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"Transboundary Haze Pollution in ASEAN is a Shared Responsibility at all Levels", by Moe Thuzar

Commentary 2016/9, 25 April 2016.

The ongoing haze issues in Southeast Asia highlight the importance of national follow-through for regional commitments.  Indonesia was the last ASEAN member to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2014 under Jokowi’s administration.  Even though the agreement had entered into force since November 2003 (a year after its adoption), Indonesia’s non-ratification status hindered the effectiveness of tackling the recurring haze problem, and led ASEAN members like Singapore and Malaysia to take the lead in pushing for bilateral and regional projects to address the issue at source.  

The ASEAN Peatlands Management Strategy is one such initiative.  With a timeframe spanning 2006 to 2020, it provides a framework for regional cooperation on forest fires, haze and sustainable peatland management. Implementation of the Strategy will not only reduce the risks of fire and its associated haze, but also contribute local livelihood support as well as global environmental conservation and management.

Peatlands play an important role in the socio-economic life of many rural and agricultural communities in Southeast Asia. Their key value lies in biodiversity conservation, and in regulating climate and water supply.  Deforestation, agriculture, and logging have all led to degradation of the peatlands, creating conditions for fires to easily take hold and spread.  Indonesia’s newly formed Peatlands Restoration Agency, helmed by Mr Nazir Foead, former Conservation Director at the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia, will give a boost to the ASEAN strategy’s implementation at ground-level in Indonesia, where the situation and needs are acute for both reducing land and forest fires, and restoring the peatlands.

Indonesia’s decentralised governance structure may show up the lack of effective national follow-up at ground-level. At the central level, President Jokowi has merged (since 2014) the Ministry of Forestry – one of the most ‘powerful' in reach but lax in forest management – and the Ministry of Environment, which has been comparatively weak in enforcement.  While the move is good to ensure coordination between two important sectors, its effectiveness in reducing deforestation and haze still remains to be seen.  Weak central coordination among different agencies dealing with the issue will also confuse implementation.  An indication of this can already been seen in Mr Nazir Foead’s commitment towards “no haze” and President Jokowi’s moratorium on new oil palm and mining concessions, contrasted with Indonesia’s Agriculture Ministry calling for lifting the zero-deforestation pledge imposed on the private sector.

Ms Moe Thuzar is Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.