How the Katingan Mentaya Project uses the latest science and technology ensures Indonesian forest protection – E/The Environmental Magazine

The Katingan Mentaya Project (KMP) is the largest peat forest conservation and carbon finance offsetting initiative of its kind.
The Katingan Mentaya Project protects 150,000 hectares of Indonesian peat forest located in Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.
Enormous carbon stocks are stored in the peat soil which, at its deepest, reaches 14 meters into the forest ground. By creating a carbon financial solution to deforestation on this site, the KMP is preventing millions of tonnes of GHG emissions from reaching the atmosphere.
And the latest science and technological developments are helping the project managers to conserve this area of forest. Here’s how:
Why the Katingan Mentaya Project uses the latest science and technology
Satellite data has become one of the most useful tools for forest conservation projects. Used for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of the project to identify hotspots that may indicate forest fires, information from multispectral satellites data is now indispensable to projects like Katingan Mentaya.
Deforestation and environmental degradation are among the biggest threats to the chances of the world reaching emission targets. And unfortunately, in some regions, it’s on the rise. In 2020, according to Global Forest Watch and research analysed by the University of Maryland, more than 12 million hectares of tropical forest was annihilated.
This amount of deforestation in 2020 represents a 12% increase on 2019’s figures. From the 12 million hectares destroyed, more than four million were from primary forests previously completely untouched.
In 2015, the Paris Agreement set out the legally binding global treaty to tackle climate change. The goal is for the world to collectively limit global warming to less than 2 degrees, compared with levels monitored from pre-industrial temperatures.
The latest UN Climate Change analysis of National Determined Contributions (NDC) indicates that countries around the world must be far more ambitious about lowering emissions to hit the target of putting the world on a 1.5 C trajectory. Since the agreement was signed with the 2050 deadline, scientists and experts have shifted the target to 2030. If the world does not drastically lower emissions in the next five years, particularly from industrial processes with a shift from fossil fuels, then we will have passed the tipping point that will lead to climate disaster.
Lowering emissions by preserving forest will help slow global warming
To lower emissions faster, fossil fuel consumption must be dealt with, and tropical primary forests must be preserved. Ensuring the conservation and protection of forest regions that store vast amounts of carbon is therefore a priority. Land use is second only to the use of fossil fuels for energy as the world’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Today, it accounts for 25% of global emissions, according to the UN and the true amount could be considerably higher if we take into account already degraded land. About half of these emissions come directly from forest degradation and deforestation. Stopping deforestation could cut up to ten gigatons of GHGs.
There’s also the fact that healthy forests give us the only provable and affordable way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the massive scale that is needed. Forests around the world collectively absorb 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year and go on to store the carbon safely away within the biomass. This equates to about 33% of the amount of fossil fuels burned each year.
Right now, it’s estimated that there is about two billion hectares of land that could be restored into healthy land that could absorb and store carbon.
Carbon credit financing schemes work to protect primary forests
Deforestation is a direct consequence of over development and human industry. Over the most recent decades of destruction, clearing tropical forests has largely been confined to tropical countries, including the Congo and Amazon and in Southeast Asia. This has been driven by raging demand for soy and palm oil crops, as well as the timber and livestock industries.
Through the Katingan Mentaya Project, along with its partner Permian Global, there is a way for businesses to finance the restoration of these precious resources.
The KMP generates carbon credits (also called Verified Emissions Reductions (VERs)) to finance its operations and help ensure that there is a fundamental change of attitude at the highest levels. By pricing carbon stored in forests, it shows that the forests are more valuable if they are left to flourish than if they are converted into industrial farmland.
Of course, putting an exact price on the countless benefits that a forest brings to the world – from being home to all kinds of endangered species to its role in producing oxygen, regulating water and providing natural services for the people who live here – is challenging. However, it is possible through carbon financing to provide an economic alternative to the amount of money that would be made if the forest area is used for another purpose.
Carbon credits put a comparable economic value on the forest regions, which allows businesses to reach their own internal emissions targets, while contributing to the world’s targets.
Carbon credits must be independently verified for proof of their worth
For this system to work, the VER must have an impeccable pedigree in terms of how it was produced, how much impact it has and how long this impact will last. The KMP’s VER’s are independently accredited by third parties, and their quality follows strict regulatory guidelines.
Without the emission reductions facilitated by the KMP, the 150,000 hectares of Indonesian primary forest land would have been turned over to industrial acacia plantations. This is proof that without the carbon credit system, the emissions that have been saved would not have been otherwise.
Furthermore, it must be scientifically proven that the reduction in emissions is permanent, that the damage isn’t just being transferred to another region and that there is verified data that ensures an accurate carbon baseline. And to do all this, there is a need for monitoring and evaluation that acts as indisputable proof.
To ensure the integrity of the KMP area, there is continuous monitoring of the forest for fires and other disturbances. This includes natural and man-made disturbances. For example, the peat (which stores the carbon) can become highly flammable if the water is drained and the soil is allowed to dry. Once a fire has started, it can destroy large areas of the forest very quickly, therefore the project team must respond instantly to its real-time, high-resolution hotspot alert system, deploy its trained firefighting teams that are located in proximity to at-risk areas and stop the fire in its tracks.
Monitoring the integrity of the forest using satellite technology
To monitor the 150,000 hectares covered by the KMP, high-res imagery is provided by various satellite systems, including NASA FIRMS data and PlanetLabs’ Planet Scope satellite. The data is used to monitor the land use on a regular basis and can be analysed to show whether there is any significant degradation or depletion of the forest cover that demands further investigation.
It’s possible to see even very small-scale problems quickly thanks to the combination of high temporal and special resolution in the data. This then gives the team time to stop the degradation of the area in question before it escalates into deforestation. The project also produces a regular Monitoring Report, which includes detailed analysis of emissions data (alongside information about its extensive community development programmes and wildlife conservation activities). This ensures the reporting is not only thorough and transparent but highly accurate.
Fighting deforestation is changing all the time, as initiatives and projects utilise emerging technology. This scientific tech can show us just how bad the problem is and what we can do to combat it. It’s now urgent that we do more to avoid catastrophic climate change and by using satellite data, KMP is leading the way in carbon finance-based conservation.
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