KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesia has told its neighbours at an ASEAN meeting on Thursday (May 18) that the haze situation in the region will be like it was in 2016.
Ministers and senior officials from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei met in Kuala Lumpur for the sub-regional steering committee on transboundary haze pollution – and said the roadmap towards achieving a haze free region by year 2020 is on track.
The roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control with Means of Implementation was ratified in 2016 by member countries.
"The roadmap seems to be working," said Malaysia’s Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. "There wasn’t much haze in 2016; there were maybe two days of haze.
"Indonesia has assured us that this year will be like last year."
While countries have agreed to conduct a midterm review in 2018 on the progress of the roadmap implementation, consensus have been achieved on sharing of information on hotspots in respective countries, according to Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.
In general, the weather condition this year is expected to be better than in 2016 said Wan Junaidi with mild El Nino effects, despite the dry spell in the region which is expected to last until September.
ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh told countries to remain vigilant. "There is no room for complacency," he said. "If you look at weather patterns in the last two years, it's been very abnormal - so we have to remain vigilant.
“We must continue with our efforts to implement haze control measures."
Indonesia has given its commitment to continue its peatland restoration programme, while the existing moratorium on giving out new concessions on peatland will continue.
Singapore’s Masagos also highlighted the efforts being done in enforcement. Culprits who start forest fires can be arrested and charged in Singapore if the companies fall under the city-state’s jurisdiction.
Banks have also implemented guidelines to stop all lending to errant companies, while consumers are encouraged to purchase products that come with the Singapore Green Label certification.
"Singapore stands ready to cooperate with its ASEAN neighbours to address land and forest fires," said Masagos. "Singapore collaborated with Jambi province on capacity building projects between 2007 and 2011 to address land and forest fires."
Minister Masagos said efforts to fight the haze need to be continued bilaterally, even though the agreement on sharing information does not go as far as sharing concession maps.
Singapore has also offered to revive the Memorandum of Understanding with Indonesia in controlling hotspots in Jambi, Sumatra. "They have yet to respond," said Masagos. "We are open to discussions but the Indonesian government needs to give us the right signal when the cooperation is needed."