SINGAPORE: Forest and land fires burning in Indonesia have released 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide since August, said Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Thursday (Sep 26).
That's more than Spain’s emissions for the whole year in 2018, he added.
“We now are clear that these forest fires have a major impact on climate,” Mr Masagos wrote in a Facebook post. “The loss of carbon sinks in the burning of peat is irreversible.”
Forest fires in Indonesia, blamed on slash-and-burn techniques by farmers to clear agricultural land, have caused transboundary haze in Singapore and Malaysia in recent weeks.
The blazes are an annual problem, but the situation this year is the worst since 2015 due to dry weather.
Calling the transboundary haze a “perennial scourge for Southeast Asia”, Mr Masagos said there is a need for stronger action to prevent it from recurring.
"Last week, Singapore had conveyed our concerns over the escalation of hotspots to the Indonesian government via diplomatic note, sought their assistance to enhance measures on the ground and also offered our assistance," he said.
The minister noted that Indonesian authorities are stepping up efforts to take action against companies that are responsible for the fires.
Singapore-based companies are among those being investigated, Mr Masagos said, citing media reports.
"The CEO of the National Environment Agency (NEA) has earlier written to his Indonesian counterpart to request for more information, so that we can investigate on our end," he added.
"Singapore will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that jeopardise the health and lives of people here and in other countries, and which set back our efforts to fight climate change."
In 2014, Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to go after companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, contributing to the haze.
Malaysia is also considering similar legislation, under which companies found to be responsible for haze may be penalised upon entering the country’s market.
Hazy conditions eased throughout the region in the past two days, after rain in parts of Indonesia's Sumatra and Kalimantan brought down the number of hotspots by 40 per cent.
In Singapore, the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is expected to be in the good to moderate range over the next 24 hours, said NEA in a media advisory on Thursday.
It added that thundery showers are forecast for the next few days.
"While the likelihood of haze affecting Singapore is low, there may be occasional slightly hazy conditions over the next few days if prevailing winds shift to blow smoke haze from Sumatra," the agency said.