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ASEAN; Indonesia: Regional Haze Agreement Ratified

(Sept. 22, 2014) On September 16, 2014, Indonesia ratified the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (Haze Agreement), initially signed in 2002. It was the last of the ten signatory nations to ratify the pact; the other participants are Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. (Margareth S. Aritonang, New Regional Body to Net Forest Criminals, JAKARTA POST (Sept. 18, 2014); Haze Agreement (June 10, 2002, effective Nov. 25, 2003), ASEAN; ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, HAZE ACTION ONLINE (last visited Sept. 18, 2 014).)

The ASEAN Haze Agreement

The purpose of the Haze Agreement is to encourage national and regional efforts to reduce haze pollution. (Haze Agreement, art. 2.) The parties have agreed to:

1. Co-operate in developing and implementing measures to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution as a result of land and/or forest fires which should be mitigated, and to control sources of fires, including by the identification of fires, development of monitoring, assessment and early warning systems, exchange of information and technology, and the provision of mutual assistance.

2. When the transboundary haze pollution originates from within their territories, respond promptly to a request for relevant information or consultations sought by a State or States that are or may be affected by such transboundary haze pollution, with a view to minimising the consequences of the transboundary haze pollution.

3. Take legislative, administrative and/or other measures to implement their obligations under this Agreement. (Id. art. 4.)

In addition, the agreement established the ASEAN Co-ordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control, to facilitate cooperation between nations in mitigating the effects of forest fires, especially the haze pollution that they cause. The ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre have been undertaking these functions on an interim basis, until the Centre is established. (Id. art. 5; ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, supra.) Indonesia’s Deputy Minister for Environmental Damage Control and Climate Change, Arief Yuwono, has suggested that the new center be located in Indonesia, as that would “make the most of the country’s role in the efforts jointly taken to face the problems caused by transboundary haze pollution, which mostly originates from this country.” (Aritonang, supra.)

Background

The haze pollution in question comes from fires that are illegally set to clear land and make way for enterprises like palm oil plantations. Air quality has at times been so poor as to be hazardous. In June 2013, Indonesian forest fires created enough smoke to cause thick haze in neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. The particularly severe 2013 fire season resulted in calls from nearby nations for more action by Indonesia. (Indonesia Moves to Stop Forest Fire Pollution as Haze Grips Singapore, GUARDIAN (Sept. 16, 2014).)

Comments on the Issue

The ratification was called a good step by William Sabandar, the chief operating officer of the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) project. He went on to say that transparency among governments and businesses, particularly in relation to the issuance of plantation permits, was needed to prevent the fires. (Aritonang, supra.) REDD “is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development;” REDD+ “goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” (About REDD+, UN-REDD Programme, (last visited Sept. 19, 2014).)

Sabandar noted that consistent enforcement of the Haze Agreement and of Indonesia’s Law on Environmental Protection and Management would make it possible to minimize fire incidents, and argued that it is important to catch those who slash and burn forests and open areas without permission. (Aritonang, supra; Enviromental [sic] Protection and Management, Law No. 32/2009 (Oct. 3, 2000), FAOLEX [database of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Legal Office].)

The nongovernmental group Greenpeace Southeast Asia also commented on the haze issue. The group’s forest campaigner, Yuyun Indradi, advocated a stronger legal framework to catch businesses that flout the law, including having local banks and stock markets exclude those businesses and their investors from trading in Indonesia. He suggested that “[b]anks and stock markets can become environmental law enforcement tools” and added that Singapore’s stronger authority to act against individuals and enterprises that cause pollution should be emulated. (Aritonang, supra.) Singapore passed a law in August 2014 that permits government fines on companies causing pollution, whether or not those companies have offices in Singapore. (Indonesia Moves to Stop Forest Fire Pollution as Haze Grips Singapore, supra; Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill (2014), REACH (Singapore government website).)