More cases of dangerous haze pollution have been observed in the last few weeks, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Today, civil society organisations in the region are calling on member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to protect and uphold citizens’ rights to clean air from the recurring haze by enacting a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) as a concrete first step.
In time for the Asia-Pacific Climate Week (APCW 2023) held from 13-17 November in Johor, Malaysia, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) and Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) reminded governments of their commitments to implement the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP).
Past pronouncements to stop the haze first began with the 2002 Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution but since then, very little progress has been made. With the combined reality of a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and El Niño, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia governments have started warning their citizens to prepare for possible transboundary haze. But warnings are not enough, especially with an ongoing climate emergency. Current climate temperatures are increasing the intensity and frequency of forest and land fires resulting in more cases of haze that has disrupted people’s lives, even causing a massive public health crisis in the regions.
Mercy Barends, Chairperson, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said: “The right to clean air is a basic human right that should be protected. The haze that has plagued Sumatra, Kalimantan, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, and other Southeast Asian areas in the past few months is a clear demonstration of the need for regional cooperation to combat pollution. Parliamentarians across Southeast Asia should advocate for the passing of a domestic Transboundary Haze Act in their respective countries and show their commitment to ensuring that everyone in the region can breathe easily.”
Heng Kiah Chun, Regional Campaign Strategist for Greenpeace Southeast Asia said: “Southeast Asians have had to deal with toxic haze for decades now due to Asean’s lack of political will to stop the haze even in their own backyard. It has impacted entire generations who have been forced to live with seasonal haze, some have suffered from health issues because their basic rights to clean air were not met. Asean pronouncements are useless if people continue to suffer and are forced to bear toxic air pollution. It’s time for Asean to act, put their citizens’ health and well-being first and put an end to Transboundary Haze.”
Both groups lauded the Establishment Agreement of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control (ACC THPC) and look forward to the full operationalisation of the Centre which aims to facilitate faster and effective implementation of all aspects of the AATHP to address transboundary haze pollution in the Asean region and to endorse revisions to the Standard Operating Procedures for Monitoring, Evaluation and Joint Emergency Response (SOP MAJER).
They also noted that diplomatic cooperation among Asean governments can coexist with action-oriented laws to ensure accountability and strengthen governments’ strategies in dealing with long-term haze issues. For Malaysia, Asean regional diplomatic cooperation should not be an excuse used to delay enforceable laws such as a THPA, which was tabled in Malaysia in 2019 but scrapped in August 2020 despite many Malaysian-owned companies being linked to forest fires in Indonesia.
In particular, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights demand Asean states to:
- Develop a regional legal framework to hold corporate entities accountable for forest fires due to peatland drainage, and commodity-driven deforestation and agricultural residue burning.
- Mandate all plantation companies with concession areas in flammable landscapes including peatland or forestland to publicly disclose and publish concession maps to be shared across all Asean member states to improve transparency in their supply chains.
- Regulate traceability requirements at every step of the supply chain of agribusiness and food industry to identify the origin of commodities and mitigate risks of deforestation, crop residue burning and transboundary haze at the source.
- Agree on a standardised air quality indicator to be used in all Asean member states to monitor and track air pollution based on a common methodology and act accordingly.