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Vanishing forests a counterpoint to Indonesia’s climate crusade

Peatland Forest, Riau, Indonesia. Photo: Ahmad Zamroni

Photo by: Ahmad Zamroni
Text by : Aubrey Belford

KUALA CENAKU, Indonesia (AFP) – Head man Mursyid Ali stands amid blackened stumps, the remains of much of the rainforest belonging to this village on Indonesia’s Sumatra stripped and drained in spite of local protests.

Thanks largely to the burning of forests and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands, Indonesia is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, a statistic coming under the spotlight ahead of the nation hosting a major international climate change conference next month.

The December 3-14 UN summit on the resort island of Bali will see delegates from around the world — including more than 100 ministers — thrash out a framework for negotiations on a global regime to combat climate change when the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.

Satellite images from environmental watchdog WWF show that only 25 years ago, the majority of Riau province — home to Ali’s village — was covered in equatorial forest, one of the most ecologically diverse habitats on Earth and a vital absorber of carbon.

Today, four million hectares (nearly 10 million acres), or more than 60 percent, have gone. Land clearing, both legal and illegal, has made way for tree and oil palm plantations, logging concessions and small farms.

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