The Indonesian agriculture ministry has declared that it will open up peatland forests for plantation crops such as palm oil after freezing new permits for more than a year since December 2007 in order to increase revenue to boost the welfare of local people.
Countering the welfare claims, environmental groups argue that the decision was based on the desire to boost productivity of palm oil, which is used for cooking, cosmetics and as a cleaner-burning biofuel.
Indonesia is already the world's top producer of the commodity and the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China and the United States.
Much of the palm oil on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra is planted on carbon-rich peatland that must be drained first, releasing millions more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.
To counter criticism, the government will allow the use of peatlands for plantations only under a stricter criteria and a very limited scope. Stricter criteria would be based on the depth of the peat, mineral quality and other conditions.
This decision has immediately set alarm bells ringing amongst the environmentalists who fear that this decision would lead to further global warming.
It has also shattered the hope held by environmental group that the freeze on the use of peatlands would become permanent.
Environmentalists pleaded with the government to keep the freeze of oil palm plantations in peatlands to combat climate change. Greenpeace is at the forefront leading the efforts.
Reuters, "Indonesia to end freeze on peatlands for plantations" dated 16 Feb 2009 in the Reuters website [downloaded on 1 March 2009], available athttp://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE51F26920090216?fee...
The Associated Press, "Indonesia opens peatland forests for palm oil
" dated 18 February 2009 in the IHT website [downloaded on 1 March 2009], available at http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/02/18/asia/AS-Indonesia-Peatland-For...