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Carbon emissions from forest conversion by Kalimantan oil palm plantations

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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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Figure 1: Planted oil palm, oil palm leases, timber leases and protected areas in Kalimantan.
Figure 2: Distribution of planted and allocated oil palm by altitude and plantation lease area.
Figure 3: Oil palm area planted and land cover converted, 1990–2020.
Figure 4: Carbon emissions from oil palm plantations, 1990–2020.

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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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Authors and Affiliations



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.

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

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Carlson, K., Curran, L., Asner, G. et al. Carbon emissions from forest conversion by Kalimantan oil palm plantations. Nature Clim Change 3, 283–287 (2013).

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