Singapore: Policy Dialogue on SEA Fires (IFFN No. 19 – September 1998)

Singapore Environment Council:
International Policy Dialogue on the Southeast Asian Fires

(IFFN No. 19 – September 1998,p. 9-12)

Chairman’s Statement

On 4 and 5 June 1998, the Singapore Environment Council held its first International Policy Dialogue on the Southeast Asian Fires. The Dialogue was organized with support from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD-UK) and sponsorship from Shangri-La Hotel, Far East Organization and the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

The Dialogue brought together some forty representatives of international, regional and local non-government organizations (NGOs), think-tanks, academic institutions, and the private sector, as well as international and governmental institutions.

These included:

NGOs: the Nature Conservancy (USA-Indonesia), the Nature Society of Singapore, NGOs for Integrated Protection Areas (the Philippines), Singapore Environment Council, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Indonesia and WWF-Regional), World Resources Institute (Regional).

Think-Tanks and Academic Institutions: Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law (APCEL-Singapore), Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP-NUS), Centre for International Forestry Research (Indonesia), Center for Tropical Forest Science, Environment and Economy Programme for South East Asia (EEPSEA-Canada), Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD-UK), Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Institute of Policy Studies (IPS-Singapore), Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS-Malaysia), the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Germany), and Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Private Sector: Bombardier Aerospace, Golden Hope Plantations (Malaysia), Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, and Shell-Brunei.

International and Governmental Organizations: Asia Development Bank, ASEAN Secretariat, BAPEDAL (Indonesia), United Nations Environment Programme, US State Department, US-Asia Environment Programme and World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The Dialogue called attention to the fires in Southeast Asia, and especially Indonesia, as a matter of regional and global significance. It called on Indonesia and other countries with fires to take appropriate actions to mitigate the present fires and prevent future fires. It called for coordinated action among the regional countries, ASEAN, the international community, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations.

The Dialogue noted that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can contribute to solutions to the fires and called for greater coordination between NGOs working in Indonesia, the region and at the international level. It also called for regular dialogue to be established between NGOs and ASEAN officials.

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;
  • burnt up to 4.5 million hectares in 1997 alone, according to satellite monitoring by CRISP;
  • 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 by a study by EEPSEA and the WWF; caused damage to Indonesia’s neighbouring states, especially Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore, by reason of transboundary air pollution or “haze”;
  • caused damage to the global commons, by the release of green house gases, estimated to exceed the total greenhouse gases emissions of Western Europe in a single year, and by the loss of biodiversity, especially in mega-diversity areas of Indonesia and East Malaysia; and
  • caused enormous harm and damage to the people, environment and economy of Indonesia.

Members of the Dialogue

Noted: ASEAN has promulgated the 1995 Cooperation Plan on Transboundary Pollution and 1997 Action Plan on the Haze, with regular reviews in 1998, promising closer cooperation and joint actions for monitoring, fire-fighting and prevention, establishing sub-regional fire-fighting areas in Kalimantan and Sumatra and considering shared resources for fire-fighting and prevention;

Despite the economic difficulties facing many ASEAN members, ASEAN has shown commitment to regularly review the compliance with and possible improvements to the Action Plan;

And called for ASEAN and its member states:

  • to recognize that the norm against intervention in the internal affairs of a state should not prevent effective response to transboundary pollution insofar as the damage is suffered by another state or the global commons;
  • to recognize the human, environmental and economic costs of the fires;
  • to help mobilise funds to prevent and control 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 make satellite monitoring and other information relating to the fires available as widely as possible, especially to NGOs and local communities;
  • institutionalize review of actions taken on the fires by all concerned government officials and, further, to invite expert and concerned international organizations, scientists and academics and non-government organizations for dialogue and review;
  • to balance economic cooperation with environmental concerns for sustainable development in regional plans, such as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and ASEAN Investment Area and sub-regional economic cooperation, especially the SIJORI Growth Triangle, linking Singapore and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia; and
  • to strengthen the capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat, especially in matters concerning the environment and sustainable development.

Noted: The important role of international law, especially Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration, and that Indonesian authorities had accepted moral responsibility for the effects of the fires and haze;

Indonesia has ratified the international conventions on Climate Change and on Biological Diversity;

Indonesian authorities have sought to address the issue by passing laws to prohibit the use of fire, and increasing fines and penalties for offenders, naming some 180 suspected companies; and

The Indonesian government, experiencing a time of economic hardship, humanitarian emergencies in some regions, and political change, has promised reform, especially to eradicate nepotism, corruption and cronyism;

And called for Indonesia:

  • to recognize a duty and obligation to cooperate with other countries and the international community in dealing with the fires;
  • to seek sustainable development, balancing economic growth with environmental concerns;
  • to enforce its current laws against the use of fire against corporate offenders, effectively, efficiently and equally, without favour or prejudice to any Indonesian or foreign business or investors;
  • 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;
  • to update its land use plans and to reform its land use policy so as to ensure sustainable use, so as to prioritize any land conversion to better protect forest land, rationally use marginal and degraded land, and exercise extreme caution in any conversion of deep peat swamps; and grant secure and sufficient tenure to users, empowering and recognizing the interests of local communities.

Noted: More than 18 different donors from the international community rendered assistance to Indonesia in 1997;

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been welcomed by ASEAN to coordinate international efforts for fire fighting and prevention;

The Asian Development Bank has undertaken to provide technical assistance for ASEAN; and

The International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Asian Development Bank are working with the Indonesian government to deal with the economic crisis in that country by making necessary reforms.

And called for International Organizations and Bilateral Donors

  • to support efforts by the UN Environment Programme and Asian Development Bank to coordinate assistance;
  • not to over-emphasize fire-fighting, especially by high-technology methods; instead, to develop medium and longer-term responses to the fires and their causes, including education, systems of control, reforestation and agreed principles for the sustainable management of forests;
  • to provide new and additional aid and assistance to Indonesia in response to the fires and for the environmental and humanitarian concerns arising;
  • to work with the respective convention secretariats to develop appropriate policies and mechanisms to link the prevention of fires in Southeast Asia to the Climate Change Convention, and the Biological Diversity Convention; and
  • for the IMF and other assistance programmes and packages not to raise the risk of fires by inappropriate policies and to further sustainable development, especially by addressing inappropriate subsidies and other policies affecting the rational and sustainable use of land.

Noted: The efforts of NGOs in Indonesia and the concern of NGOs in the region and internationally; and

The welcome extended by ASEAN Ministers for the Environment in 1998 for contributions by NGOs

And called upon NGOs

  • to coordinate among NGOs in Indonesia and at the regional and international levels, for mutual assistance and support; and to avoid wasteful duplication;
  • to establish regular dialogue with ASEAN officials;
  • to mobilize public concern on the fires;
  • to work with national authorities and local communities, 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 work with inter-governmental organizations, where appropriate, to provide information, assist in monitoring, undertake programmes and advise on policies; and
  • 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.

Noted: Businesses and private sector companies are both involved with and affected by the fires and the resulting “haze” pollution

And called upon Businesses and Private Sector Companies:

  • to faithfully comply with Indonesian national laws against the use of fire;
  • to transfer appropriate technology to enable zero burn land clearing for palm oil and other plantations, and increasing efficiency in logging and timber processing;
  • to review their business practices to lessen environmental damage that results from their economic activity, to establish and uphold best practices in their industry and expose the misdeeds of pollutive producers; and
  • to seek appropriate certification for their products to ensure sustainable management of resources under their stewardship.

This statement records the chairman’s interpretation of views expressed in the Dialogue. It does not reflect a unanimous or consensus view of the participants of the organizations represented.

Friday, 6 June 1998

Simon SC Tay
Chairman, SEC International Policy Dialogue
c/o Singapore Environment Council
21 Lewin Terrace, Fort Canning Park,
Singapore 179290

Fax: ++65-337-6035
Tel:  ++65-337-6062

IFFN No. 19
Country Notes
Projects and Programmes

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