Fires in Indonesia are clearly an environmental crisis; they can emit pollutants that deteriorate air quality and harm human health, cause biodiversity and carbon losses, and damage property. Oil palm concession development can lead to increased fire incidence, as fire is often used to clear land prior to the initial crop planting, prior to replanting after a complete crop cycle, or eliminate pests mid-cycle.
However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification programme has the potential to reduce fires on oil palm concessions, as fire is not allowed on certified concessions. RSPO is a non-profit, industry-led trade organisation designed, in part, to address the growing concerns about the negative environmental impacts of the palm oil industry.
RSPO is currently the largest multi-stakeholder organisation focused on sustainability within the palm oil sector and so has a large potential to reduce the negative impacts of oil palm concession development globally. This potential impact is particularly critical in fuel-rich peatlands, of which approximately 46% of the area was designated as oil palm concession as of 2010.
A new paper published in Environmental Research Letters “Effectiveness of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) for reducing fires on oil palm concessions in Indonesia from 2012 to 2015”, by Borneo Nature Foundation affiliate Megan Cattau and colleagues, provides evidence that RSPO has the potential to reduce fires on oil palm concessions, although it is currently only effective when fire likelihood is relatively low. Fires are more likely to occur and more difficult to suppress during El Niño conditions and on peatlands.
This work demonstrates that fire activity is significantly lower on RSPO certified concessions than non-RSPO certified concessions when the likelihood of fire is low (i.e., on non-peatlands in wetter years), but not when the likelihood of fire is high (i.e., on non-peatlands in dry years or on peatlands). This paper shows good potential for the effectiveness of this mechanism to reduce fire, but additional strategies will be needed to control fires in oil palm plantations in dry years and on peatlands.
The full article can be found here