Indonesia: Palm oil industry urged to help combat climate change

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 19 Mar 16;

The palm oil industry can contribute significantly to fulfilling Indonesia’s commitment to fighting climate change, the fifth International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment (ICOPE) in Bali concluded on Friday.

According to a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), oil palm trees are capable of absorbing 13.7 tons of CO2 per hectare. On the other hand, they only release 3.6 tons of CO2 per ha, most of which comes from Palm Oil Mill Effluents (POME). Therefore, palm oil plantations could absorb 10.1 tons of CO2 per ha.

Learning from those facts, the palm oil industry should take several measures if it truly wants to contribute to reducing carbon emissions in Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer. Palm oil is the second-largest contributor to exports in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“The first thing is to increase yield because by doing so we will reduce emissions. This can be done very quickly in small areas by replanting and better fertilization programs, better recycling of nutrients and better waste management,” PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) Research Institute division head, Jean-Pierre Caliman, said during the closing ceremony of the conference.

Furthermore, the palm oil industry has to commit to stopping slash-and-burn practices as well as deforestation, he added.

“We can do it by stopping deforestation, methane capture, zero burning and setting aside conservation areas,” said Caliman.

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia said one of the first things that the palm oil industry needed to tackle was the recurring forest fires, which last year razed more than 2.6 million ha of forest and peatland, mainly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The palm oil industry has to be fully aware of the importance of integrating early warning systems to prevent the repeat of last year’s haze crisis as well as convincing local people that their involvement is needed,” WWF Indonesia CEO Efransjah said.

The forest fires and the haze resulting from them are also bad for the palm oil industry, all the more reason why the industry has to fight the annually recurring disaster.

Caliman, who serves as the chairman of ICOPE’s organizing committee, said thick haze from the recurring forest fires also affected the palm oil industry negatively as the haze affected the sun’s radiation necessary for plants to photosynthesize.

He came to the conclusion after he collected data from palm oil plantations in Riau and Central Kalimantan for years.

“The effect of haze is very negative for the palm oil industry and it’s quite significant,” Caliman said. “Based on the data that we have and additional observation of photosynthesis measurement and sugar content monitoring, there was a sharp decline in photosynthesis due to the haze.”

In order for the palm oil industry in Indonesia to be more sustainable as well as to be more adaptable to climate change, Caliman said technology, such as greenhouse gas monitoring systems, could help the industry.

“Technology for mitigation and adaptation against climate change is available to assist the palm oil industry,” he said.

However, it is important for researchers to develop tools that are more user-friendly, according to Caliman.

“In France, every day there are demonstrations by farmers saying that there are too many tools, regulations and certifications. Therefore, the challenge for us as researchers is to develop tools that are easy to use and implement by farmers,” he said.

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