Statement from the International Conference and Workshop on Tropical Peat Swamps, July 1999


International Conference and Workshop on Tropical Peat Swamps

"Safe-guarding a Global Natural Resource"

27-29 July 1999

Penang, Malaysia


The International Conference and Workshop on Tropical Peat Swamps was held in Penang, Malaysia, from 27-29 July, 1999. The conference was jointly organized by the School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), and the International Peat Swamp Research Group. It was attended by more than 140 technical experts and representatives from government agencies and international organizations from more than 10 countries mainly in the Southeast Asia region.

The conference was officially opened by Datuk Law Hieng Ding, the Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment of Malaysia.

More than 40 technical presentations were made on 27th and 28th July, 1999, on a broad range of issues ranging from socio-economics and biodiversity conservation to management and monitoring methodologies and mechanisms to enhance collaboration in the region.

The meeting commended the organisers for arranging the meeting and the participating institutions for the significant progress made in recent years in terms of understanding the importance of, threats to and management options for tropical peatlands.

The meeting noted that Southeast Asia has more than 60% of the world’s tropical peatlands and these areas play a critical role in climate change, hydrological balance, biodiversity conservation as well as provision of a range of goods and services for the local communities.

The meeting noted with concern the continuing loss and degradation of peat swamp forests in recent years especially the loss and degradation of over 1.5 million ha (5% of the region’s peatland) through land clearing and forest fires in 1997/98 alone and current plans to convert additional areas of peatland in Indonesia and Malaysia.


The meeting URGED governments, research institutions, NGOs, private sector and other organizations to achieve the following goal:

To minimize, stop or reverse the loss and degradation of Peat Swamp Forest Resources in Southeast Asia.


The meeting further called for the following actions to be undertaken.

  1. Undertake an emergency programme of action to protect key tropical peatlands sites important for biodiversity, carbon storage, hydrological functions and socio-economic value to local communities.
  2. Put in place a moratorium on conversion of peatlands to agriculture and other uses pending in depth studies of implications for sustainable development in the region and global climate change.
  3. Develop or strengthen partnerships and information exchange between the growing number of organizations and individuals working on peatland issues in the region.
  4. Encourage governments, research institutions and NGOs in the region to work together to implement key targets under the framework of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (including the recent decision to prepare a Global Peatland Action Plan), Convention on Biological Diversity, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which are relevant to conservation and wise use of tropical peatlands.
  5. Encourage the strengthening of cooperation between governments of Southeast Asia in the protection of tropical peatland resources and prevention of peatland fires through the framework of the ASEAN Haze Action Plan and other appropriate mechanisms.
  6. Promote a program of rehabilitation of degraded peatland to return appropriate areas to their natural resource functions.
  7. Develop and promote sustainable agricultural practices on tropical peat and focus future sector developments on areas that have already been cleared of forest and present little prospect of rehabilitation.
  8. Encourage establishment of a network of regional centres for environmental research on tropical peat and its sustainable management with Universiti Sains Malaysia taking a lead in this development.
  9. Support the development and implementation of the Southeast Asia Peatland Action Plan and Management Initiative as a mechanism to advance the above actions and encourage the active participation of all relevant groups.
  10. Encourage the allocations of appropriate human and financial resources by agencies in the region and external donors to facilitate this work.

-- contributed by Mr Faizal Parish, Global Environment Center

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