Mongabay—Indonesia’s program to wean itself off coal by burning it alongside progressively higher amounts of woody biomass will threaten more than a million hectares of rainforest and result in massive net carbon emissions, a new analysis shows.

This process of cutting coal with materials such as wood pellets, oil palm kernels and sawdust is known as cofiring, and has been touted by the government as a key method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate most of Indonesia’s electricity.

The plan is to increase the portion of biomass burned in coal plants to 10%, which the government says will require 9 million metric tons of biomass annually.

But the more realistic figure is 10.2 million metric tons, according to Trend Asia, an Indonesian think tank that focuses on the clean energy transition. And there’s no way that amount of biomass will come from agricultural or urban waste, meaning the bulk of it will have to come from large-scale forest plantations, Trend Asia said in a recent analysis.

These would require 2.33 million hectares (5.7 million acres) of land — an area roughly 35 times the size of Jakarta — according to Trend Asia. And nearly half of it would have to be newly established — which in many cases means clearing standing forest for acacia and eucalyptus — given that Indonesia’s current annual production of wood pellets is less than 1 million metric tons.

Meike Inda Erlina, renewable energy campaigner at Trend Asia, said the resulting deforestation — between 1 million and 1.05 million hectares (2.47 million to 2.59 million acres), depending on the mix of acacia and eucalyptus — would amount to a tremendous loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

“There’s biodiversity [in our forests] that supports our lives as human, and there’s also lots of people whose livelihoods depend on forests, especially those who live in forest areas, such as Indigenous peoples,” she said at the recent launch of Trend Asia’s analysis. “All these have immeasurable values which the state can’t pay [back].”

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Foto: Melvinas Priananda/Trend Asia