Indonesian Lawmakers Approve Southeast Asia Smog-fighting Pact

Indonesian lawmakers have approved a pact for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to tackle smog pollution, becoming the grouping’s final member to sign up to the regional co-operation effort.

Indonesia has failed in previous attempts to stop the smog that results from annual slash-and-burn forest clearances which cause heavy smoke and pollution levels to rise across the region.

“We hope Indonesia will be able to control its natural resources to prevent haze pollution,” Indonesian lawmaker Milton Pakpahan said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution was  introduced in 2002 to improve the regional response in combating and monitoring haze pollution. Indonesia was the only ASEAN country not to have ratified the agreement.

As the biggest palm oil producer and a major pulp and paper supplier, Indonesia has now formally agreed to prevent and monitor haze pollution, and to cooperate at both the national and regional levels to stop the problem.

Many plantation firms are listed in neighboring Singapore, but blame the fires on smallholders. Green groups have criticized firms for not doing enough to stop haze or the rampant deforestation and destruction of carbon-rich peat lands in Indonesia.

In August, Singapore’s parliament passed a bill proposing fines for companies that cause pollution regardless of whether the companies operate on the island, though it remains to be seen how the law can be enforced.

Highlighting the difficulty of the task ahead, Singapore’s air pollution rose to unhealthy levels this week, as winds changed direction and wafted in light smoke from forest fires in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s disaster management agency also said on Monday the number of hot spots was increasing on the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, with the government deploying 300 military and police personnel and carrying out water-bombing to try and contain the fires.

Last year, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was forced to apologize to Malaysia and Singapore, where air pollution hit record levels, as thick smog caused by forest fires in Indonenia blanketed the two countries.

Indonesia’s President-elect Joko Widodo has vowed tough law enforcement to fix the recurring haze problem.  

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