but fires still occur in these areas
Even though major palm oil and pulpwood companies say they don’t clear land this way, some of the densest concentrations of fires occur on corporate concessions
The Indonesian government has started to put legal pressure on big businesses like Asia Pulp and Paper to eliminate so-called ‘slash and burn’ from their supply chains. Corporations frequently blame smallholders for persisting with what is a quick and cheap method of clearing land
As the fires spread, an acrid haze enveloped Indonesia and neighbouring countries
It grounded flights, closed schools and reduced visibility to 30 metres in some areas while also severely affecting public health. More than half a million people were treated for respiratory infections and at least 19 people died
One of the components of this haze, carbon monoxide, was detected in high concentrations in the lowest portion of the atmosphere over Indonesia
Carbon monoxide is one of six pollutants measured by the Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) to give an overall indication of air quality. Any PSI reading above 300 is considered hazardous, they were close to 2,000 in Indonesia at the height of the crisis
The CO2 equivalent emissions from the fires actually exceed the annual emissions from major economies such the UK and Japan
Environmentalists have accused the Indonesian government of dodging their responsibilities ahead of crunch UN climate change talks in Paris
Author: The Guardian
Source: The Guardian