Govt renews efforts to ratify ASEAN haze agreement

Govt renews efforts to ratify ASEAN haze agreement

30 July 2010

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Indonesia — The government will for the second time push the House of Representatives to endorse the ASEAN agreement on haze pollution, an official said on Thursday.

Indonesia is now the only ASEAN member state that has not endorsed the agreement aimed at reducing forest fires and haze pollution.

“From the government side, there has been an agreement to ratify it,” Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta told The Jakarta Post from Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

“However, it may take time because it depends on the process at the House.”

Gusti was in Kuching, Malaysia, on Thursday attending a two-day ministerial meeting on haze, to discuss actions to address expected land and forest fires in the upcoming dry season.

Gusti did not elaborate when the government planned to submit the bill to the House.

The Environment Ministry is Indonesia’s focal point on the haze problem.

In 2008, all parties at the House refused to endorse the bill on trans-boundary fire haze, since the bill did not mention illegal logging issues.

The trans-boundary haze agreement was adopted in 2002 and came into effect one year later. The Philippines ratified the agreement in February this year.

The agreement binds signatory countries to take proactive steps to stop haze pollution from land and forest fires within their territories, through strict regulations, heat-seeking satellites and training for firefighters.

Gusti said pressure on Indonesia from other ASEAN member states to ratify the agreement had been softened in the Kuching meeting after the hotspots recorded in Indonesia decreased sharply since 2006.

“I informed [the ministerial meeting] on the decline in numbers of hotspots in Indonesia, despite the absence of ratification,” he said.

Hotspots in Kalimantan and Sumatra had declined by 70 percent and 80 percent from 2006 levels, Gusti said.

“The main target of the ASEAN haze agreement is to slash the number of hotspots. We have done this and will continue doing so because Indonesia has committed to reducing its [greenhouse gas] emissions,” he said.

The government promised to cut the number of hotspots by 20 percent per year, to meet Indonesia’s pledge to reduce its emissions by 26 percent by 2020.

Legislator Effendi Simbolon warned the government to be cautious in assessing impacts of endorsing the haze agreement.

“I am still doubting if the government could implement it once we ratify the bill. It seems to me the government has undertaken no concrete actions yet to stop the forest fires,” Effendi told the Post.

He said the government had been busy hoping to join the international agreement without having programs to take actions in the field.

Forest fires have long been an annual event in Indonesia during the dry season. The massive forest fires in 1997 saw Indonesia become the world’s third-largest CO2 emitter.

The 2009 State Environment Report shows that the number of hotspots increased to 32,416 in 2009 from 19,192 in the previous year, despite the commitment to reducing hotspots.

The report shows that the number of hotspots in West Kalimantan increased to 7,276 in 2009 from 2,881 in the previous year.

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