Indonesia’s Fires Pollute More Than Entire US Economy: Researchers

BenarNews Staff

2015-10-21
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151021-ID-fire-1000 An Indonesian helicopter drops water on a fire in Ogan Komering Ilir regency, South Sumatra province, Oct. 17, 2015.
AFP

Greenhouse gas emissions from forest fires in Indonesia exceeded the daily U.S. average for nearly a month during a recent six-week stretch, according to a Washington D.C.-based environmental group.

On 26 days between Sept. 1 and Oct. 14, tens of thousands of Indonesian fires sent higher levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than daily levels emitted by the United States, the World Resources Institute (WRI) reported.

“What does a climate catastrophe look like in a real world context? Since September, daily emissions from Indonesia’s fires exceeded daily emissions from the entire U.S. economy on 26 days. To put it into perspective, the U.S. economy is 20 times larger than Indonesia’s,” WRI said in revealing the findings.

WRI based these on satellite-based data gathered by Guido van der Werf, a researcher at VU University Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, who runs the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED).

In 2013, the United States was the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and ahead of India (No. 3) and Indonesia (No. 11), according to the Global Carbon Atlas, a website that compiles and analyzes information on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The daily American average of carbon dioxide emissions is approximately 15.95 million metric tons, and on a single day – Oct. 14 – emissions from the Indonesian fires spiked well above that number, at around 80 million metric tons, according to WRI.

As of Wednesday, the number of active fires detected in Indonesian had risen to 108,436, according to the latest information from the GFED. Fires are burning not only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, but also on Sulawesi and in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province.

Wreaking havoc

Haze from the Indonesian fires, which have been burning for two months, has blanketed parts of Indonesia, neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, and reached southern Thailand and the Philippines.

The fires recur yearly, but experts have predicted that this year’s agricultural fires could be the worst on record and may last till the end of the year.

Russia, Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore have deployed aircraft to Indonesia to help its government fight the fires, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The soil in burning areas contains high levels of peat, making the fires very difficult to extinguish – and especially toxic.

“These areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years,” WRI said. “Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion (such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations) leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Fires also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), but peat fires may emit up to 10 times more methane than fires occurring on other types of land. Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands,” the institute added.

Air pollution from the fires has caused health problems in the region, disrupted economic activity and forced the closure of schools.

In Malaysia on Wednesday, all schools in the country were ordered closed for the third straight day since Monday and 34 flights in and out of Langkawi International Airport, in Kedah state, were cancelled due to poor visibility.

"Many flights have been delayed due to this haze. Same goes for the shipping industry," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said Wednesday, referring to overall flight cancellations caused by the haze over recent weeks, local news outlets reported.

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