Fire is a common tool for land conversion and management associated with oil palm production. Fires can cause biodiversity and carbon losses, emit pollutants that deteriorate air quality and harm human health, and damage property. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) prohibits the use of fire on certified concessions. However, efforts to suppress fires are more difficult during El Niño conditions and on peatlands. In this paper, we address the following questions for oil palm concessions developed prior to 2012 in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the leading producers of oil palm both within Indonesia and globally: (1) for the period 2012–2015, did RSPO-certified concessions have a lower density of fire detections, fire ignitions, or ‘escaped’ fires compared with those concessions that are not certified? and (2) did this pattern change with increasing likelihood of fires in concessions located on peatland and in dry years? These questions are particularly critical in fuel-rich peatlands, of which approximately 46% of the area was designated as oil palm concession as of 2010. We conducted propensity scoring to balance covariate distributions between certified and non-certified concessions, and we compare the density of fires in certified and non-certified concessions using Kolmogorov–Smirnov tests based on moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer Active Fire Detections from 2012–2015 clustered into unique fire events. We find that fire activity is significantly lower on RSPO certified concessions than non-RSPO certified concessions when the likelihood of fire is low (i.e., on non-peatlands in wetter years), but not when the likelihood of fire is high (i.e., on non-peatlands in dry years or on peatlands). Our results provide evidence that RSPO has the potential to reduce fires, though it is currently only effective when fire likelihood is relatively low. These results imply that, in order for this mechanism to reduce fire, additional strategies will be needed to control fires in oil palm plantations in dry years and on peatlands.
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