Peatlands in Southeast Asia have been extensively cleared and drained for agriculture in recent decades, resulting in a source of carbon emissions that is significant on a global scale. In Lahiru’s new paper published in Global Change Biology, he and coauthors have quantified past carbon emissions from these peatlands and estimated future emissions under a variety of scenarios. They estimated historical emissions from 1990–2010 at 1.46–6.43 GtCO2 (0.3–1.2% of global carbon emissions), and projected emissions over the period 2010–2030 at 4.43–11.45 GtCO2.
Of the projected future emissions, 51% are expected to come from areas that have already been cleared for agriculture, as the deep peat soils continue to release their stored carbon. This highlights the need for a focus on sustainable agriculture and peatland restoration as well as conservation of intact peatlands. Another surprising finding was that a high proportion of peatland conversion to agriculture has occurred outside of industrial plantations. In Indonesia, 70% of conversion has occurred outside of government concessions, and 60% of this is attributable to smallholders. This points to a potentially important role for industry in conservation of remaining peatlands.
Lahiru S. Wijedasa, Sean Sloan, Susan E. Page, Gopalasamy R. Clements, Massimo Lupascu & Theodore A. Evans. Carbon emissions from Southeast Asian peatlands will increase despite emission-reduction schemes. Global Change Biology https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14340
UPDATE: Nature has published an interview with Lahiru about his peatland research.