Illegal fires thwart climate change fight: Masagos

An image taken from Nasa's Terra satellite on Sept 24, 2015, shows smoke from fires in Indonesia over the coasts of Borneo and Sumatra.
An image taken from Nasa's Terra satellite on Sept 24, 2015, shows smoke from fires in Indonesia over the coasts of Borneo and Sumatra.PHOTO: REUTERS

Forest and peatland fires risk undermining carbon-cutting efforts by other countries

Singapore singled out illegal forest and land fires as hindering the global fight against rising temperatures and extreme weather, as it called for an ambitious climate pact at United Nations-led talks in Paris.

"Reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions is not only about mitigating emissions from our industrial sectors; it can also be about protecting our forests and preventing peatland fires," Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said while delivering Singapore's National Statement at the Paris talks.

Mr Masagos said peatlands were major carbon sinks, storing up to 20 times more carbon than tropical rainforests on mineral soils.

"However, with peatland fires caused by slash-and-burn practices of errant companies, they are no longer carbon sinks but a source of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions" and haze pollution that causes widespread health and economic impacts, he told delegates.

The huge amount of carbon emissions from forest and peatland fires risked undermining the carbon-cutting efforts made by other countries, he said on Monday.

The minister praised the nearly 190 nations, covering about 95 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, that have submitted climate action plans. These plans form the foundation of an agreement. "We must now match these pledges with a global agreement that promotes the ability to raise ambition over time and bring our world closer towards climate safety," he said.

He said an ambitious agreement at the Paris talks, called COP21, would be meaningful only if all nations that are party to the deal were on board. It was important nations sign up to "a robust measurement, reporting and verification system" of national actions, and to strengthen the capacity of nations to curb emissions. "Amongst others, the capacity to combat illegal burning and other forms of abuse in the land sectors will address this recurring problem," Mr Masagos said.

Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and stabilise its emissions with the aim of peaking around the same time.

During a doorstop interview after his speech, Mr Masagos said the negotiations will be tough over the next few days. "But I am hopeful that members understand how important this agreement is."

PROTECT AND PREVENT

Reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions is not only about mitigating emissions from our industrial sectors; it can also be about protecting our forests and preventing peatland fires.

MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES MASAGOS ZULKIFLI

He said it will take time to achieve Singapore's target. "It's a period of 15 years. But I think if we understand what and how big this problem is, facing not just us but the world, particularly Singapore being an island, we all ought to be serious about it."

Asked about criticism that Singapore's target is not ambitious enough, he said the Government had to be pragmatic. "We look from our condition where we do not have natural resources to rely on to power our economy.

"We, therefore, need to work on what we have right now and to adjust our economic mix so that we can still provide the livelihoods and economy that Singapore needs to thrive on. At the same time, be a responsible player in this climate change initiative."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Vi-vian Balakrishnan, who heads the Singapore delegation, said in a Facebook post on Monday: "Since touching down in Paris on Sunday, we have been immersed in an intensive series of meetings. Still significant gaps, but there is a positive spirit in finding 'landing zones' that we can agree on. It's going to be a long week."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'Illegal fires thwart climate change fight: Masagos'. Print Edition | Subscribe