The oil palm plantations on Borneo island, a part of which falls in Indonesia, would become a key source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 if they continue to grow unchecked, says a new study.
Around two-thirds of lands outside protected areas in Ketapang district of West Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo are leased out to oil palm agri-business companies.
According to researchers from Yale and Stanford universities, if these leases are used for oil palm plantations at the current expansion rates, by 2020 monotypic palm stands will occupy more than a third of regional lands and intact forests will decline to less than five percent from approximately 15 percent in 2008.
Researchers also found that 50 percent of these oil palm plantations were established on peatlands through last year. When peat soils are drained for oil palm cultivation, they begin to release carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, according to a Yale and Stanford statement.
The study found that if oil palm expansion continues, with no restrictions on peatland development, almost 90 percent of oil palm’s greenhouse gas emissions will come from peatlands by 2020.
“Preventing oil palm plantation on peatlands will be critical for any greenhouse gas emissions-reduction strategy,” said Kimberly Carlson, doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry&Environmental Studies, who conducted the study with Lisa Curran, professor of anthropology at the Stanford University.
Carlson pointed out that even if future oil palm expansion is halted in forests and peatlands, greenhouse gas emissions would decline by only three to four percent.
The researchers said regional emissions could be reduced by up to 21 percent by 2020 through the prevention of oil palm encroachment, wildfire, logging, and agricultural expansion on intact and previously logged forested lands and peatlands.