The #smokehaze is likely to remain a problem in the face of an ineffective #Indonesian response

Smoke haze from peat fires in Sumatra, Singapore October 1, 2015.
Smoke haze from peat fires in Sumatra, Singapore October 1, 2015.

Channel News Asia reports Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya has been critical of recent comment from Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli who is reported as saying , on 15 April, that “Agro-forestry companies should take full responsibility for fire prevention and mitigation in their concessions.” Speaking at the at at the third Sustainable World Resources dialogue he went on to say, ” There must not be a repeat of last year’s fires, because the prolonged season of dryness allowed fires to burn uncontrollably and in a very widespread way”.

He added, “Companies practising unsustainable production that affect us with haze must know that their actions will not lead to profitability and that they will have to face the consequences sooner or later.”

In this El Nino year the Minister’s comments are timely.  They also and stand as a fair warning that given the lack of enforcement, apparent in the Indonesia’s response to extensive burning of cleared peatlands, smoke haze is most likely to return in dry season.

In response to Masagos Zulkifli’s comments Dr Nurbaya is reported as claiming that the Indonesian government has taken substantial steps to prevent land and forest fires.  Asserting national sovereignty, and possibly playing to the domestic audience,  she added that such steps are not because of pressure from other countries.

Dr Nurbaya insisted that, “We have been consistent in sticking to our part of the bargain, especially by attempting to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires and by consistently enforcing the law. So, my question is – what has the Singaporean government done? I feel that they should focus on their own role.”  She continued insisting that, “There is really no need to comment too much on the part Indonesia is currently playing. However, with all due respect to my Singaporean counterpart, what are they doing? And where has it got them?”

Channel News Asia summarises her comments as asserting that, “the Indonesian government has taken action against companies – especially those headquartered in Singapore – found to be negligent in handling land and forest fires that occur on their concessions.” She added, “This is just one example of how we are not shirking our responsibilities and are doing what is expected of us.”

In conclusion she expressed appreciation for  “the input provided to us by our Singaporean neighbours,” observing that we “cherish our bilateral partnership,” but added “I would respectfully ask them to stop making so many comments, particularly when it comes to the fires and haze-related issues. We each have our own part to play and we should focus on carrying this out.”

On Friday, the head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency Nazir Foead had also pledged at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources that there is “zero chance” that any haze this year will be as severe as last year’s.

To make matters worse last year last year, Indonesia increased biodiesel subsidies and raised the minimum bio content in diesel fuel to 15% from 10%. According to Reuters, this year the bio fuel content in diesel is supposed to be increased to 20% in 2016 rising to 30% in 2020. Ironically Indonesia will struggle to maintain this program since rude oil prices have dropped to a 12-year low of around $28 a barrel and palm oil prices have increased making palm oil less attractive for blending.

Whatever the blend that prevails, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Singapore and Malaysia will face substantial smoke haze one the 2016 dry season arrives.

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