Malaysia urged its neighbours on Tuesday to ratify an agreement to control air pollution in southeast Asia, a month after forest fires in Indonesia caused some of the worst haze in the region in eight years.
Malaysian authorities imposed a state of emergency in two areas in August after air pollution levels reached dangerous levels, threatening public health, grounding some flights, disrupting shipping and shutting schools.
“Every member country should ratify the agreement,” Dato S. Sothinathan, Malaysia’s deputy environment minister, told reporters during a meeting in Manila of Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) environment ministers. “If it’s ratified by all, I think it can be given its full force”.
He said only seven of ASEAN’s 10 member states had ratified the June 2002 region-wide agreement to prevent and control transboundary haze pollution as a result of land and forest fires. Indonesia has yet to ratify the accord.
In a joint communique issued on Tuesday, the final day of a two-day informal meeting, the ASEAN environment ministers agreed to form a regional panel of experts on fire and haze assessment to strengthen cooperation among affected countries.
“We want better cooperation,” Sothinathan told reporters, adding his government would support efforts by Jakarta to prosecute companies and individuals causing land and forest fires, including Malaysian companies. “What we would like to see is to prevent this from happening. There should be no burning of plantation for cultivation purposes”.
ASEAN also launched a European Union-funded regional biodiversity centre near Manila that will study how to protect the region’s diminishing flora and fauna species.
The region, covering only 3 percent of the world’s land surface, is home to about 25 percent of all known animal and plant species that are increasingly threatened by deforestation and economic development.
The ASEAN area is losing 1 percent of its forest cover every year, almost four times more than the world average, said Luc Vandebon, acting head of the EU delegation to the Philippines.
“The flora and fauna of the region are increasingly threatened,” he said in a speech.
Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were ranked as having the highest number of threatened plants and animals due to deforestation, conversion of land for agriculture, population growth and trafficking in animals.
The EU is providing about 6 million euros ($7.2 million) to help run the biodiversity centre for the next three years under an agreement signed in April 2005.