Greenpeace Points Way Through Singapore Haze

Press release - November 7, 2014
Greenpeace Southeast Asia has taken the opportunity of a roundtable event to call on Singapore and Indonesia to work together on solutions to what has become a recurrent regional scourge: the annual choking haze from fires burning in forest and peatland areas on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

“Clearing the haze is not simply a matter of enacting strong laws against burning, then prosecuting people who light fires. You need to look at where the fires are burning, and why,” said Teguh Surya, political analyst with Greenpeace’s Indonesia Forests Campaign. “Many of the worst fires are in Riau’s peatlands, which have been cleared and drained for oil palm and pulp plantations. Once fires start in drained peatlands, they burn and burn, smouldering underground, and no one can effectively deal with them until the monsoon comes,” Teguh said on Thursday.

Teguh’s comments were made during participation in a four-day event involving a roundtable and exhibition for academics, corporates and NGOs, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), and due to run until Sunday. After Singapore experienced its worst smoke haze on record in 2013, the Singapore government in September 2014 enacted a law designed to ensure accountability for transboundary air pollution. But the law has yet to make inroads into the problem, with many hundreds of fires still burning in neighbouring Sumatera and Kalimantan.

The question of who is to blame for the fires was posed during Thursday’s roundtable discussions, as Teguh explained. “The companies are quick to point the finger at small-scale farmers, who they say don’t have the technology to properly manage the land, and so resort to burning before planting crops. But blaming local communities is disingenuous at best. The peatland landscapes which burn each year have been drained by massive networks of deep canals dug into peatlands with excavators – heavy equipment that small-scale farmers simply don’t have.”

Greenpeace called on Singapore and other members of ASEAN to cooperate with the government of Indonesia in the spirit of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which Indonesia ratified in September 2014. Implementing the agreement requires concrete legal steps in Indonesia, including regulations to ensure full legal protection for peatlands, and strengthening and extending the current moratorium on new forest clearing permits which is due to expire in May 2015.

As Teguh observed, the private sector also has a key role to play in fighting and preventing the ongoing haze crisis. “Four of the most prominent traders in palm oil - Wilmar, GAR, Cargill and APICAL- have committed to a No Deforestation Pledge last month in New York. Now the question is what proactive steps these traders will take to prevent fires in their supply chains. As the ongoing drainage of peat lands lays the foundation of the fires, these companies need to urgently push all their suppliers to immediately stop the clearance and drainage of peat lands."

Media Enquiries:

Teguh Surya, Forests Political Campaigner, Greenpeace SEA Indonesia, Mob. +62819 15 1919 79
Igor O’Neill, International Media, Greenpeace Indonesia Forests Campaign, Mob. +62 811 1923 721