Researchers at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) are claiming that wildfires across Indonesia have added over 700 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is almost double the amount added by the Amazon wildfires in Brazil earlier this year.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS, said, “What has stood out with the recent fires in Indonesia is how high the daily total fire intensity and estimated emissions [are] than the average of the previous 16 years.” His remarks were made to Mongabay, a web site that publishes news on environmental science, energy, and green design, and features extensive information on tropical rainforests.

Mother Nature, who offered up drier than usual weather patterns, is partly to blame for the severity of the fires. The timing of the fires is notable due to next year’s climate summit, where nations that committed to the Paris Agreement in 2015 will gather to assess the progress already made and progress expected in lowering greenhouse emissions.

The fires will certainly affect Indonesia’s status between countries participating in the Paris Agreement. In 2015, similar wildfires moved Indonesia into fourth place as the largest global emitter, up two notches from its previous ranking.

The following three years (2016-2018) saw a reduction in emissions and the possibility of winning a $1 billion-dollar payout from a Norwegian fund to keep Indonesia’s emissions from forest fires in check.

The dry weather is not the only factor that is contributing to the severity of the fires. Some 36 percent of the world’s tropical forest peatlands are in Indonesia. Peat is accumulated decaying vegetation that if left alone for millions of years and subjected to the right conditions, will form the bane of climate activists, coal.

Indonesia has made some arrests over the blazes but in many cases it remains unclear who started the fires - and who ordered them
Indonesia has made some arrests over the blazes but in many cases it remains unclear who started the fires - and who ordered them AFP / WAHYUDI

When peatland burns, the accumulated carbon is released in enormous amounts estimated at 10 times the amount released by other burning ecosystems. Indonesian companies and farmers will clear and drain the carbon-dense peat forests, and this will also cause the dried peat residue to release all of that accumulated carbon back into the atmosphere. As the demand for land grows by the nation’s 270 million people, the less fertile peatland is a viable option for producers of palm oil, paper and pulp to turn into a plantation.

The carbon spike will certainly hinder Indonesia’s commitment to slash its emissions by 29 percent by 2030, especially if there are more fires on peatlands that will continue to smolder and burn much to the chagrin of climate activists bent on eliminating the use of coal. The only people breathing easier are the Norwegians who can hold on to their $1 billion prize for a while.