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Why It Matters

Enforcement key in haze fight

Indonesia's latest move to institute an immediate - and total - ban on the cultivation of peatland has been lauded as a big win in the global fight against climate change.

For South-east Asia, it may signal the beginning of an end to mass forest fires, often over peatland in Kalimantan and Sumatra, which cause the toxic haze that engulfs much of the region each year.

The ban, declared by President Joko Widodo on Dec 1, has the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to one gigaton annually, according to Indonesia's Peatland Restoration Agency chief Nazir Foead. Conserving peatlands can also ensure that endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger and orang utan can continue to live, and thrive, in their natural habitats.

Peatland in Indonesia has been under threat for decades, mainly as a result of demands from palm oil and pulpwood industry giants. World Resources Institute president Andrew Steer said Indonesia's leaders thus have a unique opportunity to slow the country's emissions through the conservation and restoration of peatland.

The decree by Mr Joko is not the first time an Indonesian president has introduced a moratorium to protect primary forests and peatland.

A two-year moratorium was declared by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2011, and extended for the second time last year. But observers said that despite that moratorium, protected forests were still being cleared using the slash-and-burn method because of weak enforcement. Mr Joko has been tough on culprits who clear land illegally since he was elected President in 2014 - having taken many individuals and big plantation firms to task for using fire to prime land for cultivation.

Indonesia, however, must follow through in its efforts by rigorously enforcing the blanket ban under the latest presidential decree, to ensure it is not toothless legislation that looks good only on paper.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2016, with the headline 'Enforcement key in haze fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe