Sustaining Local Livelihoods through Carbon Sequestration Activities:
A search for practical and strategic approach
Daniel Murdiyarso

Managing terrestrial carbon in peatlands

Globally the extent of peatlands is approximately 400 million ha. They occur in arctic, boreal, temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical zones and cover over 120 countries. Peat comprises layer of partly decomposed plant materials deposited over 5-10,000 years. Peatlands have a high water table and slow decomposition rate. They are extensively found in regions with high rainfall and or low temperatures. Therefore, peatlands play a critical role in water management. Given their depth and extent, peatlands also play a signifi cant role in carbon storage and sequestration. It is estimated that 25-30% of all terrestrial carbon is in peatlands. This is equivalent to 550,000 to 650,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) or 75% of carbon in the atmospheric carbon or 100 years of fossil fuel emissions. Therefore, peatlands helped to prevent global warming over the past 10,000 years by absorbing over 1,200 billion tons CO2. As far as climate change is concerned, conservation and rehabilitation of degraded peatlands are both urgent and strategic. However, no market-based mechanisms have yet been envisaged to achieve this important objective.


Consequently, limited public funding has to be stretched out to enhance the capacity of stakeholders and raise public awareness. No carbon benefi ts have been demonstrated in terms of additionality. However, local participation is very promising. Peatlands management in Indonesia, home of some 20 million ha or 50% of tropical peatlands, has a signifi cant role in maintaining biological diversity, including endangered species of orangutan. This includes the rehabilitation of degraded peatlands due to the ill-planned Mega Rice Project causing devastation of peat forests and hydrologic systems. Involving local communities in canal blocking and reforestation shows promising results in terms of environmental benefi ts and livelihoods. Fire risks are reduced as the water table is increased. Fish production is increased as the local practice of fi sh ponds called tebat is re-introduced. The blocking of canals also reduced the possibility of transporting logs illegally cut from conservation areas. Sustainable management of peatlands is highly desirable from both global and local perspectives. Indonesian forest and land fires during 1997 and 1998 affected 2.12 million ha of peatlands (Tacconi 2002). The estimated carbon loss from peatland fires ranges between 0.81 and 2.57 Gt (Page et al. 2002). In addition, global annual CO2 release due to peatland drainage or degradation ranges from 2 to 20 tC/ha (Maltby and Immirzy 1993).

It is obvious that peat degradation causes substantial change in the global carbon cycle and hence climate change. However, most peatlands are vulnerable to climate change and variability. Prolonged and severe drought such as that during the El-Nino events could substantially have drained peatland ecosystems, with the lower water table making the peat prone to fi res. There are many common issues as well as solutions to be learned from different regions. Information exchange and networking will help promote further engagement of local stakeholders and integration of social values in community-based climate change projects. Local communities can act as key stewards of the resources, including above- and below-ground carbon stocks, biodiversity, water management and sustainable use of non-timber forest products. Assessment and monitoring of carbon stocks is complex but critical in order to make the link with livelihood options.

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