A new decision from the government of Indonesia could be a major boon for both public health and the global climate. On Monday, President Joko Widodo announced a moratorium on all activities that could damage the nation’s peat-filled wetlands, a move that could help prevent wildfires and billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades.
Indonesia is known for its tropical peatlands — bogs filled with carbon-rich, partly decomposed organic matter, or peat. Recently, though, Indonesia’s peatlands have been faced with growing threats from human activity, mainly agriculture. To make room for farmland, people in the region have taken to draining and drying the bogs, sometimes starting fires to aid them in clearing the land.
In particularly dry years, these fires have been known to spiral into enormous blazes that pour hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and threaten thousands of people with respiratory illness. In the past, the worst fire seasons have corresponded with severe El Niño events — the most recent occurred in 2015, when wildfires in Indonesia emitted about 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents — as much as Japan typically emits in a year. About half of these fires occurred on peatlands.
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