‘Zero chance’ of haze episode like last year, Indonesian official says

The Marina Bay Sands area shrouded in haze in September last year. — TODAY file pic
The Marina Bay Sands area shrouded in haze in September last year. — TODAY file pic

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SINGAPORE, April 15 — There is "zero chance" this year of Singapore and the region experiencing haze at the level seen last year, said the head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency at a sustainability forum in Singapore today.

The Indonesian government was shocked to see the prolonged and elevated air pollution caused by rampant fires last year and is committed to prevent a repeat of the episode, said Nazir Foead.

"We are not in the denial stage anymore," he told an audience of agroforestry and business players and non-governmental organisation representatives at the Third Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Action taken by Indonesia include President Joko Widodo yesterday issuing a moratorium on new permits for oil palm plantations, he said.

The Peatland Restoration Agency, formed in January, aims to restore 2.26 million hectares of peatland in seven provinces. Last year, almost 1 million of 2.6 million hectares burnt in Indonesia happened on peatland, which resulted in huge amounts of carbon released.

Nazir, who was previously with the World Wide Fund for Nature, said his agency aims to increase the water table of peatlands to reduce their likelihood to burn, and address the livelihoods of communities. To achieve the latter, it aims to identify crops that grow well in wet conditions.

Nazir said Singapore could serve as a market for these crops, and he is keen for the Singapore Environment Council’s (SEC) Green Label scheme to include a peatland conservation criterion. SEC chairman Isabella Loh confirmed that it is working on a new category for pulp and paper products that will include peatland management and fire prevention standards. The new category could be ready later this year, she said.

He also aims to develop a monitoring scheme for Indonesia’s peatlands. The dream is for the peatlands mapped by his agency to be made public for transparency and so the world can see how serious Indonesia is about preventing similar haze episodes in future.

Also speaking at the forum, Singapore Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said civil society is a key enabler to foster an informed consumer movement and strengthen support for sustainably sourced products. It is also critical in enhancing transparency and accountability of companies and their supply chains. Companies should invest in efforts to rehabilitate degraded and fire-prone peatlands, he added.

The Singapore government is sparing no effort to address commercial roots of transboundary haze by pursuing companies under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, he said.

The financial sector can also help raise the bar on sustainable financing and investment practices, he said. — TODAY

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