What is peat?

‘Peat’ is partially decayed plant material that accumulates under waterlogged conditions. Peat comprises partly decomposed organic material, and stores large amounts of carbon. Over millions of years, buried peat can be transformed into coal with heat and pressure.

What are peatlands?

Natural areas characterized by peat soils are called ‘peatlands’. In Indonesia, these landscapes are unique ecosystems with very high levels of biodiversity. Importantly, they also function as the repositories of globally-significant stores of terrestrial carbon. Peatlands have three components: the peat itself, the water close to the surface which conserves the peat, and the unique vegetation that generates the peat soils.

Where are the peatlands?

Indonesia has approximately 22.5 million hectares of peatlands, found mainly in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.  Significant conversion and degradation of these ecosystems has resulted from drainage for agriculture, commercial forestry and infrastructure development.

Why are peatlands important?

Natural peatlands provide environmental benefits and perform critical hydrological functions. They play a vital role in climate change mitigation and adaptation at local-to-global scales through carbon sequestration and storage. The protection and restoration of peatlands prevents carbon emissions, conserves biodiversity, maintains functional ecosystems and supports sustainable local livelihoods.

Why are peatlands drained?

Peatlands are often cleared and drained for agricultural crops and plantation forestry in places where access to higher productivity lands with mineral soils is not readily available. Drainage canals are built to remove water from the landscape and enable the growing of dryland crops. This drying of the landscape creates suitable conditions for large fires. The drainage of peat for dryland cropping involves large-scale businesses through to smallholders and landless migrants.

Why is drainage problematic?

Drained peatlands are highly flammable during the dry season and especially in the hotter months of August and September. In recent years, very large and persistent peat fires have occurred on drained peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan, causing toxic air pollution and excessive carbon emissions. Whereas undisturbed and hydrologically-functional peatland catchments are too wet to catch fire, degraded peat environments pose a major fire risk.

Who has responsibility for peatland protection and restoration?​

The Government of Indonesia has put in place strict peatlands moratoria and has committed to rewetting and restoring degraded peatlands. A suite of peatland-specific regulations has been introduced and the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency (Badan Restorasi Gambut dan Mangrove, BRGM) has been established as an agency dedicated to improving community fire management and restoring peatland through a program of rewetting, revegetation and revitalization of non-destructive peatland livelihoods.