( dpa ) - The transformation of tropical forests and peat swamps into plantations in Indonesia's Riau province is generating more carbon emissions each year than the Netherlands and almost half of Australia's, the World Wildlife Fund revealed Wednesday.
The WWF study revealed that in Sumatra's Riau province nearly 10.5 million acres of tropical forests and peat swamp have been cleared in the last 25 years.
"Forest loss and degradation and peat decomposition and fires are behind average annual carbon emissions equivalent to 122 per cent of the Netherlands total annual emissions, 58 per cent of Australia's annual emissions, 39 per cent of annual UK emissions and 26 per cent of annual German emissions," said the WWF in a statement made available in Jakarta.
Besides carbon emissions, the massive deforestation in Riau, carried out primarily by global paper giants Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), has caused smoke that has blanketed neighbouring Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand each year, causing an annual health and air traffic hazard.
Riau was chosen for the study because it is both home to South-East Asia's largest store of carbon in its peatlands, and also provides the natural habitat for critical-endangered species such as Sumatran elephants and tigers.
At last December's Bali Climate Change Conference, Indonesia's minister of forestry pledged to provide incentives to stop the country's unsustainable forestry practices and protect Indonesia's forests.
The WWF's Riau study was designed to encourage US corporate investment in measures to halt forest destruction in Riau to earn those incentives.
"This groundbreaking report gives US businesses a roadmap for getting the biggest bang for their buck," said Adam Tomasek, managing director of the Borneo and Sumatra program at WWF-US.
"An investment in Riau province would both protect some of the world's largest carbon stores and safeguard endangered tigers, elephants and local communities."
Carbon emissions are likely to increase, the study predicted, as most future forest clearance is planned for areas with deep peat soils.
"The loss of Sumatra's carbon-rich forest ecosystems is not just Indonesia's problem - this affects the environmental health of the entire planet," said Tomasek.
The report by WWF, Remote Sensing Solution GmbH and Hokkaido University breaks new ground by analyzing for the first time the connection between deforestation and forest degradation, global climate change, and population declines of tigers and elephants. It has documented evidence that Riau has lost 65 per cent of its forests over the last 25 years and in recent years, the fastest deforestation rate in Indonesia, and during the same period has witnessed a 84 per cent decline in its elephant population and a 70 per cent decline in tigers.
"The message is clear - the world must commit to solutions that can save these forests if we are to significantly slow the rate of climate change and allow nature and people to flourish in Sumatra," said Sybille Klenzendorf, director of species conservation at WWF-US.