Singapore Environment Council: International Policy Dialogue on the Southeast Asian Fires Statement to the ASEAN Senior Officials for the Environment
(IFFN No. 19 – September 1998,p. 8-9)
I would like to thank the ASEAN Senior Officials for the Environment for allowing me this opportunity to address them briefly on the fires and haze. I speak to you on behalf of the International Policy Dialogue on the Southeast Asian Fires, organized by the Singapore Environment Council on 4 and 5 June 1998.
The Dialogue brought together some forty representatives of international, regional and local non-government organizations (NGOs), think-tanks and academic institutions, and the private sector, as well as international and governmental institutions. The NGOs and think-tanks were encouraged by the statement of the ASEAN Ministers in 1998 welcoming the contributions that NGOs might make.
Let me begin by emphasizing that many of the NGOs that took part in the Dialogue have programs in Indonesia and our region. Many are working with government agencies and are well acquainted with the challenges faced. We acknowledged the limitations that larger developing countries face in dealing with environmental concerns. We also recognized that the Indonesia is experiencing a time of economic hardship, humanitarian emergencies in some regions, and political change. We are heartened that the government has promised reform. The NGOs at the Dialogue were also encouraged that ASEAN has promulgated the Cooperation and Action Plans and that, despite the economic difficulties facing many ASEAN members, ASEAN has shown commitment to regularly review the compliance with and possible improvements of the Action Plan. It is in this context that the Dialogue was held and that I present their concerns and suggestions. We wish to be constructive in our criticisms, and to offer suggestions and cooperation. A copy of the Chairman´s Statement from the Dialogue is attached. The statement outlines some 30 suggestions addressed to ASEAN, Indonesia, NGOs and businesses. From these suggestions, allow me to highlight some for your attention. As I am addressing the ASEAN Officials, I will focus on those suggestions that concern ASEAN and Indonesia, and also on how NGOs might work with and supplement official efforts.
Members of the Dialogue noted, with great concern, that the fires in Indonesia:
were recurrent in nature, mostly of man-made origins, although worsened by El Niño climate conditions;
related to the use and clearance of forest and other land, mainly by big business, engaged in logging and palm oil;
could have been foreseen, given climatic forecasts and patterns of forest use;
caused harm to human life and health, and damage to the environment, nature and to economic activity, estimated to be worth more than US$4.4 billion for Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore alone;
caused enormous harm and damage, not only to the region and the global environment, but first and primarily to the people, environment and economy of Indonesia.
We therefore take the view that:
while immediate measures should be taken, medium and longer term measures are also essential for the future;
while regional and international assistance should be given, Indonesia has a duty to act and to cooperate in taking necessary action.
Participants at the Dialogue called on ASEAN:
to recognize the human, environmental and economic costs of the fires;
to further focus plans for the sub-regional fire-fighting areas by prioritizing specific sites for strengthened fire-fighting and prevention, based on factors such as greater biodiversity, ecological value and the potential to release harmful gases if affected by fire;
to strengthen their existing Plans by fully recognizing international principles and laws, including those relating to state responsibility for transboundary pollution, biodiversity and climate change, and to ensure compliance;
to strengthen the capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat, especially in matters concerning the environment and sustainable development.
Participants at the Dialogue called on Indonesia:
to enforce its current laws against the use of fire by corporate offenders, effectively, and equally;
to coordinate their response both internally, between different agencies and ministries, and externally with countries, institutions and non-governmental organizations that offered technical and other assistance;
Participants at the Dialogue called on NGOs
to mobilize public concern on the fires;
to advocate and implement the increased use of credible environmental certification for timber and forest products, and for oil palm, to highlight companies which are good examples of best practice and expose the logging and plantation companies which are guilty of using fire to clear land.
to work with national authorities, local communities and with inter-governmental organizations, as appropriate for early detection and small-scale fire suppression; to increase their concern and capacity to deal with fires and their underlying causes; to provide information, assist in monitoring, undertake programmes and advise on policies.
I believe this may be one of the first occasions that NGOs have addressed the ASEAN Senior Officials for the Environment. We believe that NGOs can contribute to solutions regarding the fires. Following the statement of the ASEAN Ministers in 1998 to welcome NGO contributions, we ask for regular dialogue to be established between NGOs and ASEAN officials. A closer and regular dialogue with ASEAN officials would assist further cooperation and coordination in dealing with the problems of the fires and haze that concerns us all. It would also be a step towards realizing ASEAN´s vision as a community of people.
Thursday, 18 June 1998
Simon SC Tay
Chairman, SEC International Policy Dialogue
c/o Singapore Environment Council
21 Lewin Terrace, Fort Canning Park,