Getting down to the haze issue

Getting down to the haze issue

20 Dezember 2010

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Indonesia — The forest fires in Sumatra this year plunged haze in the spotlight – and the companies who own the land were particularly lambasted as responsible for the burning of the world’s third-largest tropical rainforest. But the finger-pointing and blame-shifting is counter-productive – for decades we have known who these ‘culprits’ are and worse, for decades we have known that indiscriminate burning of tropical rainforest is the single biggest contributor of greenhouse gases.

Amongst the haze enrage, one group formed to engage the issue and work with companies and governments towards a ground-level solution that will benefit all parties. CAWG (Climate Change Working Group) is the first corporate driven alliance to address haze, led by Indonesian energy giant Medco from Indonesia, agri-giant Wilmar International and overseen by not-for-profit, Conservation International from Singapore.

Working ground-to-ground to actively solve the haze issue, the new working group will hold regular meetings with stakeholders from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to identify both the drivers and solutions to combating the far-reaching issue.

CAWG group member, Dorjee Sun, is also the CEO of Carbon Conservation and is passionate about forests, carbon, community development, conservation and climate change. Carbon Conservation’s work covers energy efficiency, renewable energy, plantations and projects that incentivize the preservation of tropical rainforests by helping forest owners and local communities generate alternative revenues through the carbon finance market. Since establishment, CC has been engaging in ongoing projects to protect global rainforests and biodiversity.

One such project in Aceh, Indonesia, won the Carbon Finance Deal of the Year award 2008. This project and Dorjee was also the subject of an award winning documentary, “The Burning Season”, which explained how orang-utan conservation and avoided deforestation could be tied in to generate alternative monetary incentives. Recently Time Magazine awarded Dorjee as a TIME Magazine Environmental Hero for 2009 and the African Rainforest Conservancy named a newly discovered Tanzanian chameleon after him ”kinyongia dorjeesuni”.

The CSR Digest gets Mr. Sun’s responses for the following burning questions.

CSRD: What damage has the haze caused in the region: environmentally, socially & economically?

DS: The recurring haze that shrouds the skies of Southeast Asia is a problem that has troubled governments since the late 1990s. It is largely a result of land-clearing activities in areas like Sumatra and Borneo, where poor farmers employ slash-and-burn techniques. Comprehensive damage assessment has been done for the period 1997 to 1998. The blaze during the El Nino season in 1997/98 cost the region over USD$9 billion in damage, in the areas of tourism, transport and farming. In addition to this figure, intangible and long term costs are also incurred due to effects associated with deteriorated health and air quality in the region; the destruction of biodiversity, and haze’s contribution to global warming. Expenses are also incurred from expensive fire-fighting and cloud seeding activities. With the prospects of climate change intensifying the effects of El Nino over the years, the threat posed by haze looms greater as possible drier weather will lead to more hotspots and forest fires.

In October/November 2010, we experienced the worst haze in four years – at one stage, there were over 200 hotspots burning! These hotspots are spread mostly in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra and West Kalimantan provinces.

CSRD: What are the most pertinent issues involved relating to the haze in the region?

DS: A closer analysis of the haze problem reveals isn’t a standalone environmental problem. It is also a social, political and economic issue. Despite efforts to some extent by the Indonesian to outlaw land-clearing by fires, illegal fires and slash-and-burn activities, the recurring haze proves that these acts are still taking place. This is mainly due to enforcement difficulties and because there is no motivation for the local communities to conserve their forests. Poverty is rampant and to these farmers, the cheapest and fastest way to clear land is to torch the forests.

Recently, Conservation International Singapore established CAWG (Climate Change Working Group) – the first corporate driven alliance to address haze. CAWG consists of representatives from Carbon Conservation, Conservation International Singapore, and corporate Medco and Wilmar International.

CAWG is currently proposing a plan to stem out haze, by addressing the underlying reasons why farmers undertake damaging land-clearing activities. By introducing carbon finance to farmers as a means to reduce deforestations, emissions and haze, we hope to preserve the biodiversity-rich rainforests of the region, alleviate poverty and improve the livelihoods of the locals, and contribute to the global alleviation of climate change through reduced emissions.

CSRD: What has CAWG concluded so far? What action can be taken?

DS: CAWG plays a critical role in providing a multi-stakeholder, cross- institutional forum for haze discussion and action.

In July 2010, the Asia Pacific Business & Sustainability Council, established by Conservation International Singapore, agreed to convene a Haze Working Group with Medco and Wilmar as co-chairs, and the first meeting of the Haze Working Group was held on-site in Riau, Indonesia. This was an innovative public private partnership and the first meeting between NGOs, corporate and government officials to be held amongst ‘traditional rivals’.

In September 2010, this group evolved into CAWG and we recently participated and provided counsel for the Haze Dialogue after our worst case of haze in October/ November.

CSRD: What can be done to convince businesses who cause the haze, or allow the haze to be caused, to behave differently?

DS: In order to motivate haze-contributing companies to stop causing haze, or allowing haze to be caused, CAWG has adopted a carbon finance scheme, “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD).

REDD addresses the problem of farmers having no monetary motivation to preserve forests. REDD provides farmers/land owners with alternative income generated from the carbon market, an incentive for them to keep their forests standing, because only standing forests roll in monetary benefits for them. Carbon credits are awarded to landowners who engage in REDD projects to avoid or reduce the deforestation that would have otherwise occurred without project intervention. These credits can then be monetized and traded on the international carbon market.

The proposal approaches the haze problem from a different and innovative perspective. Previous regional treaties and agreements may be useful in pressurizing governments to institute haze-combatting measures , but these top-down initiatives are often not appreciated by local communities, as they do not see any direct benefit accruing to their lives and livelihood. Under this proposal, there is a significant aspect of a bottoms-up grassroots approach.

REDD projects inherently possess a social element by including the local communities into consultations leading up to the plan, to ensure that benefits flow to them. By maintaining the farmers’ or landowners’ continued interest in forest preservation, combating the haze is likely to be more effective as it addresses the root of the problem and can lead to improvement in the livelihoods of the local community.

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