The Germany-Singapore Environmental Technology Agency (GSETA) organised the Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution from 27 to 28 May 1998 at the Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore. The workshop was opened by Mr. Tan Gee Paw, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment, Singapore and Mr.Hendrik Vygen, Deputy Director-General of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany.
The GSETA was established in November 1991 by the Governments of Germany and Singapore. Its main objective is to facilitate the transfer of environmental management know-how and expertise to the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific Regional Workshop on Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution was the 12th event organised by the GSETA.
About 50 participants from both public and private sector of 11 Asia-Pacific economies, Germany and Singapore participated in the Workshop. Among them were also representatives from international institutions, research institutes and NGOs such as UN-ECE (including the leader of the UN-FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Specialists on Forest Fire), WWF Indonesia, IFFM Indonesia, EEPSEA, APCEL, DNR, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Fire Ecology Research Group, and IIASA.
Officials and experts from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore presented papers and shared their knowledge and experience on the subject of transboundary atmospheric pollution at the workshop. The workshop served as a forum for the participants to share and exchange information and experience on impacts, strategies, regional agreements as well as the mechanisms and programmes to deal with transboundary atmospheric pollution. Feedback from participants showed that they found the workshop beneficial and that the overall contents of the papers presented at the workshop were relevant and informative. Some of the points made by speakers and participants at the workshop are as follows:
(a) European Experience
Participants noted that the European experience in controlling long-range transboundary pollution was useful for countries in the Asia-Pacific Region and that there should be further cooperation and collaboration between the two regions in sharing information; and
Participants noted that while the UN-ECE Convention in the abatement of long range transboundary air pollution cannot be directly applied to South-East Asia, it would be useful in providing indications on the type of appropriate actions that could be taken.
(b) ASEAN´s Approach
The usual ASEAN co-operative and non-litigious approach could be improved upon in order to deal more effectively with transboundary pollution problem;
Participants recognised that ASEAN countries are unlikely to embrace a strict regime to deal with transboundary pollution straight away. It will be an evolving process over time. Some of the suggestions to improve on the ASEAN approach include setting specific limits and standards to emissions, widen the policy review process to include the participation of NGOs, linking transboundary pollution to existing multi-lateral environmental agreements like Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change, strengthening the key regional institutions (e.g. ASEAN Secretariat), linking environment to economics and internationalising transboundary pollution concerns; and
Participants noted that atmospheric pollution in the ASEAN region arising from land use is not restricted to Indonesia and that extended fires were also burning regularly in the monsoon forests in other part of continental South Asia.
(c) Forest Fires in Indonesia
On the forest fires in Indonesia which contributed to transboundary haze pollution, some expert speakers expressed the view that prevention was the key and that spending massive resources to fight such uncontrollable fires might not be effective; and
The main causes of the fires in Indonesia (99% were human-made) were the forest concession policy (to convert forests to plantations), the land tenure system, lack of enforcement and the lack of control by plantation companies. A review of land use policies might be the key to preventing fires.
(d) Use of Technologies
Participants noted the usefulness of using the various modelling techniques (e.g. RAINS), satellite imagery and high resolution remote sensing techniques in monitoring forest fires and the transboundary haze pollution;
The workshop recognised the need to explore technologies and socio-economically compatible methods to utilise plant biomass for energy production. This would not only reduce uncontrolled wildfire emissions and fossil fuel consumption, but also create employment opportunities for rural populations; and
Participants highlighted the need for exchange of real-time information on monitoring and predicting atmospheric pollution, including information on the sources and protocols to address transboundary pollution problems.
(e) Economic Cost of Transboundary Atmospheric Pollution
The 1997 haze episode in the region had caused Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore a staggering US$ 1.4 billion in terms of economic loss; Economic losses by forest fires and air pollution are much higher than the costs for measures to prevent air pollution; and Participants noted that the implementation of protocols e.g. to reduce sulphur emissions, also have positive economic benefits.
(f) Involvement of the Public & NGOs
Public´s involvement in air pollution abatement by providing speedy and accessible information is crucial; and NGOs also played an important role in the protection of the environment.
Ministry of the Environment,
International Environment &
Policy Department and Federal Ministry for the Environment
Division Cooperation with Developing Countries
and with UN Institutions