Monash School of Arts and Social Sciences Seminar Series (Invited Speaker)

Seminar Series (No.3, 2013)

“Regional Cooperation, Patronage, and the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution”

Speaker: Dr. Helena Varkkey
Date: 27 August 2013, Tuesday
Time: 12.00pm-1.00pm
Venue: SASS Meeting Room 2-6-41 (Building 2, Level 6, No. 41)
Contact persons: Lee Kah Siong (Logistics) and Dr. Marco Buente (Academic matters)

Speaker’s profile:
Helena Varkkey is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, University of Malaya. She recently completed her PhD from the University of Sydney, on the topic of the political economy of palm oil in the Southeast Asian region, focusing on the link between patronage and transboundary haze. Her current research interests include environmental politics and the political economy of agribusiness in the region.

Transboundary haze pollution is an almost annual occurrence in Southeast Asia. Haze originates from peat and forest fires mostly in Indonesia, with Malaysia and Singapore suffering the worst of its effects.Most of these fires are man-made and linked to land-clearing activities of local and foreign commercial oil palm plantations. The regional nature of the haze has resulted in a concentration of haze mitigation activities at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) level. However, these initiatives continually fail to effectively mitigate haze. I argue that this failure is due to the influence of patronage politics in the sector, which is linked to the ASEAN style of regional engagement that prioritizes the maintenance of national sovereignty. States are compelled to act in their national interests, as opposed to the collective regional interests. The economic importance of the oil palm sector to the states involved, coupledwith the political importance of the clients populating this sector to elite patrons in the governments, meant that the maintenance of the status quo, where clients could continue to clear land using fire, was of crucial national interest. Therefore, the ASEAN style of regional engagement has enabled political elites to shape ASEAN initiatives to preserve the interests of their clients, while the public continue to suffer the haze. I demonstrate this through a close analysis of the negotiations, outcomes and the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, with a special focus on Indonesia’s continued delay in ratifying the treaty.

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