No room for complacency in tackling haze

Smoke rising as forest land was cleared in Pelalawan Regency in Indonesia's Riau province in 2014. The following year, haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia cost Singapore an estimated $700 million.
Smoke rising as forest land was cleared in Pelalawan Regency in Indonesia's Riau province in 2014. The following year, haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia cost Singapore an estimated $700 million.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Jakarta assures region situation won't recur; S'pore ready to help address land, forest fires

Indonesia's assurance to its Asean neighbours that there will be no recurring haze this year was welcomed by the region's ministers yesterday, but they stressed the need to remain vigilant in tackling the environmental threat.

The country gave its assurance at the 19th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which was held at the Le Meridien Hotel in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. It was attended by ministers and senior officials from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said there was no room for complacency and that the Singaporean Government stood ready to cooperate with Asean countries to address land and forest fires.

"We collaborated with Jambi province on capacity building projects between 2007 and 2011 to address land and forest fires. The Government continues to look forward to assisting Indonesia and reviving the Jambi memorandum of understanding, to which Indonesia has yet to respond.

"We are open to discussion but the national government needs to give us the right signal when the cooperation is needed," he said.

 

Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said at the meeting: "We must continue with our efforts to implement haze control measures."

These efforts include measures like Indonesia's commitment to its peatland restoration scheme and its existing moratorium on giving out new concessions on peatland.

Enforcement is another key area. Mr Masagos said Singaporean firms responsible for starting a fire would be brought to justice.

"On top of that, Singaporean banks have implemented a guideline to stop all lending to errant companies. Consumers are also encouraged to only purchase products with Singapore Green Label to ensure sustainability," he said.

Mr Masagos added that all five nations have also agreed to share information on hot spots, although the agreement does not go as far as sharing concession maps.

Indonesia's senior adviser to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Arief Yuwono, Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar and Thailand's Permanent Secretary for the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Wijarn Simachaya were among those who attended the meeting.

In 2015, haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia cost Singapore an estimated $700 million.

The region aims to be haze-free by 2020.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Asean meet stresses vigilance in tackling haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe