I was recently invited to give one of the keynote speeches for the 55th Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) held in Pullman Hotel, Kuching, Sarawak. My speech was entitled “The Political Future of Haze and Peatlands in Southeast Asia”. The abstract is reproduced below:
The Southeast Asian nations, especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, have been suffering from almost annual episodes of haze pollution for decades now. Smoke from peat and forest fires, mostly in Indonesia, travel across boundaries, resulting in transboundary haze. Haze is not only a physical problem linked to fire, but also a complex political one. Many fires have been traced to land clearance activities of agribusiness concessionaries in Indonesia, who are not only local but often also Malaysian and Singaporean. Demand for land have encouraged the opening up of ecologically-important and fire-prone peatlands, which are largely protected by law but often licensed out to politically well-connected businesses. Efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to encourage cooperation to mitigate haze have been unsuccessful due to national interests and weak institutions. Is the future of Southeast Asia destined to be hazy? This talk will focus on recent developments to consider if the combined physical and political complexities of this transboundary problem can ever be reconciled.