The future of Southeast Asia's tropical peatlands: local and global perspectives

Cole, Lydia E.S.; Willis, Katherine J. and Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2021). The future of Southeast Asia's tropical peatlands: local and global perspectives. Anthropocene, 34, article no. 100292.



The effective conservation and sustainable management of tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia is a major challenge. Pervasive deforestation, drainage and conversion to agricultural land, is disrupting the ecosystems’ ability to sequester atmospheric carbon. Conserving peatlands in an intact state has been described as a “low hanging fruit in tackling climate change” by the international conservation community. Yet, peatland drainage and land conversion continue unabated. Focusing on Malaysia’s coastal peatlands, this study interrogates local and global perspectives on peatland conversion. We combine diverse datasets obtained using palaeoecological and social science research methods to provide a comprehensive context to this conservation challenge. We also identify where the local and global perspectives are in conflict and where they align. To do this, we employ a literature review and qualitative analysis of the interview data, enabling us to draw out key themes of local versus global discourses on the current management and future prospects of these peatland ecosystems. Palaeoecological data, derived from cores collected from three peatlands in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, provide a quantitative assessment of long-term ecological changes in these environments; qualitative surveys of local stakeholders provide complementary detail on the history of and future perspectives on human-peatland interaction. Finally, a comparison of interview data with key themes in the international discourses on peatland conservation, illustrates conflicts between the two. The coastal peatlands of Sarawak serve as a case study to explore the fragile context of sustainable tropical peatland management, illustrating the diversity of datasets and knowledges that can be integrated. This approach enables a more effective dialogue amongst the multiple stakeholders involved in the management of these globally important ecosystems.

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