WAGENINGEN, The Netherlands, November 3 /PRNewswire/ -- The Netherlands and Malaysia have joined forces to dispel the confusion that has arisen surrounding greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm cultivation in tropical peatland areas. Dutch Minister Cramer (Housing, Regional Development and Environment) and Malaysian Minister Chin (Plantation Industries and Commodities) set up the Joint Committee on Carbon Emissions, which is charged to shed light on this subject in the coming years.

The cultivation of oil palms in Malaysian and Indonesian peatlands has been under fire for some time now, because large quantities of CO2 are released when peatlands are drained for oil palm production and the peat then oxidizes. A 2006 study by Delft Hydraulics indicates that the conversion of peat forests causes a CO2-emission of 2 billion tons annually, or 8% of the CO2-emissions caused worldwide by the burning of fossil fuels. The findings of this alarming report, however, have been brought into doubt by Malaysia. Malaysia points to a scientific publication showing that CO2-emissions from a forest floor are in fact higher than those from the soils of a oil palm plantation. Together, these publications have caused confusion regarding the carbon balance, and especially about the effects of the cultivation of tropical peatlands.

From a new independent study by Alterra (part of Wageningen UR), conducted at the request of both ministers, it now appears that the content of CO2 released from different types of tropical peatlands strongly varies, depending on water retention and drainage and land use. In an undisturbed peat forest, the peat layer thickens because organic matter is poorly decomposed in the wet and acidic environment. Over the course of the centuries, peat forests therefore became important carbon reservoirs. That carbon is now being freed in a short period of time by the drainage and conversion to oil palm plantations. With the groundwater level deeper, no peat layer is formed. Rather, the peat is decomposed because oxygen becomes available for micro-organisms. Many of the peat forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are degraded and influenced by drainage, which means in some cases they release more CO2 than they capture in their biomass.

The Netherlands and Malaysia have now established an outline agreement for a research programme that will be supervised by the Joint Committee on Carbon Emissions. This research will aim in part to quantify the complete carbon cycle and in part to answer the question of how plantations can best be managed so as to release as little greenhouse gases as possible. The knowledge gained through these efforts should lead to solutions to push back the release of greenhouse gasses from tropical peatlands.

Download Alterrarapport 1731: Review of carbon flux estimates and other greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm cultivation on Tropical peatlands Identifying the gaps in Knowledge. Auteurs: Verwer, Casper, Peter van der Meer Gert-Jan Nabuurs

Note for the Editors:, For more press information, Please contact, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Environmental Sciences Group and Alterra, Francine Loos, communication advisor, Telephone: +31(0)317-481918 / +31(0)6-11041635, Email: francine.loos@wur.nl