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  Today Online 21 Aug 07
Are Indonesia's plans to prevent haze enough?
Tiffany Tan

Straits Times 21 Aug 07
'Lack of coordination' hurting anti-haze efforts
That's a key hurdle, say panellists, including those from Indonesia
By Tania Tan & Arti Mulchand

Straits Times 21 Aug 07
Fires, haze - the global implications
By Arti Mulchand

Channel NewsAsia 20 Aug 07
Regional Haze Dialogue works on new strategies to fight climate change

SINGAPORE : Representatives from five South East Asian countries along with Japan and Australia took part in a Regional Haze Dialogue in Singapore on Monday.

The Dialogue was co-organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies of Indonesia and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies of Malaysia.

They are coming up with fresh strategies they hope their governments can adopt to address the global climate change issue.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the record haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia.

And thanks partially to luck with wet weather, forecasts of another bad fog-out have failed to materialise so far this year.

But experts are warning against complacency. Drawing links between forest fires and global climate change, the experts emphasised how the recurrence of carbon-rich haze caused by illegal fires in Indonesia's vast tropical peatlands may help fuel global warming if left unchecked.

The meeting comes ahead of November's ASEAN Leaders Summit in Singapore and the UN-sponsored Bali Climate Change conference in December.

In a statement following a one-day dialogue here, the delegates acknowledged some "positive steps" taken by Indonesia to deal with the problem, but said Jakarta and the region needed to do more.

Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says: "All the participants at the dialogue really welcomed ASEAN's focus on the environment. They were quick to say that if we look at our region, there are many issues on the table.

"But the haze and the underlying causes of deforestation and unsustainable development of the economy like palm oil - these really are issues that must be first and foremost when the ASEAN summit talks about the environment. Because when the summit meets, this gives us the opportunity for leaders at the very top to really set a very strong political tone and help coordinate the different agencies of forestry, agriculture, economics with this environment issue." - CNA/ch

Today Online 21 Aug 07
Are Indonesia's plans to prevent haze enough?
Tiffany Tan

IF THE Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) wishes, it can muscle Indonesia into solving its notorious haze problem.

Asean needs to penalise member states that do not comply with regional agreements such as its anti-haze pact, suggested Dr Rizal Sukma, deputy executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Jakarta-based think tank.

"Unless we have this instrument that can actually force member states to follow all these agreements, then it would be difficult to push for better implementation," he said on the sidelines of the Second Regional Dialogue on Haze yesterday in Singapore.

Members may be banned from certain meetings, for example, he said. "You can't just expel Indonesia from Asean, because we can't expel Burma even though they violate human rights," he added.

In a statement, the delegates welcomed the intention of Asean leaders to focus on environmental issues at their summit in Singapore in November, hoping "that this would provide political will" to address the problem.

Indonesia, which is the main source of South-east Asia's annual haze, is one of two remaining member states that have yet to ratify Asean's 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze. The Philippines is the other.

Mr Heddy Mukna, Assistant Deputy at Indonesia's Ministry of Environment, said his country is likely to ratify the treaty by next year.

Asked to comment on Dr Sukma's call to sanction countries that produce haze, Mr Mukna would not speak on behalf of the government. But in his personal capacity, he said of the plan: "I think it's good."

The anti-haze agreement binds Asean countries to minimise open burning, volunteer information and allow firefighters from member nations into their country.

During the dialogue, Mr Mukna highlighted what Indonesia has done since last October's inaugural meeting. In 10 fire-prone provinces, there are now 1,560 personnel in fire brigades. The authorities have also identified three palm oil firms that practise open burning, and they are now under investigation.

With help from the German government, Indonesia is developing a fire control centre in East Kalimantan. It is also developing an early-warning system with the help of a Japanese institution.

This year, said Mr Mukna, it aims to reduce its forest fire areas by half, compared to last year.

As last year's haze episodes were the worst since 1997 and 1998, some non-government organisations at the dialogue said the goal seemed unrealistic.

But Mr Mukna told Today that "targets should be high, that will make all the parties work hard".

Indonesia has shown it is trying to respond to calls made in last year's dialogue, said Mrs Maricar Muzones, a policy researcher for Japan's Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

But "what is yet to be seen is actually how far these policies are performing".

Dr David Glover of Canada's International Development Research Centre, who has followed the haze issue since 1997, said Indonesia has taken "some positive steps", but their implementation of laws on burning was disappointing.

Straits Times 21 Aug 07
'Lack of coordination' hurting anti-haze efforts
That's a key hurdle, say panellists, including those from Indonesia
By Tania Tan & Arti Mulchand

THE rainy weather may be keeping the skies clear of haze for now, but the region is not breathing easy yet.

A year after the worst haze to hit the region in over a decade, there remain more questions than answers, the panellists at the second Regional Dialogue on Transboundary Haze said yesterday.

'We've just been lucky,' said Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, which co-organised the event. Held at the Regent Hotel, the day-long dialogue noted that the efforts to tackle the perennial problem had been hamstrung by legal, economic and political obstacles.

One of the key concerns raised by participants, including representatives from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, was coordination.

'The word is not in our vocabulary,' said DrRizal Sukma, deputy executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an Indonesian think- tank.

He observed that the Indonesian ministries of forestry, agriculture and environment have taken steps to counter slash-and-burn practices in Sumatra and Kalimantan, where the haze originates.

But, at the same time, some six million hectares of new land has been allocated to the development of palm-oil plantations, largely dedicated to the burgeoning biofuel market. Slash-and-burn practices in parts of this newly developed land cannot be ruled out.

And while Indonesia's Assistant Deputy Minister at the Environment Ministry, Mr Heddy Mukna, has said the country is likely to ratify the Asean Haze Agreement, 'maybe next year', the country's hesitation thus far has also cast a pall over efforts to stem the haze problem, said DrSukma.

Without binding agreements and sanctions, anti-haze actions become 'difficult to enforce', he said.

Signed five years ago, the anti-haze pact calls for member states to act to prevent and control burning that can pollute neighbouring countries. It has since been ratified by all the Asean countries except Indonesia and the Philippines.

A lack of funding also makes sustaining anti-haze practices an uphill task, with funds drying up before long-term change can be made, said DrSukma.

Mr Mukna said a notorious lack of law enforcement further compounds the problem. Many areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan are 'very remote', making them 'difficult to police', he said.

But the picture is not entirely bleak. In a new bottom-up approach, Indonesian provincial authorities have agreed to cooperate with Asean member states to work out detailed fire-prevention plans at a district level , with Malaysia working with Riau, and Singapore with Jambi.

Malaysia has pledged RM$2million (S$874,000) to its project, while Singapore could be signing a letter of intent with Jambi as early as next month to put its haze masterplan into action.

The Indonesian government has pledged 100 billion rupiah (S$16 million) to each of its eight provinces to develop their own anti-haze initiatives.

What remains now is for regional governments to start looking at the haze as not just an environment concern, but an economic and public health problem, too.

The rain may have temporarily washed away concerns about the smog, but, as Prof Tay said in his summation: 'We must act now.'

Straits Times 21 Aug 07
Fires, haze - the global implications
By Arti Mulchand

UNLIKE the song, this one is not just about earth, wind and fire. It is about saving our planet.

Annual fires and haze resulting from land-clearing in Indonesia portend serious implications for global warming, experts at the second Regional Dialogue on Transboundary Haze concluded yesterday.

For starters, the release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide contributes to global warming. Indonesia's slash-and-burn technique already results in an estimated twobillion tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, said MrFaizal Parish, director of the Global Environment Centre in Malaysia.

If the annual haze, mainly from Indonesia, keeps going, the planet is in for a climate crisis, said Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, who chaired the 30-man dialogue.

'When you add the carbon emissions from land use changes and deforestation, it makes Indonesia the third largest emitter of carbon in the world,' Prof Tay said. Its total annual carbon dioxide emissions stand at 3.014billion tonnes.

By comparison, China, the world's largest carbon emitter, releases 6.2billion tonnes through burning fossil fuels and cement manufacture.

'So the fires and the haze are not an isolated Indonesian issue but a global one...It is a perennial problem with implications and needs to be tackled,' Prof Tay said.

According to the United Nations Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Indonesia has already lost more than 72per cent of its original frontier forests, thanks to burning and logging, among other things.

It is, in fact, the world's fastest forest destroyer. Between 2000 and 2005, an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches was destroyed every hour. Day by day, the destruction continues.

Even a 'green solution' like biofuels, if mishandled, can make things worse, pointed out MrFitrian Ardiansyah, programme director of Climate and Energy for World Wildlife Fund Indonesia.

Jakarta, keen to exploit palm oil, the price of which has surged because of the interest in biofuels, is devoting an additional sixmillion hectares of new land to palm oil.

Some NGOs and think-tanks are worried. MrFitrian explains: 'We are not against palm oil, but we are concerned that more forests will be cleared. Palm oil can, in fact, be produced on land that is already degraded and abandoned.'

Moreover, Indonesia is a veritable carbon sink - its trees, plants and soil soak up carbon dioxide and temporarily store the carbon. About 10per cent of the world's remaining tropical forests are found in Indonesia, which has a total forest area of more than 225million acres, according to Rainforestweb.org, a portal on rainforests.

Within this lie, by some estimates, 22.5million hectares of peat land swamps - the main cause of the smoke haze. And if these swamps, which store 50billion tonnes of carbon, are allowed to go up in smoke, it could mean 200billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released into an already fragile atmosphere.

If so, expect 'dangerous' temperature increases.

Regional experts want to improve and link the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism - its climate change regime - to Indonesia's deforestation issue and its man-induced fires.

Prof Tay echoed earlier calls by Indonesia's Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar for the country to be paid to keep its forests intact. He plans to table the idea during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings in Bali later this year.

Not all may want to pay up, even if it is to save the planet. There was already disagreement on the issue yesterday.

Still, said Prof Tay, it was a 'debate that should start'.

Related articles on Singapore: haze
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