Commentary on ARIScope: “How Covid-19 is affecting governance in Indonesia’s peatlands”

Tan Zu Dienle is working together with me on the Work Package on Biomass Burning/Haze in the Sustainable Development of Transboundary Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia (TECSEA) project at Asia Research Institute, NUS. During my time as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at ARI, I have worked with Zu on a commentary on the effect of Covid-19 on Indonesia’s peatland governance. The commentary has been published here.

Opinion Piece in Business Times Singapore “Are we willing to pay for ecosystem services provided by others?”

I spent six months as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore in 2021. During my time here, I continued work on-site on a Singapore government-funded project on “Sustainable Governance of Transboundary Environment Commons in Southeast Asia” (TECSEA). I worked with two collaborators on the TECSEA project, Dr Michelle Miller (ARI) and Associate Professor Dr Alberto Salvo (Department of Economics), on an opinion piece about Payments for Ecosystem Services in the Singaporean context. The article was published in Business Times Singapore and is available to read here.

The Vibes Opinion: Leveraging soft power in sustainable palm oil branding

I co-wrote a piece with Ms Sujatha Spaapen on soft power aspects of Malaysian sustainable palm oil, which was published here in The Vibes on 3 February 2021. We argued that Malaysia should leverage soft power strategies to co-opt rather than coerce countries to be more receptive to the Malaysian brand of sustainable palm oil, with the broader goal to push the sustainable palm oil agenda forward in a more inclusive manner for the global South.

Fulcrum Commentary: The Value(s) of Palm Oil

I co-authored a piece for Fulcrum (formerly known as ISEAS Commentaries) with Dr Patrick O’Reilly from the University of Leicester, Dr Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad from Universitas Indonesia, and Dr Rory Padfield from the University of Leeds. We reflect on the EU-Southeast Asia palm oil dispute:

“This dispute goes deeper than environmental and economic trade-offs. It is essentially a conflict over values. Each side focusses on different types of goods vested with different meanings, which each seeks to protect. Progress towards resolution is extremely elusive as each selects particular facts while ignoring others to support their respective black-and-white positions.”

The full commentary is available here.

Commentary in ISIS Focus: “ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Under the Green New Deal: Reducing Emissions and Air Pollution”

I contributed a commentary to ISIS Focus 4/2020 No.14, a special edition on ASEAN-ROK relations under ROK’s New Southern Policy. An except is below, and the full article is available here.

The Green New Deal has the potential to diversify the focus of South Korea’s New Southern Policy by inserting the element of environment in a foreign policy that is thought to be too economic-centric. South Korea and ASEAN must consider greater cooperation in two areas under this element: eco-friendly vehicles and environmental governance

LSE Southeast Asia Blog: COVID-19, Southeast Asian Haze, and Socioenvironmental-Epidemiological Feedbacks

“While COVID-19 may be increasing the risk of a significant haze incident, there is growing evidence that suggests that air pollution both decreases base level immunity to the disease and increases mortality”, writes Dr Thomas Smith, Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography & Environment, London School of Economics in London, and Dr Helena Varkkey, Senior Lecturer at the Department of International & Strategic Studies, the University of Malaya in Malaysia.

You can read the entire blogpost here.

TECSEA Blogpost Series: Public Values and Cross-Border Sentiments on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia

As part of our Toyota Foundation project on “The Southeast Asian haze crisis: Public values as a pathway towards constructive cross-border sentiments and engagement”, we, a group of researchers from the University of Malaya, University of Nottingham Malaysia, and Leeds Trinity University, conducted a series of focus groups in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

The Singaporean focus groups were held at the Asia Research Institute in collaboration with our colleagues from the Transboundary Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia (TECSEA) research project. A blogpost was written as a reflection and preliminary analysis of the Singapore focus groups, contextualised within the broader regional project. Click here to read the blogpost, or here for an updated version at ARIScope.


The Indonesian focus groups were held at Pekanbaru, Riau in collaboration with our colleagues from the Department of International Relations, Universitas Abdurrab, Riau. Similarly, another blogpost was written as a reflection and preliminary analysis of the Indonesia focus groups, contextualised within the broader regional project. Click here to read the blogpost.

The Malaysian focus groups were held at Universiti Malaya. Our reflections and preliminary analysis for the Malaysian focus groups, contextualised within the broader regional project can be viewed here.

Between The Lines Special Edition: Chronicles Of The Elusive Malaysian Haze Act

Continuing my collaboration with Trident Media’s Between The Lines Online Newsletter, I have written an opinion piece on the Malaysian Haze Act which has been shelved by the ministry after months of stakeholder consultations. Click here to read the article.


My other articles on haze with Trident media can be found here (No Smoke Without Fire: The Politics Of Haze In Southeast Asia) and here (Here’s How Much The Haze Costs Us).


Op-Ed on AsiaGlobal Online on Covid-19 and Air Pollution in SEA, 23 April 2020


Lead: As the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, preliminary research findings highlight how air quality and Covid-19 death rates may be linked, says Helena Varkkey of the University of Malaya. While this correlation may seem tenuous at first, it is not entirely surprising: After all, acute respiratory distress syndrome, which has long been linked to polluted air, has been a major cause of Covid-19-related deaths. The new information on air quality could inform the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in Southeast Asia, now and in the future.

The full article is available here.