Friday, 11 October 2013

Asean leaders adopt joint haze monitoring system

Collective effort to track down culprits who burn land illegally
By Andrea Ong and Zakir Hussain, In Bandar Begawan, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2013

ASEAN leaders yesterday adopted a joint haze monitoring system (HMS) which will allow the tracking down of culprits behind the annual air pollution that affects countries in the region.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed the move as a "concrete example of cooperation".

"This approval of the HMS will allow us to implement the system and track down those responsible for causing the haze, and over time manage the problem," he told his counterparts at the ASEAN Summit.

He also said it was important for ASEAN's credibility that the regional grouping address the issue collectively.

The backing of all 10 ASEAN leaders is a signal to ministries and agencies to start sharing data needed for the HMS to be effective, PM Lee and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan told reporters.

The $100,000 monitoring system, developed by Singapore, uses high-resolution satellite images together with land use and concession maps to pinpoint culprits who burn land illegally.

It will be implemented in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand - the five members of a sub-regional committee for haze.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The ball is in the court of the relevant ministries and we will work closely together with them to facilitate this process as quickly as possible."

The sharing of concession maps has been a sticking point in previous discussions. Singapore wants the maps to be publicly available but Malaysia and Indonesia cited legal concerns over going public.

In July, the five environment ministers reached a compromise, saying they would recommend to their leaders that the maps be shared on a case-by-case basis between governments.

Asked if the limited sharing of data will affect the HMS' efficacy, Dr Balakrishnan said its key contribution is to signal that "there are many eyes watching" the firms on the ground, both at the local and Asean level, to hold them accountable.

It thus adds another layer to local investigation and enforcement, he said.

Mr Lee also had a brief meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the haze issue. He thanked them for their cooperation on the HMS and extended Singapore's offer to collaborate on sustainable farming projects, as had been done in Indonesia's Jambi province.

When Mr Lee and Dr Yudhoyono met during their leaders' retreat in April, they agreed to renew cooperation in Jambi, which lapsed in 2011.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also suggested expanding it to other provinces in Sumatra and for all three countries to explore new areas of cooperation to "encourage sustainable practices and minimise this problem over time", thus addressing the root causes of the fires behind the haze.

"I think they generally agreed with me, so I hope that we will be able to make some progress there," Mr Lee said later.

Indonesia's presidential adviser on climate change Agus Purnomo said ahead of yesterday's summit that he supports the release of concession maps showing only the burnt areas.

"I don't see any need to keep it a secret. The Attorney-General, in his investigations, will also have to disclose such information. So secrecy is not an option," he said.

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