25 Jun Moderate Risk of Severe Transboundary Haze in 2020
For Immediate Release
Moderate Risk of Severe Transboundary Haze in 2020
SIIA Haze Outlook Report identifies COVID-19 as the major factor
impacting fire prevention efforts for 2020
Singapore, 25 June 2020 – There is moderate risk of a severe transboundary haze incident in 2020 – rated Amber on a scale of Green, Amber, and Red. This is the key finding from the Haze Outlook 2020 report by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) that was launched today.
Introduced in 2019, the SIIA Haze Outlook provides a risk assessment of the probability of a severe transboundary haze incident affecting ASEAN, especially Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
“Since 1997, the SIIA has been at the forefront of initiatives on the transboundary haze, looking at the forestry and resource sector. The haze often signals underlying problems in sustainability and has global impact on climate change. This year, the situation is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic — with major uncertainties for business and livelihoods, as well as restrictions on people-to-people efforts to educate communities and growers to prevent and suppress. The fires were bad last year and collective action to implement early preventative measures is needed to prevent recurrence this year,” says Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA.
The SIIA Haze Outlook 2020 Report uses qualitative and quantitative data based on three factors: weather, peat, and people.
- Weather (temperature and rainfall conditions): The dry season in 2020 is expected to be milder than in 2019. The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) forecasts near-normal to slightly-above-normal rainfall for Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Although some agencies have made more cautionary predictions, on balance the meteorological factors that typically influence fires and haze are expected to be neutral this year.
- Peat (policies and action related to peatland management): Fire management policies remain in place, with the Indonesian government and the largest resource sector companies expending effort to prevent and effectively suppress fires on the ground. Fires on degraded peat release more emissions contributing to climate change than fires on mineral soil. There have been positive signals from President Joko Widodo’s government on peat conservation and restoration initiatives, but some policymaking efforts appear to have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Media reports have said the President is inclined to renew the mandate of the Peatland Restoration Agency, but thus far no official regulation has been issued.
- People (fire prevention and suppression efforts on the ground): The need to focus on combating the COVID-19 outbreak is hindering the implementation and enforcement of fire prevention and sustainability efforts. The pandemic is also consuming time and financial resources that would have been otherwise allocated for fire and haze response. Additionally, the economic shock triggered by the pandemic also affects the resource sector, with companies facing greater pressure to be both sustainable and profitable. While large companies are making efforts to honour their sustainability commitments, there remain concerns that medium-sized companies have not strengthened their commitments to prevent the use of fire for land management and improve sustainability practices.
These factors lead to conclusion that there is a moderate risk of a severe transboundary haze episode in the months ahead (severe episodes like those in 1997, 2015 and 2019). A total of 13 stakeholders were interviewed for this report, representing a cross-section of palm oil companies, pulp and paper (pulpwood) companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and academics.
Associate Professor Tay concluded, “With the SIIA Haze Outlook 2020 report, we would like to emphasise that sustainability should not be forgotten as the world struggles with the fallout of COVID-19. Improving the management of fires is critical for the businesses to be viable and acceptable in the future, and help combat climate change.”
The Haze Outlook 2020 Report was supported by the Lee Foundation. The report can be downloaded from the SIIA website at this link.
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About the Singapore Institute of International Affairs
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Established in 1962, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is a non-profit and independent think tank committed to producing policy analysis, fostering in-depth dialogues and bridging gaps between policymakers, private sector decision-makers and experts to shape public policy and social responses. Centred around ASEAN focused themes, the institute aims to deliver policy analysis in international affairs and on issues driving environmental sustainability. The SIIA has been consistently ranked as one of the leading think tanks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in the Global Go-To Think Tank Index by the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2017, the SIIA was ranked the No. 1 independent think tank in Asia. It was also recognised as one of the top 50 think tanks globally, excluding the United States of America. In 2019, it was recognised as the No. 1 think tank in South, Southeast Asia and Pacific (excluding India).
About the SIIA’s Sustainability Programme
The SIIA’s Sustainability Programme was established in 1997 when it organised Singapore’s first haze dialogue with the Singapore Environment Council. Since then, the Sustainability Programme has evolved to address sustainability issues ASEAN faces with a focus on the haze and resource sector and using finance as a lever to advance sustainability in the supply chain. As part of its Sustainability Programme, the SIIA facilitates dialogues between government, private sector and NGOs to prevent and mitigate the recurrence of transboundary haze. One of the SIIA’s key platforms is its flagship event, the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources (SDSWR). Since it was launched in 2014, the annual event attracts about 300 high-level participants from government, private sector, academia and NGOs to share best practices and discuss new commitments and noteworthy cross-sector collaborations in ASEAN’s resource sector. A key research output by the Institute is the SIIA Haze Outlook report. Launched in 2019, the report serves as a risk assessment and predictive tool for countries in the region to determine the likelihood of a severe transboundary haze incident.