Are laws and policies the key to fighting fire and haze?

A Global Landscapes Forum National Policy Dialogue in Indonesia attempts to answer just that

By Lynsey Grosfield

“For the landscape approach there is no magic formula,” asserted Herry Purnomo, Senior Scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) during a recent Global Landscapes Forum National Policy Dialogue on Laws and Best Practices for Reducing Fire and Haze.

This is especially true on peatlands, areas of carbon-rich histosol which have become a hot-button issue on a warming planet: so much so that they have been called “black gold for climate mitigation.” While global emissions from all anthropogenic sources total about 10 billion tonnes of carbon per year, there is an estimated 30 billion tonnes of this latent, well-preserved biomass laying dormant in a newly-discovered and freshly-mapped swathe of peatland in the Congo basin alone.

When these soils go up in smoke — as they are wont to do in peat-rich and populous Indonesia — the carbon that has been locked in them for æons is released in to the atmosphere. This is not only a ticking climate bomb, but also a noxious hazard to human health.

The Global Landscapes Forum hosted a thematic event in May 2017, entitled Peatlands Matter. Collaborations fostered at that event — like grassroots #hazehacks in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan on Borneo — have flourished in the aftermath.

The National Policy Dialogue in Riau was a further contribution to this nascent post-Peatlands Matter community of practice, which draws in farmers, scientists, policymakers, and the private sector interests alike.

“The event is really interesting,” submitted Edi Risman, a farmer from Prigi village in South Sumatera who also spoke at Peatlands Matter. “My hopes relating to the event are that it can accommodate the grievances and aspirations of communities that have yet to be connected to government and companies on how cooperation between government and companies can be proper and just.”

Edi believes that the National Policy Dialogue is the first of many steps necessary to promote accountability from the government and the private sector to communities most impacted by fire and haze.

Emphasizing the need to balance livelihoods, economic development, conservation and global climate and development goals with a landscape approach, Herry Purnomo posited during the Dialogue that for peatlands, more resources need to be devoted to monitoring, outreach and law enforcement in Indonesia.

CIFOR Scientist Herry Purnomo at the GLF National Policy Dialogue in Riau. Photo/CIFOR

Nonetheless, though there is a long way to go, the scientist is optimistic: “the GLF: Peatlands Matter event and the GLF National Policy Dialogue clearly connect the global level to the local level.” Indeed, from parsing mapping peatlands from space to hearing hyper-local impact stories, these events seem to be geared precisely at building those connections between both the macro and micro perspectives on these issues.

As far as his work is concerned, Purnomo is looking towards the future: “CIFOR is research to impact. Output is not enough. This dialogue serves to investigate how the output is becoming the outcome, and we hope voices of local regulation are able to change the behaviour of people here in dialogue with scientists. In the future we’ll see the real impact of our research results here.”