Letter | Published:

Carbon emissions from forest conversion by Kalimantan oil palm plantations

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 283287 (2013) | Download Citation

This article has been updated


Oil palm supplies >30% of world vegetable oil production1. Plantation expansion is occurring throughout the tropics, predominantly in Indonesia, where forests with heterogeneous carbon stocks undergo high conversion rates2,3,4. Quantifying oil palm’s contribution to global carbon budgets therefore requires refined spatio-temporal assessments of land cover converted to plantations5,6. Here, we report oil palm development across Kalimantan (538,346 km2) from 1990 to 2010, and project expansion to 2020 within government-allocated leases. Using Landsat satellite analyses to discern multiple land covers, coupled with above- and below-ground carbon accounting, we develop the first high-resolution carbon flux estimates from Kalimantan plantations. From 1990 to 2010, 90% of lands converted to oil palm were forested (47% intact, 22% logged, 21% agroforests). By 2010, 87% of total oil palm area (31,640 km2) occurred on mineral soils, and these plantations contributed 61–73% of 1990–2010 net oil palm emissions (0.020–0.024 GtC yr−1). Although oil palm expanded 278% from 2000 to 2010, 79% of allocated leases remained undeveloped. By 2020, full lease development would convert 93,844 km2 ( 90% forested lands, including 41% intact forests). Oil palm would then occupy 34% of lowlands outside protected areas. Plantation expansion in Kalimantan alone is projected to contribute 18–22% (0.12–0.15 GtC yr−1) of Indonesia’s 2020 CO2-equivalent emissions. Allocated oil palm leases represent a critical yet undocumented source of deforestation and carbon emissions.

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Change history

  • 20 December 2012

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, there were several errors in calculations. The net 1990–2010 oil palm emissions given in the abstract should have been 61–73%. In the fire scenario, the increase in cumulative net carbon emissions above the non-fire scenario should have been 24%, and peatland emissions amounted to 35% of gross emissions from 1990–2010. Intact forests on mineral soils converted to oil palm plantations from 1990–2010 (12,072 km2) account for < 1% of Indonesia's land area. These errors have now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.


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We thank the Indonesian Ministries of Forestry and of Research and Technology, and Provincial Governments, Plantation Departments, Forestry Departments, Statistics Agencies and Land Bodies in Central, East, South and West Kalimantan. D. Ratnasari, S. Lansing, G. Paoli, D. Lawrence, A. Ponette-Gonzalez, J. H. Jones, P. Oliveira, H. Gibbs, J. Clark, D. Knapp, B. Soares-Filho, D. Gaveau, T. Gibbs, D. Gilbert, M. Greenleaf, N. Lisnawati, Y. Purwanto, Ruspita, W. I. Suci, A. Rohman, M. Mugiman, D. Astiani, R. Hartono, U. Abdurrahman, D. Firnata, A. Nirwan and R. Wahyudi provided feedback and fieldwork. L.M.C. acknowledges financial support for this team project from the NASA Land Cover/Land-Use Change Program (NNG05GB51G, NNX11AF08G, NNX07AK37H), John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Santa Fe Institute, Stanford University and Yale University. K.M.C. was financially supported by NASA (NNX08AU75H) and NSF (DGE-1122492) graduate fellowships.

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Author notes

    • Kimberly M. Carlson

    Present address: Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, 1954 Buford Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA


  1. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • Kimberly M. Carlson
    • , Lisa M. Curran
    •  & Alice McDonald Pittman
  2. Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Kimberly M. Carlson
    • , Lisa M. Curran
    • , Alice McDonald Pittman
    •  & J. Marion Adeney
  3. Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Main Quad, Building 50, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Kimberly M. Carlson
    • , Lisa M. Curran
    • , Alice McDonald Pittman
    •  & J. Marion Adeney
  4. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, USA

    • Lisa M. Curran
  5. Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, 260 Panama Street, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Gregory P. Asner
  6. Natural Resources Department, School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire MK43 0AL, UK

    • Simon N. Trigg
  7. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Avenue Northwest, Washington DC 20005, USA

    • J. Marion Adeney


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L.M.C. conceived and designed the project; G.P.A. provided software and designed the land cover classification algorithm; A.M.P., S.N.T., K.M.C. and J.M.A. conducted spatial assessments; K.M.C., A.M.P. and L.M.C. compiled and analysed data; and K.M.C. and L.M.C. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Kimberly M. Carlson or Lisa M. Curran.

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