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Peatlands and climate change in Southeast Asia

The world is now facing the greatest challenge humanity has ever known. The climate is changing and planet earth is feeling the heat of global warming. Climate change is primarily caused by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the earth’s atmosphere which traps heat by reflecting infrared energy back to the earth’s surface (the ‘greenhouse effect’). The main source of greenhouse gas emissions is from fossil fuel burning, however, greenhouse gases released from degraded and drained peatlands are also a major concern.

Over the last 10,000 years, since the last Ice Age, peatlands have been slowly accumulating and storing all this carbon. During this time, peatlands have played an important role in global greenhouse gas balance by sequestering an enormous amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). However, this delicate balance can be, and has been, easily upset through human intervention. Human disturbances such as deforestation, drainage and fire are now turning peatlands in Southeast Asia from carbon stores to carbon sources. Such disturbances, especially land use change, have now made peatlands in Southeast Asia the most significant GHG contributors at the global level.

Fire in peatlands is responsible for significant additional emissions. Carbon emissions due to fire in peatlands in Borneo and Sumatra is 457 million tonnes of CO per year. Indonesia is ranked as the third largest global GHG emitter when emissions from land use change on peatlands is included in the country’s emissions.


Read more about the state of peatlands and climate change here.

Download this infographic on peatlands in Southeast Asia.

Image credit: CIFOR/Flickr