On 30 October 2018, Indonesia and the Republic of Congo signed the first ever agreement on the protection and management of peatlands between an African and an Asian country.
The five-year memorandum of understanding says, among other things, that the two sides should develop sound management of peatland and cooperate in promoting best practice in sustainable peatland management. They also agreed to help each other with capacity building and exchanges of information.
To reduce the risk of fire and stop enormous amounts of carbon dioxide being emitted, Indonesia is rewetting over two million hectares of dried out peatland, while scaling up information-sharing on these carbon-rich wetlands globally.
Following the horrific peatland fires in Indonesia in 2015, the country has taken steps to curb the mismanagement of peatlands: laws are in place to make sure peatland regulations--including a nationwide ban prohibiting new peatland drainage--are enforced.
"We never sleep here in Indonesia because we are always watching for fires on our peatlands," says Raffles Panjaitan, Director, Forest and Land Fire Management, Ministry of Forestry, Indonesia.
Historically, the importance of peatlands, which cover about three per cent of the land on our planet, has been poorly understood. Consequently, they are frequently drained for plantations, farming and forestry.
While knowledge of tropical peatlands has increased in recent years, scattered data and experience make it hard to take well-informed decisions on their management. To promote a more unified approach to the management of these fragile ecosystems and help scientists and practitioners exchange knowledge and innovations, an International Tropical Peatland Center was launched in Indonesia in October 2018.
"We see the need for gathering the existing knowledge and developing capacity further to be able to step up science-based action--not only in Indonesia, but also in other tropical countries," said Siti Nurbaya, Minister of Environment and Forestry, at the soft-launch.
Nearly 600 representatives of government agencies, international partners, the private sector, civil society and media attended the soft-launch--including government representatives of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Peatlands offer the world enormous wealth in biodiversity, but without careful management of competing conservation and development objectives, the release of their large locked-in carbon reserves will lead to unprecedented greenhouse emissions and devastating wildfires," says acting head of UN Environment Joyce Msuya.
In March 2018, a historic agreement was signed to protect the world's largest tropical peatland, the Cuvette Central straddling the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo.
"For biodiversity, for climate and for people, we need healthy peatlands," says Dianna Kopansky, Global Peatlands Initiative Coordinator, UN Environment. "Cuvette Centrale is home to 14 globally threatened species including bonobos, gorillas and chimpanzees. This peatland is a global treasure that deserves global attention and efforts for now and for our future."
The Global Peatlands Initiative is an effort by leading peatland countries and organizations to save these fragile wetlands as the world's largest terrestrial organic carbon stock. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UN Environment, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo are among founding members of the Initiative.