Radio Podcast Interview: Ecoshock “Waking up to Abrupt Climate Change”

I spoke to Mr Yew Jin Lee from the University of Cologne on transboundary haze and peat fires in the region for a radio podcast available at this link. Other experts who were interviewed include Alan Tan, Professor of the National University of Singapore Law School and Dr. Rachel Carmenta, Post-Doctoral Fellow at CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research), Indonesia.

Media Interview: CNBC

You can read the full article here.

  1. The haze has affected economies all around the region, but the political tone from the Indonesia’s neighbors has been relatively quiet. Is there a reason regional countries haven’t been more vocal? Are there likely closed-door discussions that might be more direct?
    There are two reasons for the quiet political tone. One is because of the traditional nature of diplomacy in ASEAN. Haze was one of the first environmental issues in the region that was picked up by ASEAN, and much of the regional communication over the issue has been done through or under the auspices of this organization. Hence, the nature of engagement on this issue has very much been following the non-interference, non-confrontational norms of the organization. Under ASEAN norms, it would seem that it is more important to keep Indonesia “on side” (not to offend or overtly pressure Indonesia), with resolving the problem more of a secondary concern. The second reason is because of the interwoven agribusiness linkages that blur the lines between the culprit and victim in this issue. Even though most of the fires occur in Indonesia, commercial plantations, many of which have Malaysian and Singaporean links, have been found to be a major source of these fires there. Hence, neighbouring governments must tread carefully to safeguard and protect their commercial interests in Indonesia. Of course we are not privy to close-door discussions, so we cannot speculate on that. However, the nature of ASEAN also is that most sensitive issues are discussed off-the-record (corridor, or coffee-break diplomacy) so this is quite likely.
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Media Interview: Malaysian Insider

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  1. When did the haze begin to become an annual occurrence, and what are the causes behind it?
    Southeast Asia has been experiencing almost annual haze since 1982. Level of severity varies according to the El-Nino season; El-Nino years (eg. this year) are drier and thus this is when we see more severe haze. During the early years, the haze was normally attributed to villagers in various parts of Indonesia (and to a lesser extent Malaysia) practising swidden agriculture, specifically slashing and burning different parts of the forest to make way for new crops as they go along. However, as time went by, more and more of the haze has been attributed to commercial plantations, especially oil palm and to a certain extent pulp and paper. A key contributor are plantations opening up on peatlands. Even though peatlands are protected lands, demand for land and also other factors (like the lack of villagers living here) has encouraged (usually illegal) opening of these lands. Peatlands are highly fire prone when dried out in preparation for planting. When burned, it produces the thick, black, and heavy smoke that easily travel across state boundaries. And these fires are notoriously hard to put out, as they burn underground. Continue reading

Media Interview: Berita Daily

You can read the full article here.

  1. Prime Minister Najib Razak has said urged the Indonesian government to act against the haze causing culprits from the country.Seeing as the haze is no longer something new and can also be considered an annual nuisance, what can the Indonesia do to help curb the matter once and for all?
    The Indonesian government must overcome the corruption and patronage that is rife in their land management. There are two aspects to this. First, the government should ensure that peatlands are not released for agricultural development. Peatlands, when drained for agriculture, become very dry and fire prone (be it accidental or manmade fires). And the fire that burns on peatlands are especially thick, sooty and heavy, which produce the worst kind of haze that can travel across vast distances. Second, the government should properly enforce all its burning laws to ensure that no company or individual can get away with using fire to clear land. At the moment, both of these aspects are easily sidestepped due to the problem of patronage and corruption in the country. Companies with good links to government elites can gain permits for peatlands, and the same firms can often get away with burning due to their healthy relationships with local police.
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