Lack of understanding
of peat is not the weakest link in the chain, say Meine van Noordwijk and colleagues
By Amy C. Cruz
The high emissions
of greenhouse gases from tropical peatlands caused by changing their land use have
become a problem for policymakers that they can no longer deny, as their own
scientists have now confirmed what external critics told before.
Researchers at the World Agroforestry Centre Indonesia are assessing the viability of rubber agroforestry on peat. Photo: World Agroforestry CentreThe
emissions need to be reduced to mitigate the effects of climate change but
because of the complex issues involved, governments, societies and private businesses are still ‘muddling along’ when it
comes to conserving peatlands. The peat models we have so far are as clear as mud.
urgency and political sensitivity, peat and peatlands have become an
interesting test ground for understanding the chain that links knowledge with
action. Who needs to know, who can act and where is knowledge the weakest link
in the chain's limiting action?
Such a ‘knowledge
value-chain for peatland conservation’ can trace steps from fundamental
understanding of peatlands all the way to multilevel actions towards
conservation and reduction of emissions.
that there are four separate parts of an overall knowledge value-chain concept
that links fundamental understanding to action’, said Meine van Noordwijk, leading a team of authors in a
recent publication in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, ‘and there are several weak links
that need to be strengthened in a complex chain. Coordinated research and
action is needed to achieve positive policy actions and behaviour changes.”
The research team had looked at how people’s understanding,
willingness, ability and actions towards peatland conservation have progressed over
time. Understanding peat and its processes was the first section in the value chain,
including the fundamental point of agreeing on the definitions of ‘peat’ and ‘peatland’
so that they can be correctly identified and assigned more attention, if
this, different studies had been carried out to develop more accurate ways of
quantifying and attributing emissions from peatlands and yet there was still
room for improvement, especially because peatlands are variable by nature, making
it hard to ensure accurate measurements. In addition, different land uses on
peat also result in differences in emissions.
science may seem easy compared to what it takes to get a globally agreed set of
default values that can be used for transparent emissions’ accounting’, said Dr van Noordwijk.
section of the chain is the willingness to act to reduce emissions. For
example, in the past, policymakers could not ignore the problem of smoke haze caused
by peatland conversion because its effect on visibility was too obvious.
Conversion without use of fire seemed an acceptable alternative. The invisible
carbon emissions from the conversion and drainage itself could be ignored. However, when emission estimates, mostly from peat drainage and
fires, identified Indonesia as the third-largest
emitter of greenhouse gases there were hardly any Indonesian scientists who had experience and data
to challenge or corroborate the claims.
weak link has been strengthened, as
is evident by the four
papers by Indonesian scientists in the REDD-ALERT
special issue. Indonesian policymakersnow acknowledge the importance of
reducing emissions from peatland as part of the broader debate’, said Dr van
willingness to act is not enough. Third, relevant authorities need to be able
to influence companies and people to actually reduce emissions. While peatland
conversion appeared to be attractive to companies because it brought less
conflict with local people and their land-right claims
than conversion elsewhere, peatland use now gives oil-palm companies a bad name internationally and potentially affects their
sales. Where the long process of issuing permits has already started, however,
it is not easy for a local government to stop the conversion and reverse permits.
Players at this level need to be aware of how emission reductions are
calculated and valued. Local governments need to secure jobs and revenue, so
alternative scenarios need to meet their expectations.
The fourth section
of the chain is formed by farmers and their communities living in or near
peatlands. Slowing current conversion and redirecting land-use changes without
alternatives that provide improved livelihoods for local people is not
attractive for any policymaker.
not yet sufficiently viable, alternative uses of peatlands that do not
contribute to higher emissions but provide for local incomes and livelihoods’,
said Dr van Noordwijk. ‘Thus, the primary focus for this section of the chain needs
to be on testing and improving the various locally developed solutions, such as
agroforestry involving locally adapted trees for which a market exists’.
over the whole length of the knowledge chain, Dr van Noordwijk and colleagues conclude that progress has been made in the first three sections but
peatland countries, such as Indonesia, and international supporters now have to
focus on improving the fourth section.
science, accurate numbers, a willingness and ability to act on emission
estimates are not accompanied by viable alternatives for local livelihoods then
the ultimate goal of reducing emissions cannot be achieved,’ conclude Dr van Noordwijk
and the research team.
Read the article
Van Noordwijk M, Matthews R, Agus F,
Farmer J, Verchot L, Hergoualc’h K, Persch S, Tata HL, Khasanah N, Widayati A,
Dewi S. 2014. Mud, muddle and models in the knowledge value-chain to action on
tropical peatland conservation. Mitigation
and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 19(6).
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry