Singapore Institute of International Affairs Warns of Potential Transboundary Haze Incident
The latest Haze Outlook 2023 report, released by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), has issued a warning about a high risk of severe haze occurring in Southeast Asia in the coming year. While not projected to be as severe as the devastating haze of 2015, the report advises individuals and governments to be prepared for potential haze-related challenges. The comprehensive report takes into account various factors, including weather patterns, government policies, and market conditions, offering insights into the likelihood of a transboundary haze incident affecting Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
This year’s Haze Outlook report, the fifth edition of its kind, has introduced a “red” rating for the first time since its inception in 2019. The red rating signifies the highest risk level for transboundary haze in the region. The forecast is primarily influenced by predictions of a severe dry spell caused by the El Niño effect, which could be further intensified by a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event. While weather conditions play a significant role, other factors such as government policies and market conditions can also impact the severity of the haze situation.
Despite the red rating, the report acknowledges the progress made by Indonesia and other ASEAN countries in strengthening law enforcement, improving fire prevention and suppression, and reducing deforestation. These efforts have contributed to a significant decline in deforestation rates. Even in the event of a severe heatwave, the report suggests that outcomes can be mitigated compared to the record-breaking haze incidents witnessed during the heatwaves of 1997 and 2015.
The report emphasises the importance of continued vigilance by key countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, given the looming threat of a strong El Niño. Preventive actions, proactive responses, and effective communication with neighboring countries are deemed crucial. Furthermore, sub-regional efforts within ASEAN to address transboundary haze issues should be strengthened, including the formulation of a new roadmap following up on ASEAN’s previous 2016-2020 Haze-Free Roadmap.
The SIIA report calls for greater engagement between governments and the private sector in land management practices. Plantation businesses are urged to invest in fire prevention, fire suppression, traceability, and sustainable practices. Prevention remains a key focus. However, the report also stresses the need for adequate preparation in the event of more severe outcomes. Protocols to safeguard citizens during heatwaves and severe transboundary haze should be established or expanded, ensuring sufficient supplies such as N95 masks to avoid shortages.
The report concludes that there is an opportunity to shift the narrative surrounding fires and haze towards sustainable and fire-free production, capitalizing on global market demands for responsible supply chains. The exploration of opportunities in biofuels and biomass is encouraged. Green and transition finance are seen as instrumental in driving transformation in the sector. With effective policymaking and multi-stakeholder cooperation between governments and businesses, ASEAN can strive to ensure future economic growth aligns with environmental sustainability.