Saturday 22 June 2013

Fight the haze (2013)

A test for Singapore: Not being hazy about the haze
It’s time for MPs and grassroots leaders to be seen rallying and helping people. This is also a test for Singapore society - how much are we willing to do for each other?
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published TODAY, 21 Jun 2013

Singapore is facing a multi-dimensional crisis due to the haze. The crisis has an environmental origin but it is manifesting itself upon several planes – health is the most obvious.

However, given the acute and protracted nature of the phenomenon, we will soon see the effects on social, economic and political dimensions as well. How will we, as a nation, cope with the haze? What needs to be done?

First, the nature of the challenge must be recognised by the political, corporate and social leaders. The haze poses structural and persistent risks to Singaporeans and the Singaporean economy. It is likely to disrupt to economic, educational and social routines and for a protracted period of time, measured in months, not weeks or days.

Second, the Government must recognise that its responsibility is first and foremost to the well-being of its people and not the important but ultimately secondary consideration of maintaining good international relations.

If required, we can afford to tear and repair the bilateral relationship with Indonesia, but what we cannot expect is to tear and repair the relationship of trust between our leaders and Singaporeans. That has much more divisive and insidious consequences.

Singapore has to get tough with Indonesia to ensure that the effective action is taken at the origin of the problem. What good is a long working relationship if it is of little help when we need it most? Financial sanctions and diplomatic action at international forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations should be considered, should our entreaties to the Indonesian government be met with further recalcitrance or petulance as evident by comments by certain Indonesian politicians.


Third, the Government needs to get ahead of the crisis and not play catch up. It should mechanise to deal with the anticipated economic and social fall-out from the haze. The economy, already performing only marginally, may need buttressing. Social cohesion will need reinforcing through active leadership at the ground level.

It is time for Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders to be seen and not hidden by the haze, in rallying the people and helping to make adjustments or provide assistance at the local level. In this respect, it is important for Government and opposition leaders alike to go beyond partisanship and be leaders not of party but of people – come together and work for the common good.

Fourth, this is a test for Singapore society. This crisis shows us that as much as we have differences, our lot is fundamentally a common one.

The haze does not recognise political or wealth boundaries. We are in this together and because of which, how we come out of it will be less a measure of our external actions as our internal ones. How do we empathise with each other? How much are we willing to do for each other?

Can we get along well enough so that at the person to person, family to family, neighbour to neighbour level, we make accommodations so we can adapt to survive? To put it bluntly, we cannot ‘wayang’ our way through this – it is going to require genuine and sincere social inclusiveness and cohesion from the individual level up for us to tough this out till clearer days.

We can use the haze crisis to leave Singapore better, but only if we want to be the best for Singapore.

Devadas Krishnadas is the Founder and Director of Future-Moves, and the Editor of IPS Commons. This article first appeared at

ESM Goh: "The Singapore Child is being suffocated"
The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2013

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is the latest Singaporean leader to weigh in on the thick haze that has enveloped Singapore.

Posting on Facebook on Friday afternoon, the former prime minister lamented the fact that PSI reading had broken another record by breaching the 400 mark.

"The Singapore Child is being suffocated. How can he not scream?" he said, a possible oblique reference to remarks from an Indonesian minister saying that Singapore's reaction to the haze was childish.

He went on to talk about the neighbourly spirit he hope the Indonesians would adopt. Mr Goh borrowed an analogy from former Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Badawi, who had said that Malaysians and Singaporeans are like neighbours living in a pair of semi-detached houses.

"What each does will affect the other. So we have to be considerate in our behaviour like not putting on the TV too loudly or burning our garden refuse openly if the smoke will enter our neighbour's house," said Mr Goh.

He added: "Indonesia does not share a semi-detached house with Malaysia or Singapore. But its detached bungalow is in the same housing estate. So Badawi's analogy of neighbourly behaviour still applies."

And while acknowledging the challenge of putting out widespread fires at this point, he said that Singaporeans will have to learn to live with the smog for now.

"Forest and peat fires are not easy to put out. They are not like our lalang or bush fires, small and confined. They burn and smoulder over thousands of acres in remote places far from the reach of fire fighters. So it is best to prevent man-made, illegal fires from being started in the first place.

"But as of now, the Singapore Child better learn to survive the tortuous smog and haze."

Use the law to fight the haze
Encourage whistle-blowers, and introduce laws that compel producers to clean up their act if they want to ship palm oil products through Singapore
By Ivan Png, Published The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2013

IT'S become an almost annual ritual for Singaporeans during the South-West Monsoon season: the haze is back.

Effortlessly but sadly, I have built my own Pollutant Standards Index meter. I look out my NUS office window. When I cannot see the Pasir Panjang port cranes, just over 1,000m away, I know that the PSI exceeds 200.

How to solve this vexing issue? Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has suggested that consumers bring pressure on agricultural producers through "name and shame". The idea is good but the challenge is: How would we know who is burning the peat lands in Sumatra?

An Indonesian forestry official has countered that Malaysian and Singapore palm oil plantation companies are responsible for the open burning. Dr Balakrishnan and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam have asked Indonesian ministers to name the companies responsible for the burning. But the silence from the government of Indonesia has been deafening.

Let me suggest two more practical approaches. One is to shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the producer.

We should legislate that palm oil and other agricultural products may be imported or trans-shipped through Singapore only if the product is certified as not produced on land cleared by open burning. This law would be similar to the way that the world regulates trade in endangered species through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

Cites came into effect in 1975. It regulates the export, import and trans-shipment of endangered plants and wildlife. Such plants and animals may be traded only with the proper licence.

We can apply a similar policy to agricultural products. A difference with Cites is that we do not need to wait for an international treaty. We can pass the law on our own. (With this policy, Singapore could set an international example, just as it has done with "opt out" organ donations, road pricing, and other world-first policy innovations.)

Responsible agribusinesses should have no problem complying with the law. The law would precisely target the companies that are slowly killing us with fine smoke particles. By cutting the sales and profits of the culprits, we would give them a clear financial incentive to clean up their act.

My other suggestion is to revise our environmental law to prohibit any acts, wherever they may be located, that cause air pollution in Singapore. Isn't it ironic that a factory in Jurong that pollutes our air will be prosecuted, but a plantation in Sumatra that pollutes even worse gets off scot-free?

Importantly, the law should also include a whistle-blower provision to reward anyone who provides information leading to convictions. Currently, we are stuck with a free rider problem. It is very costly (perhaps impossible) for any individual person to identify the culprits. The work requires organisation and resources. But the benefit is spread across many, including all of the people in Singapore and West Malaysia. So, the job does not get done.

The purpose of the whistle-blower provision is to give a strong incentive for people to pinpoint those responsible for open burning. Whistle-blowers have been instrumental in exposing white-collar and environmental crime in the United States and Europe.

We can apply the same concept to combat the haze. We might then even get the help of local government officials and plantation workers in Sumatra. The prospect of a whistle-blower reward worth perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars would certainly focus their minds.

The writer is Lim Kim San Professor at the NUS Business School and professor of economics and information systems, National University of Singapore.

Sounding the alarm for collective action
By Simon Tay and Nicholas Fang, Published TODAY, 21 Jun 2013

The haze in Singapore is at a historic level, exceeding the worst seen back in 1997-98, and blankets the global city in a rancid shroud of grey. Neither is Malaysia spared; several parts of the Peninsula register unhealthy pollution readings.

Reports again point to land and palm oil plantation fires in Indonesia as the cause. The haze is a recurrent phenomenon and its return is greeted with a mix of anger and fatalism. People feel there has been plenty of time to fix the problem, so finger-pointing ensues — at Indonesia, the Singapore Government or palm oil plantations.

It is right to expect that regional governments should send the strongest political signal to address the situation. This is especially as the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will take place next week, notwithstanding other items on the agenda such as ASEAN economic integration and tensions in the South China Sea.

In raising this issue, however, finger-pointing can be counterproductive — because, fundamentally, Indonesian cooperation is needed.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong did the right thing when he raised the issue with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during their bilateral dialogue back in April. Other Singapore ministers — Dr Vivian Balakrishnan for the environment and Mr K Shanmugam at foreign affairs — have now contacted their counterparts.

Parts of the Indonesian establishment can respond positively. The bilateral relationship between the two countries is positive on many fronts. Indonesia has also taken up a high profile in leading ASEAN and will try to avoid tainting their growing reputation. In addition, Indonesian authorities need to act for the sake of their own citizens — the very worst of the haze afflicts the towns and peoples of Riau, which is nearest to the fires.

The global implications of the fires and haze for climate change are another dimension. The haze represents a huge spike in climate change gases that sends Indonesia into the uppermost bracket of worldwide polluters.

In ongoing negotiations at the United Nations, Indonesia stands to gain billions in funds from schemes to reduce carbon emissions by avoiding deforestation and land degradation. But any funding is contingent on proof that Indonesia can stand by pledges to conserve forests lands. The current fires vividly undercut such belief.

There are, therefore, domestic, regional and international reasons for Indonesia to do better in addressing the problem. Some elements in Indonesia will respond positively. After all, in 2006, President Yudhoyono pledged to reduce the number of fires, and this had some effect. That presidential pledge should be renewed. Furthermore, Indonesia should finally ratify the ASEAN Haze Agreement that was concluded more than a decade ago.


Yet, even if it does, doubts remain about how effective Jakarta promises will be in the now de-centralised provinces. This is especially as the Indonesian forestry and agricultural ministries seem to take quite a different attitude. When criticised, a forestry official responded recently that Singaporean and Malaysian companies are to be implicated. When the Singapore Government asked Indonesia to name the companies responsible, an Indonesian government official warned “foreign parties” not to meddle in its internal affairs.

Yet, this is a critical question to be answered. If it is true that the Indonesian operations of Singaporean and Malaysian corporations are involved, nationality must not excuse inaction. It instead shows the importance of cross-border governance.

The burgeoning industry of plantation and forestry resources in South-east Asia is linked by trade, consumption and finance, and governments need to work together to better regulate the corporations across borders.

It does not, however, make sense for Singapore to try to act alone. Without evidence, any ban on trade would run the danger of demonising the entire palm oil industry. This is unfair and, indeed, counterproductive when some companies are trying to green themselves in response to consumer demands and have pledged not to use fire. Even if Singapore did boycott the trade, unless others join in the move, the industry would simply shift elsewhere while the haze remains.


The reality is that there is no silver bullet for an immediate solution. The issue can, however, be managed, and it has been better managed in the recent past. Witness the relative drop in haze and fire after 1997-98, before again spiking in the last two years.

But even management needs consistent attention and considerable resources, whereas for most people, concern over the haze is only really activated when the problem is literally in our face.

Cooperation is also complicated across borders and across sectors — with governments and large corporations, as well local communities involved. This was tested and showed signs of success when Singapore’s National Environment Agency worked from 2007 with Indonesian provincial authorities on limited sites in Jambi.

A multi-level approach is needed. First, there needs to be a clear and consistent political signal from regional leaders and ministers. We should expect that the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting next week will address the issue, at least on the sidelines, among the concerned countries. Indonesia should also ratify the ASEAN treaty.


Beyond this, there is harder work to reach the palm oil companies as well as the supply chain and financial companies that support the industry.

Governments need to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach towards companies operating on the ground. Even as errant companies are brought to account, firms that are sincerely and successfully implementing sustainable measures in their operations should be commended. This would encourage other companies to follow suit.

For this, the role of non-government organisations will be important. Some NGOs in Indonesia, such as the national branch of Greenpeace, have been collating hard evidence of plantation owners conducting illegal burning activities, raising public awareness of these errant companies and assisting in the prosecution of some. Others, like the World Wide Fund for Nature, have been helping to set aside tracts of rainforests to protect them from loggers and burners alike.

Ultimately, the question remains of how to put all these together. What is required is a regional dialogue among the different stakeholders — agencies of government, diverse corporations and community and environmental groups. Only then can common points be agreed upon and cooperative work begun, rather than pushing the blame around. But this will require much more consistent attention, persistent work and resources than have been given to the issue to date.

Simon Tay and Nicholas Fang are, respectively, Chairman and Executive Director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). The SIIA has analysed and held a series of dialogues on the fires and haze since 1997.

Strengthen reach of environmental laws
By Burton Ong, Published The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2013

THE legal issues shrouding the annual haze problem we are facing in Singapore are complex, but more can certainly be done on the Singapore side.

On the one hand, there are tricky international law issues between Singapore and Indonesia - independent sovereign states with distinct legal regimes - set against a backdrop of multi-layered sociopolitical forces which animate the Asean regional grouping.

On the other hand, the essence of the dispute lies in the irresponsible actions of one group of people in one country causing harm to a much larger group of people in a neighbouring territory. Open burning causes air pollution which is harmful to the environment and public health.

In Singapore, a clear statutory prohibition against the open burning of refuse or waste can be found in Section 6A of the Environmental Public Health (Public Cleansing) Regulations. Other criminal and civil sanctions may also be levied against the parties responsible for such air pollution where the air pollution generated causes personal injury, property damage or a nuisance to others.

A similar spectrum of Indonesian legal remedies may be triggered where both the polluter and the injured party are located within Indonesia.

If both countries have environmental laws which can be invoked to punish those who engage in open-burning activities, why is the problem intractable once the air pollution crosses national boundaries and inflicts harm upon victims in another territory?

The immediate obstacle is whether the legal system of the country whose residents bear the brunt of the ill effects of the pollution can be used against the perpetrators. In other words, whether the Singapore courts and other organs of state have jurisdiction over those who engage in harmful activities outside of Singapore.

As a general rule, principles of national and territorial sovereignty preclude states from applying their laws to parties and conduct beyond national borders.

Exceptions are made where, for example, there is some important public policy consideration at stake, or where the foreign conduct produces a direct adverse impact on the affected state.

Extraterritorial jurisdiction would thus be justified on the basis that serious harm is suffered by a state, such that it has a legitimate interest in extending the scope of its laws beyond its territorial limits.

Singapore is no stranger to enacting laws which have an extraterritorial reach. These include statutes directed at prohibiting overseas drug consumption by Singaporeans and curbing corrupt acts of Singaporeans overseas.

Our laws also prohibit foreign economic undertakings from engaging in anti-competitive behaviour outside of Singapore that adversely affects competition within Singapore. Why not extend the scope of our environmental laws to cover those responsible for engaging in pollutive open- burning activities in Indonesia?

The economic and social impact of the haze on public health, tourism and a broad range of other economic activities provide more than ample justification for Singapore to assert such extraterritorial jurisdiction.

To be sure, extraterritorial laws are not easy to draft or enforce. But in principle, it is possible for Singapore judgments to be awarded against foreign entities, to be enforced outside Singapore by foreign courts.

Difficulties of enforcement are not insurmountable.

Difficulties in identifying which parties should be held legally accountable - landowners, plantation operators, parent companies and subsidiaries, downstream economic operators and so forth - can be dealt with by legislation which expands the circle of liability beyond those who actually light the fires to include parties who profit from such activities while knowing of or acquiescing to such land-clearing practices.

Difficulties relating to proving which fires in Sumatra contributed to the haze in Singapore would require drafting laws which allow the prosecuting agency to establish causation by proving certain basic facts. For example, an evidential presumption could be raised if the prosecutor could show that open burning on a certain scale took place on a particular date when haze was felt in Singapore, with prevailing winds blowing towards Singapore on that date.

As for difficulties in imposing and enforcing financial penalties, these may be overcome by targeting the Singapore bank accounts of the corporations and corporate officers found jointly liable of such misconduct. Jail terms could enhance the deterrent effect.

It would be ironic if those whose selfish decisions harmed Singapore's people and economy were to enjoy the financial rewards of their conduct by using our banking and other services.

Merely applying "commercial pressure" to discourage such behaviour is not enough. We must give serious thought to strengthening our environmental law regime to fight this annual scourge.

The writer is Associate Professor, Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore and the Deputy Director- designate of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law.

Indonesia's mindset on haze casts pall on ties
By Derwin Pereira, Published The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

INDONESIA is behaving less than responsibly over the haze. Wondering why this is so sent me back 16 years ago, when I was based in Jakarta as a correspondent for this newspaper.

The 1997 haze was one of my big stories. But covering it from Jakarta was an intensely ironical exercise: It was a non-story there. The clear blue sky made people ask what the fuss elsewhere was all about. In Jakarta, life went on as usual - biasa saja in Indonesian.

It still does today as I write this in Jakarta on a week-long visit, as the PSI crosses the 400 mark in Singapore.

Nature is one thing - Jakartans were not bothered by the haze because they were not affected - but politics is another. Then, as now, the official mindset was clothed in Javanese imperturbability. The asap - as the haze is known in the Indonesian capital - elsewhere in the country was a problem, but it was not the country's most pressing issue.

And even though the forest fires which caused the haze affected Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, there was the unspoken assumption, based on the almost imperial expectation, that Indonesia's neighbours would take the smog in their stride.

In the Indonesian psychological construct of their place in South-east Asia, good neighbourliness entailed others making allowances for them, not Indonesia ensuring that it did not cause environmental problems for its neighbours in the first place.

To be fair, Suharto's Indonesia, which saw itself as the natural leader of the region, tried to fit into that role with a degree of benignity towards its neighbours.

Thus, the Indonesian Armed Forces was said to have deployed more than 50,000 troops - almost a fifth of its strength - for fire-fighting at one point during the ecological crisis.

But then, as now, the Indonesian leadership made it clear that it, and it alone, would determine the nature, direction and timing of its response to the haze although it constituted a cross-border issue.

This is how a regional power behaves. The more criticism there is of its irresponsibility, the more it is intransigent, adamant and defiant. It stands on political ceremony and insists on diplomatic protocol even as forest fires on its soil cast a pall on its relations with its neighbours.

The intemperate reaction of Indonesian minister Agung Laksono exemplifies the Indonesian temperament. "Singapore should not be behaving like a child and making all this noise," he said.

The condescension in those scolding remarks would have been breathtaking, except for the fact that it has a precedent in former president B.J. Habibie's magisterial dismissal of Singapore as a "little red dot".

The haze underscores the reality that when it comes to the environment, geography is destiny.

From presidents Sukarno to Habibie, to ministers like Mr Agung today, Singapore has never been left in any doubt that its small size and demography place it at a disadvantage in its relations with the region's largest and most populous country, next to which it is situated.

What is unbecoming in all this is that it is precisely Indonesia's centrality in South-east Asian affairs that should make it behave very differently today.

Unlike in 1997 - the tail-end of the Suharto regime, which would soon be overthrown as a result of the Asian economic crisis - Indonesia is a rising power now.

Jakarta is a major member of Asean and of Asean-centric institutions such as the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asian Summit process.

As a member of the Group of 20 emerging economies, Indonesia's influence extends beyond South-east Asia. It has entrenched democracy after the downfall of Suharto, and held on to its secular credentials in the face of religious revivalism.

Indonesia is, indeed, a leader in South-east Asia. It should display that leadership by being solicitous of the welfare of its neighbours.

It demeans itself when it belittles them. Since leadership, like charity, begins at home, Indonesia should go after the companies responsible for starting the fires that are causing the haze.

In the light of these psychological factors, Singapore has to tread carefully in dealing with the Indonesians over the haze.

The best channel remains the bilateral one, where leaders can meet and discuss contentious issues behind closed doors. Agreements will not be possible all the time, but the threshold of understanding can go up. Naturally, both Singaporean and Indonesian leaders will be answerable to their home constituencies, but they will enjoy space for give and take at these private meetings.

The haze has created public disquiet in Singapore, but we need to understand that the country cannot push for Indonesian action beyond a certain point.

When all is said and done, it is only the Indonesian leadership that can decide what action to take against the errant companies or how to go about fighting the fires. Singapore can impress on Indonesia how badly it is being affected, but there is nothing it can do if the Indonesians are adamant.

It is the same with the other channel, which is the Asean one.

Indonesia cannot be obliged to act except where it has agreed to do so, but there is value nevertheless in "internationalising" the haze issue and making it a centrepiece of Asean's usefulness and credibility. Jakarta will have to be nudged towards ratifying the agreement on transboundary haze pollution which Asean adopted in 2002. Indonesia must realise that, as an Asean leader, it cannot be a laggard in dealing with an issue that could affect its political ties with Singapore and Malaysia.

Frankly, talk of an Asean Community by 2015 rings hollow when the organisation's largest member takes its time to deal with an issue that has grave consequences for the health and economy of a fellow Asean state.

Sadly, the 16 years that separate the last great haze from this one do not bear testimony to any essential change in Indonesian attitudes. But countries at the receiving end of environmental disasters must keep trying to make the other side see reason.

Even if their insistence is misconstrued as behaving like a child.

The writer heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consulting firm.

What Singapore and Indonesia can do to fight the haze
By J. Jackson Ewing, Published The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

THE unrelenting haze is back. A smoky fog began descending upon Singapore and parts of Malaysia on June 13 and by June 17, was readily observable by sight and smell across thousands of square kilometres. Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) has consistently hovered above safe thresholds (levels above 100) and breached record after record this week, with the three hour PSI hitting 401 at noon yesterday. A score above 300 is considered hazardous. The haze is certain to affect the island for days to come.

If past experiences offer any guide, this may cost Singapore millions of dollars in health expenses, lowered productivity, absenteeism, and reduced consumer activity - in addition to the less quantifiable impacts that haze has on quality of life.

Why now?

The current haze event, like its major predecessors, stems from the combination of forest burning primarily in areas of central Sumatra with winds out of the west and south-west. Dry weather has created fire-prone conditions, and a growing number of haze-producing "hot spots" have been detected in Sumatra as a result. These are only the proximate causes, however; the drivers of haze stem from a convergence of economic, political and environmental conditions linked to land clearance.

Economic interests have propelled deforestation in Sumatra and Kalimantan for decades. The two large islands lost over 40 per cent of their forest cover between 1990 and 2005 and increasing forest clearing rates have extended into this decade. Profitability comes in the form of initial timber extraction followed by newly cleared lands being brought under cultivation. The growing markets for products such as oil palm and rubber, along with Indonesia's own ambitious food production goals, incentivise these processes.

Burning remains the preferred land-clearing practice by small-scale farmers and larger entities alike. It is quick and efficient, requires minimal labour, enriches soils and acts as a default strategy in lieu of affordable alternatives. It is difficult to determine the precise ratios of small- versus large-scale forest burning, as many small-scale cultivators change locations frequently and are not captured in official government statistics.

Moreover, the lines between actors can blur as leases held by small-scale landowners are often contracted by corporate enterprises to grow specific products. That said, estate-level land clearance and cultivation during recent decades have clearly upped the scale of forest burning far beyond that wrought through traditional slash and burn agriculture, and fuelled transboundary haze as a result.

Indonesia can do more

POLITICALLY, notwithstanding accusations of outright apathy, Indonesia recognises the importance of the haze problem from health, environmental, reputational and even economic perspectives. The populations and physical environments most heavily impacted by the haze are in Indonesia. Haze puts the country under severe regional criticism and destroys forest resources that could have profitability beyond land clearance.

There have been recent tangible steps by Indonesia to mitigate the haze problem, and ministers from affected Asean states praised the country in May last year for reducing haze hot spots. The Yudhoyono administration has prioritised forest preservation, and altered land management bureaucracies to this end.

Nonetheless, Indonesia's efforts to control forest clearance have often proved ineffectual in the face of economic drivers. The financial benefits of land-clearing are often afforded greater priority by powerful actors in forested areas than are the national and regional impacts of forest burning - no matter what policies emerge from Jakarta. These powerful actors at times include local government officials who have been seen to collude with forest clearing companies for economic and political gain.

Meanwhile, deficient enforcement and prosecution capacities, pervasive corruption, expanding political decentralisation and the sprawling nature of the Indonesian archipelago magnify the challenges of reining in such activities.

Environmental trends represent the third key driver of haze with arguably the most unpredictable future. Past haze events have coincided strongly with the El Nino phenomenon, which contributes to dry conditions and decreases in rainfall. Current climate science lacks confident understanding of the relationship between El Nino and the warming trends.

Still, higher temperatures and more pronounced dry periods are both predicted for parts of Indonesia and South-east Asia at large. If these conditions become more frequent in haze-producing regions, the occurrence and magnitude of haze events will likely increase.

Indonesia is culpable for the transboundary pollution being inflicted upon its neighbours. As such, there are international legal and normative foundations for adjudicating haze as an infringement of sovereignty and rights in impacted countries. The practical import of such measures is not readily apparent in South-east Asia, however, and appears anathema to the consensus-oriented approach favoured by Asean.

Asean has opted for cooperation, and the haze issue has been placed squarely on the regional agenda since acute episodes in 1997-98. Despite Indonesia's failure to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, regional cooperation since then has improved haze monitoring and had modest success in its prevention and mitigation. Such progress includes the provision of resources to address the root causes of haze in high risk areas of Riau and Sumatra, along with information sharing on zero-burning agricultural techniques, firefighting improvements, better peat land management and more robust air quality monitoring.

What can Singapore do?

THERE are two primary pathways for Singapore and other haze-affected countries to extend these efforts.

The first is to more proactively regulate the activities of companies operating in land-based commodities sectors in Indonesia. Some major players in the palm oil and related sectors have origins in neighbouring countries and could thus be monitored more closely to discourage land burning practices.

An Indonesian forestry official has called for such efforts in Singapore and Malaysia specifically while ministers from Singapore have called on Jakarta to name and shame these companies as Malaysia initiated an Asean meeting to tackle the worsening problem.

Secondly, affected countries could play a larger role in incentivising Indonesia's forest preservation activities. A mechanism focusing on Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd+) holds particular promise as it offers capital incentives for maintaining forests and the services which they provide. Redd+ is supported almost wholly by countries from outside the region such as Norway and Australia that do so as part of efforts to address climate change.

Countries in South-east Asia with the capacity, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, could contribute to these efforts as part of their haze-reduction strategies.

Like many transboundary environmental challenges, haze is an injustice to impacted countries.

Still, instead of lamenting this situation and demonising Indonesia, Singapore and other affected neighbours should seek innovative and pragmatic avenues to work alongside Indonesia on the haze issue - as they have offered - thus clearing the air in the region in the process.

At the same time, Indonesia should do its part to fundamentally address a major regional environmental issue that originates within its borders to prevent further strains to Asean solidarity.

J. Jackson Ewing is a Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, and coordinator of the Environmental Security, Climate Change and Natural Disasters Programme at the RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.

Hard to breathe in Asia's smog cities
Health effects of astronomically high pollution levels 'underestimated'
The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2013

PARIS - Air pollution has become a curse for millions of city dwellers in Asia, posing a mounting risk to the very young and very old, pregnant women and people with heart and respiratory problems, say experts.

"The levels of pollution in parts of China, India and elsewhere in Asia are just astronomically high and the health impacts are dramatic," said Mr Bob O'Keefe of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), a US not-for-profit research agency.

"This is a threat that was really underestimated in the past," said Mr O'Keefe.

This week, Singapore is grappling with record levels of air pollution unleashed by land fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

In January, pollution in Beijing went off the scale of an air-quality monitor at the US Embassy, and the city's hospital admissions surged by 20 per cent.

Last August, Hong Kong suffered its highest-recorded pollution, prompting the territory to urge vulnerable population groups to stay indoors.

HEI estimates, derived from an exceptionally detailed analysis called the Global Burden of Disease, say that some 3.2 million people around the world died prematurely from outdoor air pollution in 2010.

China and India together accounted for some 2.5 million of these deaths, sharing the tally roughly equally.

The death toll in China has risen by a third over 20 years, but worse pollution is only part of the reason.

As China becomes more prosperous, its citizens are attaining greater ages, reaching 70 or 80 years or beyond - when people become more vulnerable to heart and respiratory stress from air pollution.

A study published last August in the journal Nature Climate Change estimated that forest and land fires in South-east Asia kill an additional 15,000 people annually from air pollution during the El Nino weather phenomenon, when drier soil often causes blazes to go out of control. There is no El Nino at present.

An investigation by US researchers, published in February, found that among three million births recorded in nine countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, there was a clear link between worse air pollution and lower birth weight.

Low birth weight - when a newborn weighs less than 2.5kg - is associated with ill health, premature death and cognitive problems in later life.

Health experts point to two main dangers from air pollution.

One concerns particulate matter (PM) - the sooty specks emitted from fossil fuels, forest fires and land clearances.

Dr Cathryn Tonne, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, points the finger at so-called PM2.5 - particles measuring 2.5 micrometres across or less, or 30 times smaller than a human hair.

Mainly generated by the burning of coal and oil for power stations, and diesel and petrol for transport, these are many times more perilous than PM10 particles, which are 10 micrometres across, she and her colleagues found in research into heart deaths in England and Wales.

"We found that for every 10 micrograms per cubic metre in PM2.5, there was a 20 per cent increase in the death rate," Dr Tonne said.

By way of comparison, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a recommended maximum of 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic m as an annual exposure - and a maximum over a 24-hour period of 25 micrograms per cubic m.

In the United States, the annual PM2.5 limit is a recommended 12 micrograms per cubic m, and in the European Union, it is 25 micrograms.

In Beijing's smog scare in January, though, levels reached a whopping 993 micrograms per cubic m, almost 40 times the WHO's advised safety limit.


Asean leaders must show the will to tackle haze
Otherwise, doubts will arise that they can address environmental challenges region faces
By Warren Fernandez, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2013

A thick haze has descended over the debate about just how to tackle the acrid smoke heading our way from Sumatra. It casts a pall on the readiness of Asean countries to come together to tackle pressing environmental challenges.

With almost childlike innocence, Indonesian minister Agung Laksono has chided Singaporeans for "behaving like a child, making all this noise" about the choking haze.

To add fuel to fire, he suggested that Singaporeans should instead be thankful to Indonesia for the clean air they enjoyed most of the time. Rather than make a fuss over the haze, they should offer dollops of cash to clean up the pollution, he suggested.

Other Indonesian officials have been quick to finger Malaysian and Singapore companies with plantations in Sumatra for being responsible for the haze. These companies are being investigated, they say, including two with some links to Singapore firms. These are Jakarta- based Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology and Asia Pacific Resources International, which are said to have plantations within the area where the hot spots are to be found.

It is good that some of the companies which are allegedly responsible have been identified. But let's clear the air on one thing: It does not matter who owns these firms, or what nationality they are. If indeed they are responsible for illegal burning at plantations on Indonesian territory, then Jakarta would have every right - and responsibility - to take action against them for the environmental damage they have caused. Singaporeans and Malaysians, and just about everyone else on the planet, would cheer such action.

Little wonder then that several companies in the oil palm sector have been quick to declare that they have "zero burn" policies. That is well and good. But it is not quite enough. To be meaningful, they will have to ensure that these are strictly enforced on their contractors and sub-contractors right down their supply chain. To make this happen, they will have to offer contracts which give operators on the ground every incentive to comply, paying for more costly methods of clearing land and sustainable farming practices, and penalising those who don't by dropping them as partners.

None of this will be cost-free. But just as these firms have enjoyed tidy profits from their plantations, they must be ready to make the investments required to ensure that any externalities, or social side effects, from their operations are properly addressed and accounted for.

This is where you and I come in, because companies are not going to do this as charity, but only if it affects their bottom line. They will move quickly to do so if they realise that being seen to be a forest burner or having partners who are polluters tarnishes their international reputations, and hits their business.

This is precisely what happened to one of the companies that has been fingered - Sinar Mas.

In 2010, protesters from the environmental group Greenpeace dressed as orang utans demonstrated outside the Nestle factory in York and scaled down the walls of its headquarters in London. They were protesting against the food and beverage giant's use of palm oil allegedly bought from Sinar Mas, which they said destroyed the rainforest in Indonesia, killing orang utans in the process.

Greenpeace charged that Nestle used this palm oil in some of its products, such as the popular chocolate snack, Kit Kat. It took out parody television commercials of a clueless office worker chomping into a Kit Kat, which turned out to be an orang utan's bleeding finger.

"Have a break. Give the orang utans a break," it cried, playing on the confectionery's marketing tagline. The video went viral around the world.

Greenpeace also charged that burning forests on peatlands resulted in vast amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, making Indonesia the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, thereby contributing to global warming.

The campaign went down like a plantation on fire, drawing much attention in the media and among consumers. Nestle moved quickly to make clear that it had nothing to do with Sinar Mas, and demanded that its suppliers and partners do so too.

So, if you feel you need a break from the haze, check out the website of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international organisation which monitors and promotes the sustainable farming of oil palm. Its website includes a list of products - from soap to candles and cooking oil - which are made using palm oil produced in an environmentally sound fashion.

But let's be honest about it: Sustainable farming practices come with costs. We need to ask ourselves this: If you saw two soaps (made using palm oil), one of which carries the RSPO label but which costs a bit more, which would you buy?

If we simply opt for the cheapest option every time, then we can hardly point fingers at the poor farmer in Dumai, ground zero of the current fires, who resorts to using the cheapest method he knows to clear his land.

If we are to tackle the haze, all of us - consumers, commercial players and governments - are going to have to play a part, rewarding companies which adopt environmentally sound practices, and punishing those which don't.

Unfortunately, the response so far from Asean's leaders to the haze does not augur well for their ability, or willingness, to take the decisive measures that will be needed to address the environmental challenges that the region faces.

If they are so lackadaisical in confronting the haze, which you can see and smell, how will they muster the political will to address the looming environmental challenge of colourless and odourless greenhouse gas emissions and climate change which, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank, threatens South-east Asian countries more than most others?

Countries in our region will be hit hard by rising temperatures and sea levels since many have long coastlines and rely heavily on agriculture and fishing to feed their people. High levels of poverty and incidence of tropical diseases will compound their problems. Indeed, a World Bank report released last week named Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City as hot spots which will bear the brunt of flooding from rising sea levels and more intense tropical storms in the years ahead.

Writing about the global effort to tackle carbon dioxide emissions, which passed the headline-grabbing 400 parts per million threshold for the first time in 4.5 million years recently, Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf said glumly: "All the discussions of mitigating the risks of catastrophic climate change have turned out to be empty words. The more one thinks about the challenge, the more impossible it is to envisage effective action.

"We will, instead, watch the rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases. If it turns out to lead to a disaster, it will by then be far too late to do anything much about it."

Sadly, the world looking on at Asean's efforts to tackle not just the longer-term challenge of rising sea levels but also the more immediate one of haze pollution year in and year out might come to the same sorry conclusion.

Diplomacy the key, not legal action
By K.c. Vijayan And Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2013

FRUSTRATION over the record-breaking haze has raised the question of what legal action Singapore can take against the companies responsible for the problem.

The Attorney-General has been asked to explore its options, and law experts have weighed in on what legal recourse might be available.

But even if Singapore firms are linked to the fires causing the haze, the Republic's environment laws do not give the Government any jurisdiction over their actions overseas - in this case, Indonesia.

This is true even if those actions result in environmental damage, such as air pollution, on home shores. Instead, Singapore's best bet to sort out the haze would be to hold discussions with Indonesia, or to make use of the Asean framework, lawyers said.

"The current laws are too rudimentary and don't give the Government much power to go after Singaporean companies, especially if the plantations don't belong to them but to their suppliers," said law firm Lee & Lee's senior partner Adrian Chan. "Even if the plantations were owned by them, there is no law that states that we can go after them because the burning happened overseas."

Indonesia said last week it is investigating private firms that might be responsible for the haze-inducing plantation fires. Officials and non-governmental organisations said some of the hot spots in Riau province were in concessions owned by companies with Singapore connections.

These include PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology, which is owned by Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources. Both are part of Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group. Asia Pacific Resources International, a paper-maker with its headquarters in Singapore but most of its physical assets in Riau, was also named. Both firms have denied that they are behind the fires.

Singapore's laws prohibit the open burning of waste, and criminal and civil penalties may also be levied against anyone found responsible for air pollution that causes personal injury or property damage or is a nuisance to others.

But these laws cannot be applied to parties or conduct beyond Singapore's national borders.

However, lawyers said it is theoretically possible to sue for negligence in the Indonesian courts if the private parties behind the haze are identified.

"If there is evidence that Indonesian-based corporations are responsible for violating domestic laws, and these laws provide for civil or criminal liability and compensation for the victims of... environmental damage, then... proceedings can be commenced in Indonesian courts," said Singapore Management University assistant professor of law Mahdev Mohan.

"There does not seem to be an option to do the same before Singapore courts for conduct that occurs outside Singapore."

Given the limitations of going after private companies, legal experts said diplomatic channels were the most effective way to thrash out a solution to the haze.

This beats seeking help from an international court, which would require Indonesia's consent, said National University of Singapore Centre for International Law director Robert Beckman. "The matter must be addressed in bilateral discussions and in regional forums such as Asean," Associate Professor Beckman said.

But Assistant Professor Mahdev pointed out not all may agree the haze is an inter-government issue. "It appears that, in Indonesia's view, the forest fires causing trans-boundary haze pollution in Singapore and Malaysia are not being caused or contributed to by the conduct of the Indonesian state authorities but... by non- state actors like individuals, palm-oil corporations and their third-party sub-contractors," he said. "This view is difficult to dispute without proof to the contrary and it is therefore almost impossible to... characterise this matter as an inter-state dispute."

Singapore officials have been in talks with Indonesia to seek action and will be bringing up the haze issue at Asean meetings in Brunei this week.

Mr Chan said Singapore, through Asean, could urge Indonesia to ratify the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Signatories are obliged to cooperate to prevent and monitor cross-border haze pollution due to land or forest fires, and to control such fires if they happen.

On a global level, more than 170 countries have signed the 1992 United Nations Rio Declaration on pollution control. It acknowledges the rights of states to develop their own resources but also obliges them to prevent activities within their territory that will cause pollution in other states. The declaration was partly based on the "Trail Smelter Case" between the United States and Canada in the 1930s, which pulled in both governments and led to the principle that nations must not cause significant harm to other nations through air pollution.

In the case, a smelter in Canada that processed lead and zinc produced smoke that damaged surrounding crops and forests in the US state of Washington. Its dispute with the farmers escalated into a government-level issue and was settled by an arbitration tribunal in 1941, which ordered the smelter to pay compensation.

Commitment needed to arrest haze
Indonesian daily newspaper Koran Tempo, in this editorial originally published on Saturday (22 Jun 2013) , urged the Indonesian government to better manage the annually recurring haze problem rather than scold its suffering neighbours.

IT IS very sad when officials have yet to really learn about how to act when facing a haze disaster like right now. The haze problem is a routine disaster, happening every year. Yet, when the dry season comes, they are still confused about how to overcome the haze.

Those of sound mind will shake their heads looking at the minimal action taken by the government. This is especially so when we see Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono getting worked up and angry with Singapore's frustration at seeing the haze, and saying "the neighbouring country's action is childish".

Mr Agung's attitude is not helpful at all, and in fact shows how rotten government policy is in dealing with the haze. The disaster this time is fairly severe. The Standard Air Pollutants Index owned by PT Chevron in Dumai showed a reading of 400, meaning the air quality was very hazardous. In Malaysia, the pollutants index reached 383. The result is that thousands of students in Malaysia and Singapore were sent home. Former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong even said "the child is being suffocated".

Mr Agung insists Jakarta has been very serious in stopping land-clearing by burning forests. As evidence, the government had issued a notice to stop this, and gazetted Law Number 18 Year 2004 on plantations, and Government Regulations Number 45 Year 2004 on forest protection. With these, individuals or companies that burn protected forests would get 10 years' jail and a fine ranging from 10 billion rupiah to 15 billion rupiah ($1.3 million to $2 million). Mr Agung pretended to not know that fines and regulations alone are not enough to stop the burning of the forests. The fact is, the regulations are sluggish. The police and regional authorities, who should be ensuring that the law is being enforced, seem to have closed their eyes to the burnings. Also, not all provinces have gazetted the law against the burning of the forests. Only a few provinces, like Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Riau, have these rules. Even then enforcement has been perfunctory. The proof of this - the practice of forest burning is being repeated every year.

Local governments are one of the weakest links in this matter. Regional autonomy places the greatest responsibility for forest burnings on local governments.

Following the rules of the game, it is only when the number of fiery hot spots generating haze has increased and disturbed neighbouring countries, as is happening now, that the central government would take over.

The burning incidents continue every year. There have never been fundamental steps to overcome the burning of the forests. Heavy penalties should have been meted out to those who burn the forests as a reminder of the horrible effects of the polluting haze. Transportation and educational activities have also been affected.

Just as important is to have a monitoring system to prevent forest fires. The Indonesian Regional Disaster Management Agencies should anticipate haze disasters. If we cannot do it ourselves, Indonesia should be able to seek help from our neighbours. Putting on airs to refuse help from Singapore and yet not take any serious action - that's what deserves to be called a childish attitude.

Translated from Bahasa Indonesia by The Straits Times' Reme Ahmad and Zakir Hussain.

Koran Tempo is a daily Bahasa Indonesia newspaper linked to the influential Tempo weekly news magazine.

Long-term fix to haze must involve 3Ps
By Jose Raymond, Published TODAY, 25 Jun 2013

In a dialogue with Ang Mo Kio residents on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out that the “right way of farming” is the long-term solution in dealing with the haze issue. Mr Lee is right in that this is the crux of the problem — farmers are resorting to burning as a short cut to clearing land for crop planting.

But it is also very likely that the landowners of such plots supply the major corporations which deal in pulp and palm oil — raw materials used in products consumed by all of us on an almost daily basis, be it paper, tissues, beverages, food, cosmetics or much, much more.

Many of us just do not realise it is our ever-growing demand that is driving companies to employ such irresponsible methods in their business operations.

Over the last decade or so, the governments of the region have met on an at least annual basis to discuss the transboundary haze problem. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was established in 2002; only Indonesia has yet to ratify the agreement.

Therein lies the source of frustration for Singaporeans, who have had to put up with the annual haze for almost two decades with no known end in sight. While Singapore has been attempting to help or gently encourage the Indonesians to move towards more sustainable farming practices, perhaps other avenues should be explored to get the desired results.


As a respected member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Singapore Government should continue to engage the region’s governments to exert more pressure on Indonesia.

This problem, after all, is not just limited to Singapore. Malaysia, for one, has declared a state of emergency in Muar, and its capital Kuala Lumpur is enveloped in smog. Parts of Thailand, too, are beginning to experience the haze as a result of shifting wind conditions.

When the haze hit Singapore last week, one of the first demands which the public and the Government made was for Indonesia to name the companies responsible for the fires. The latter has since named eight landowners. Is this sufficient? No.

What we must find out is which major companies the landowners supply. If we can establish the chain of custody, we can trace where the resources land up and which products are manufactured using these palm oil or pulp resources. It is possible the trail might lead to companies which are anchored or operate in Singapore.

This is why the Singapore Environment Council strongly believes that the Government should put the current Environmental Protection and Management Act (EPMA) under the microscope and amend it where necessary.

The current EPMA appears to lack the bite to deal with companies headquartered in Singapore but with manufacturing and ground operations outside of it. Singapore companies, as well as foreign companies that operate or are based here, whose suppliers cause environmental degradation anywhere in the world should be taken to task through the EPMA.

Slash-and-burn techniques contribute to climate change, and we must ensure companies which operate here are held responsible for their actions and reminded of the irreparable damage their irresponsible behaviour can do to Singapore.

On its part, the National Environment Agency (NEA) should have a haze monitoring team, which keeps a constant eye on the number of hot spots in Indonesia and wind conditions, and send out alerts to the public if hazy conditions are expected — similar to tsunami warning systems in many parts of the world, or even the Lightning Warning System used here.

The website has been a great source of information for Singaporeans and this should be the platform which the NEA uses to disseminate information regularly from here on.


Companies whose manufacturing processes include palm oil should ensure that their sustainability reporting includes evidence of compliance with legislation that bans slash-and-burn clearing, and of safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods such as by developing alternatives. Corporations should declare whether they conduct audits or spot checks, so that consumers know if the products have been responsibly produced.

Companies should not be allowed to “hide” the fact that they use palm oil as an ingredient with the substitute term, “vegetable oil”. There should be industry standards on declaring this, as well as where the palm oil is sourced, so that it is transparent to consumers if these products are contributing to the haze in the region.

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) should also consider making sustainability reporting mandatory for all listed companies. Sustainability reporting is currently encouraged, but making it compulsory would send a strong signal to all business owners that corporate responsibility is not just an afterthought but should be in the DNA of every company.

Alternatively, if mandatory reporting is not feasible in the short-term, then the SGX should at least suspend companies found to have conducted their businesses irresponsibly.


Consumers have a right to information about the goods and services they purchase, and they should be equipped to know where the products are derived. Knowing the business practices of their favourite brands will help them in their buying decisions.

Regional non-government organisations (NGOs) should work together to conduct research campaigns on products which contain palm oil and create a directory of responsible palm oil/sustainable alternative consumer products for the public. This directory should include the names of companies or brands which people should avoid, as well as the responsible ones which are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

A Development or Education Fund could be set up and administered by an NGO in Singapore with an Institution of Public Character status. These funds could be put aside by corporations involved in paper and palm oil products, and companies which believe in corporate sustainability and responsibility. These funds could be used to educate not only people in Singapore about what they can do to force businesses to change irresponsible practices, but also help hapless villagers in Indonesia living in areas which are blanketed in smog about this time every year. NGOs could also tap the funds to engage companies in changing their practices over time.

Business and trade associations such as the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and the various chambers of commerce and industry can help influence their members’ behaviour and potentially be very effective channels to bring about change.

Striving for a sustainable solution to the haze requires the action and collaboration of the public, private and people sectors. Think of it as “civic environmentalism”, which strikes a balance between eco-radicalism, seeking technological solutions to our environmental problems and adopting a citizenry approach — in other words, a moderate, ground-up approach towards sustainability as a way of life.

The people of the region have suffered for far too long. We need to set targets to ensure that whatever actions are taken, there are ways to look back and assess the impact of our response as a region over time.

Jose Raymond is Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council.

How Singapore can help clear the air on the haze
Singapore can help Indonesia untangle complex ownership structure of companies to figure out who's legally responsible if crimes have been committed.
By Nigel Sizer, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

AS MALAYSIA declares emergency status for two Johor towns, with over 200 schools closing, and residents of Indonesia and Singapore continuing to suffer from the choking haze, it's time to move beyond the blame game of claims and counter claims. Instead, we need to look at the facts, learn quickly from the data, and ensure political leaders, companies and communities take appropriate action to prevent this crisis from recurring.
Last Friday, the World Resources Institute published detailed data indicating the location of fires that have led to the widespread haze. Our aim was to provide objective information that would help shed light on where the fires are located and who is responsible.

Our analysis was simple. Using the best information that is publically available, we took satellite data showing alerts where fires are occurring, on the website of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), and combined it with maps of palm oil, tree plantation, and logging licences. We then tallied up the number of fire alerts in each concession, as well as on other land, and published the results, including an interactive map, on our website.

While this analysis is still preliminary, we highlighted three key points:

First, most of the fire alerts across Indonesia last week were in just one province, Riau. Within Riau, 52 per cent of the fire alerts were seen within the boundaries of pulpwood and oil palm plantations. Fewer alerts were found in officially protected forest areas, such as national parks, or in areas licensed for selective logging of natural forest. About 48 per cent of the fire alerts were outside of company concessions on land controlled and managed by others, including local communities.

Second, based on the official Indonesian concession maps published by the Ministry of Forestry from 2010, two groups of companies, Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas, control or are closely affiliated with the concessions with the largest number of Nasa fire alerts. We found a total of 32 company concessions where at least 10 fire alerts were observed during the period 12-20 June.

Third, and probably most important, more detailed analysis, with fully up-to-date company concession maps, is not possible because these maps are not publicly available.

We have heard from many sources that our information has helped provide insight into the location of the fires, but due to the lack of more transparent information, it is still incomplete.

Some concession boundaries may have shifted in recent years, some companies have changed hands, and updated information - which can quickly be converted into new maps - would enable officials and companies to better understand where and why the fires are burning, as well as being crucial for any efforts at prosecution.

We should not jump to conclusions about who is to blame.

Indonesian officials are promising a thorough investigation while Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Minister, has said the country would consider possible legal action against companies in Singapore that contributed to the haze.

Knowing who is responsible and legally accountable for these fires can be determined only after careful collection of evidence, and proper due process. Such a process will also need to be carefully monitored by independent observers and analysts to help ensure that justice is done.

Looking forward, how can future fires and haze be prevented?

The Indonesian government has already been making important efforts to improve forest management. The recent extension of the moratorium on new concessions, across an area of forest almost the size of Japan, was a bold move.

Efforts to enhance coordination and data sharing between government agencies have been strengthened by the One Map initiative in Indonesia, which seeks to establish an official map for forest boundaries and concessions. Much more still needs to be done.

Indonesia's top reform-minded decision makers can turn this crisis into an opportunity to overhaul the way different government agencies work together nationally and locally within provinces and districts.

Investment in a well-trained, professional cadre of police officers, local prosecutors, tax officials, and forestry, agricultural, planning and mapping specialists is urgently needed.

The booming oil palm and forestry sectors generate ample tax revenue to more than cover the costs of investment in this enhanced capacity.

Local communities should be empowered to manage and invest in protecting their forest lands.

In recent years, the Ministry of Forestry has worked to turn more land over to the communities themselves, encouraging smaller-scale, locally-owned forest management.

In several places, such as community-managed teak plantations in Central Java, the results have been positive. Recent research by the Centre for International Forestry Research, an international research organisation based in Bogor, shows that when communities' rights to manage forest land are recognised by governments, the rates of forest clearing usually go down.

Based on this experience, Indonesia would do well to accelerate efforts to grant local communities a larger portion of the national forest estate.

Finally, growth in the palm oil and pulp and paper industry is critical for Indonesia to create jobs, economic growth, and tax revenues. According to recent analysis by WRI and partners, there is more than enough already-cleared land in Indonesia to support plantation expansion for many years to come.

Efforts are now needed to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy that companies must work through to gain permission to plant on such degraded land.

How can Singapore help?

Some of the companies linked with the fires have strong links to Singapore.

The ownership and legal structures of these groups are complex. Singapore should do all that it can to assist the Indonesian government with efforts to understand who ultimately controls the companies and can be held legally accountable for any crimes that may have been committed.

Singapore can also explore a range of options for legal sanction and penalty within its own jurisdiction in relation to harm done to the people and economy of the country.

Such steps will all help to send a signal that those who commit forest crimes in Indonesia are more likely to be held accountable in the future, which in turn will help reduce the risk of another haze crisis in years to come.

Dr Nigel Sizer leads the forests team at World Resources Institute, an independent, global think tank with offices in Washington DC and around the world.

The Institute's analysis of the Sumatra fires in English is on the WRI website at

A clear gaze at haze through the years
By Bruce Gale, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

IT ALL began on the evening of Oct 13, 1972. "Everything was perfect here until about 7pm. Then, suddenly, large clouds of white smoke formed all over our housing estate."

The caller to The Straits Times newsroom in Kim Seng Road was from Toa Payoh, but it soon became clear that the problem was island-wide. "Can you please tell us what is going on?"

Some callers complained of being "suffocated" in their flats. Others said the "fog" was affecting their eyes. The haze had appeared in earlier weeks, but it was not nearly as bad.

With no regularly updated air pollution measure in place then, it is impossible now to assess how serious the situation was. But with callers complaining that they could barely see adjacent blocks of flats, the haze was almost certainly very thick.

Singapore is fortunate in that it does not experience the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and destructive typhoons that periodically strike other parts of the region.

But for the past four decades, it has had to contend with increasingly serious bouts of air pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Back in 1972, Singapore already had laws to control air pollution from vehicles and factories. The establishment of the Environment Ministry in 1970 also meant that there were officials specifically charged with enforcing them.

Official measurements of air quality samples of industrial smoke from local factories quickly determined that the source of the problem was external.

This led Singapore's Meteorological Service to assess the haze over the island as coming from fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Confirmation came later from satellite images and Singaporean air crews flying over the region.

The problem recurred intermittently throughout the 1970s. One report in May 1979 quoted Bedok residents as complaining that they could not even see neighbouring blocks of flats 400 metres away.

With no widely-agreed term used to describe the phenomenon, words like "fog", "smoke" and even "mist" were far more likely to be used to describe the haze than they are today.

But memories also appear to have been short, perhaps because the problem was not as deeply engraved on the national consciousness as now. In April 1983, in response to yet another haze-filled month, the Meteorological Service said the previous four weeks had been the haziest in Singapore for 30 years. It said that visibility had never before dropped below five km except when it rained.

The potentially negative effects on public health were also less widely recognised. In 1983, when local media reported cases of eye irritation and respiratory problems, government spokesmen responded that the air pollutant levels were within World Health Organisation standards.

But by October 1991, when the haze got so bad that the 73-storey then Westin Stamford Hotel was barely visible from the Fort Road flyover of the East Coast Parkway, Singaporeans had an objective measurement to refer to.

The newly introduced Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) peaked that year at 97.

Thinking ahead, the government announced in 1993 that Singapore's semi-automatic air quality monitoring network would be replaced by a computerised telemetric system. The system eventually made possible the regular air quality updates we receive today.

But while many regard 1997 as the year the haze really entered the national consciousness, the turning point for officialdom was probably September 1994, when the PSI hit 142. It prompted the government to acknowledge for the first time that air pollution levels were a threat to public health.

This was also the year an inter- ministerial task force was set up to examine what could be done if pollution levels rose further. Responding to requests from the public, the Environment Ministry also began releasing additional air pollution updates, at 9pm and 7am, in addition to its 4pm reading.

In 1995, Asean environment ministers met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the haze. It was to be the first of many such regional meetings designed to tackle a problem that just would not go away.

In September 1997, thick smog caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan blanketed the entire region. There were flight delays and cancellations at Changi Airport. The PSI hit a record 226 - in the "very unhealthy" range.

The government responded by providing three-hourly PSI updates on TV and radio. Emergency medical centres were set up in housing estates. Other air pollution sources were closely controlled, with penalties on smoky vehicles raised considerably.

After much discussion, in September 1998, Asean adopted a plan to deal with the annual forest fires causing the problem. Malaysia was to oversee preventive measures; Indonesia was given responsibility for fire-fighting resources and deployment; and Singapore had a regional monitoring role.

Back home, the government was continuously refining its approach. In 2002, the National Environment Agency was set up as a statutory board under the Ministry of Environment (now Ministry of Environment and Water Resources). In October of that year, with the PSI going no higher than 79, it almost appeared as if the problem might soon be resolved.

This seemed confirmed in 2003, when Asean members agreed to sign an environmental treaty in a bid to control the recurring haze issue. Sadly, however, Indonesia has not ratified it.

In subsequent years, observers began to learn just how intractable the problem was. In 2005, when fires in Indonesia again spread the haze throughout the region, Singapore was lucky. Favourable winds kept the worst of it away. The PSI stayed below 95.

In October 2006, the PSI reached 150, its highest in the new millennium. In a letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, (later released to the press), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his disappointment that the problem had not been resolved.

Increasingly, the government was concerned about the economic cost and public health implications. In June 2009, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim expressed concern that hazy conditions could affect the Formula 1 race.

This year, the haze has returned with a vengeance. At noon on June 21, the three-hour PSI surged to a new high of 401, surpassing the previous record of 371 at 1pm the day before. Both readings were well within the hazardous range.

Air purifiers are sold out in local stores, and the government has begun distributing N95 masks to vulnerable and needy groups.

Diplomatic talks on the haze are again in motion. The Indonesians have identified companies responsible. Singaporeans hope that this time, the talks will translate into action to alleviate the haze for the rest of this year - and prevent it in future.

The haze and the law
By Tommy Koh & Michael Ewing-Chow, Published The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

THE fires in Sumatra have choked Malaysia and Singapore, causing the air to be hazardous to the health of their citizens.

The increase in the number of hot spots and the ineffectiveness of efforts by Indonesia to reduce them has frustrated these Asean neighbours. The fundamental principle of sovereignty in international law means that they, without Indonesia's consent, cannot try to put out the fires in Sumatra.

However, the law does not leave them without recourse. If the perpetrators of the fires can be identified, they could be subject to legal action. In domestic law, if the owner of a house were to start a fire, whether on purpose or negligently, the owner would be liable for any damage caused to his neighbours.

A similar doctrine has been developed in international law. The 1941 Trail Smelter dispute involved a smelter in Canada whose smoke spread over the border causing air pollution in the US. An international tribunal found Canada responsible for environmental damage caused by the transboundary pollution. This is a fundamental principle of international environmental law - that activities in a state's territory should not cause transboundary harm.

The main culprits in the present case are the plantation owners who have chosen to clear land on the cheap by burning. They are the ones starting the fires without regard for the damage caused to their own citizens and their neighbours.

While a civil lawsuit against them may be an option, a more immediate alternative is a citizens' boycott of products made by plantations that clear land by burning. As this would not be a governmental measure, it will not affect trade obligations. The owners of the plantations would then have to prove to the public that they do not engage in such practices. This has in the past been effective in hitting corporations where it hurts - their bottom line.

Governments could also take action against the plantation owners. They could ban the import of their products by using the "necessary to protect… health" exception found in trade agreements. It will have to be proven that the products were linked to the fires and that this was the "least trade restrictive" solution.

Governments could also enact criminal laws against such acts of pollution. Most laws are territorial. However, international law has also recognised the effects doctrine allowing for extraterritorial jurisdiction if the actions affect the state asserting such a jurisdiction. If such laws are passed, governments could prosecute the plantation owners for activities carried out outside their territory.

A contributing factor to the haze was the slow response of officials. Several Indonesian ministers appeared to be in denial and made unhelpful remarks. Eventually, Indonesia's President stepped in, ordering immediate water- bombing of the fires, and apologising to his Asean neighbours. His actions are commendable and we thank him for his statesmanship.

The 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution has been signed and ratified by nine member countries. The agreement came into force in 2003. Indonesia has signed but not ratified it.

Under international law, a state is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the purpose of a treaty it has signed. The purpose of the haze agreement is "to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution... through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation".

Indonesia played a leadership role in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Principle No. 2 of the Rio Declaration of Principles states that "states have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law... the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states".

We hope that Indonesia will use the current crisis as an opportunity to ratify the haze agreement. We also hope that Indonesia will investigate and prosecute those responsible for the fires, irrespective of their nationality. We should remember that the Indonesians are the first victims of the fire-setters. This is therefore our common problem and we should solve it together in the spirit of Asean solidarity.

Professor Tommy Koh is chairman of The Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. Associate Professor Michael Ewing-Chow is head of the centre's trade law and investment programme.

Haze damage is much underestimated
By Ng Yew-kwang, Published The Straits Times, 6 Jul 2013

SOME economists have conservatively estimated the damage to Singapore from Indonesia's forest fires at about $5 million a day, which works out to about a dollar a day per person. The estimates include medical bills, tourism losses, impact on businesses and face masks bought, and similar damage.

Such "lower-bound" estimates were made, for instance, by Professor Euston Quah, Nanyang Technological University's Economics Division head; and OCBC Bank's Selena Ling.

But while not incorrect, such figures grossly underestimate the severity of the problem. An adequate damage figure should be many dozens of times larger.

A World Wide Fund for Nature report says that haze-induced health expenses in 1997 accounted for only 12 per cent of the total damage.

Lost tourism revenues accounted for 78 per cent, with the airline industry's losses accounting for the remaining 10 per cent.

But the negative health effects of breathing polluted air and the associated worries should make up the bulk of the damage. Global warming from burning and loss of forests is the other enormous impact, the estimation of which requires the help of environmental scientists.

Let us consider the health impact. Economists typically use "willingness to pay" or "needed amount of compensation", or an average of the two, to estimate the benefits or costs of an event.

To try to gauge the costs of the haze crisis, I ask myself what percentage of my annual salary would I be willing to forgo to make the problem go away. My answer is: not less than 10 per cent.

But what if the skies continue to remain hazy? How much compensation, in terms of percentage of my annual pay, will make me indifferent to the situation? My answer: no less than 15 per cent.

The average of the 10 per cent and 15 per cent figures is 12.5 per cent. This means that a rough estimate of the costs of haze to me is no less than 12.5 per cent of my annual income.

Suppose your annual salary is $100,000, 12.5 per cent of which is $12,500. This is equivalent to 50 per cent of your quarterly salary of $25,000.

Given that the haze outbreak usually lasts around three months each year, the costs of the event can go as high as 50 per cent of Singaporeans' earned incomes during the affected period.

Having said that, my willingness to pay to avoid the haze (as a percentage of earned income) may be much higher than that of the average Singaporean.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the average Singaporean's "willingness to pay" to put up with the haze is a fifth of mine. This works out to be 10 per cent of his or her earned income during the three months of haze.

The median monthly household income from work is $7,570 in 2012, according to the Department of Statistics. Ten per cent of that figure is $757. That alone is around 25 times the one-dollar-per-day damage estimate mentioned above.

It will be difficult to get an accurate estimate of people's willingness to pay, but even this simple example gives us an idea of how such a study better reflects the severity of the haze problem than "objective" data such as spending on masks, medical bills for haze-induced ailments and losses in tourism revenues.

More than 14 million tourists visited Singapore last year, but most stayed only for a couple of days.

While tourism receipts are important to our economy, the health of Singaporeans and permanent residents is much more important. The 5.3 million residing here are the ones who are exposed to prolonged periods of polluted air.

I find it hard to accept that lost tourism revenues account for 78 per cent of total damage during the 1997 haze crisis, and health-related costs only 12 per cent.

While it is very difficult to put a price tag on social, economic and psychological effects, the figure of one dollar a day per person is definitely a gross underestimation of the haze-induced damage.

The writer is Winsemius Professor in Economics, Nanyang Technological University.

Hazy Shade of Winter’s Discontent
SG Haze Rescue
Politically hazy bullying
Indonesia Fires, Singapore Smog Likely Caused By Palm Oil Companies
South East Asia haze: What is slash-and-burn?
Is Singapore the only country which uses 24-hour averages for its air quality index?
PSI readings on NEA's website do take PM2.5 into account
NEA: Online PSI figure wasn't edited or deleted
Dumb and Dumber Singaporean Reactions to the Haze
Clarity needed on companies behind the haze
WRI Releases Updated Data on the Fires in Indonesia
"Hail" reported in the western end of Singapore
Hail not related to cloud seeding; rain is not toxic: NEA
Singapore will 'take all steps' to protect citizens
NEA spells out how PSI is compiled
Keep calm, go about daily routine: PM Lee
Ministries make plans to minimise disruption
Indonesia's Yudhoyono apologises for haze
PM Lee: Yudhoyono's apology "gracious" and Singapore accepts wholeheartedly
Break the negative spiral over the haze
Clearing particles of doubt, seeding facts
Health sector 'ready for surge in patients'
Don't let haze blacken good neighbourly ties
A silver lining in the hazy cloud
S'poreans do have the necessary resilience
A different backlash and a red herring
Schools to reopen on Monday; haze measures in place
Asean reaffirms commitment to fight haze
S'pore 'has learnt 5 key lessons from haze crisis'

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