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The Jakarta Post
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New regional body to net forest criminals

  • Margareth S. Aritonang

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, September 18 2014 | 08:06 am
New regional body to net forest criminals

      

Dark and hazy:  A general view of residential apartments in the Singapore city skyline shrouded by haze on Wednesday. The smog is believed to have come from forest fires burning on neighboring Sumatra. (Reuters/Edgar Su )

Indonesia is proposing to lead the forthcoming ASEAN secretariat in charge of joint efforts to mitigate transboundary air pollution caused by land and forest fires in the region.

As the last of the signatories to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, Indonesia'€™s decision to officially adopt the decade-old treaty on Tuesday finally paved the way for the establishment of a joint secretariat that will function to coordinate the information, reports and policies needed to address the problems raised by transboundary haze pollution
in the region.

'€œIt will be good for Indonesia to host the secretariat as it will make the most of the country'€™s role in the efforts jointly taken to face the problems caused by transboundary haze pollution, which mostly originates from this country,'€ the Environment Ministry'€™s deputy minister for environmental damage control and climate change, Arief Yuwono, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Arief explained that the joint secretariat would bring together international experts who would work on comprehensive recommendations for state members dealing with land and forest fires that cause transboundary air pollution.

Arief was aware of the concern that such a secretariat could open a door for the infringement of territorial sovereignty, but he said that the office would only serve as a center for information sharing, to which a state member could contribute.

Upon the establishment of the secretariat, Article 20 of the haze treaty requires voluntary fund-raising from state members to finance the programs.

Indonesia'€™s decision to finally ratify the haze treaty it had already signed in 2003 garnered support from the country'€™s environmentalists, highlighting that the move was the beginning to a huge task.

William Sabandar, the chief operating officer of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus (REDD+) Management, told the Post that although the ratification was a good step, it required transparency among governments and businesses to prevent the fires, especially regarding permits for opening plantations.

William said that currently the government was conducting a compliance audit in Riau, which is among the regions that are prone to forest fires, as an effort to promote transparency and the thoroughness of information.

'€œWe check if the companies that have land concessions and regional governments are obeying the regulations,'€ he said.

William said further that the key to curbing the incidents of fire was consistent enforcement of the regulations of the haze treaty as well as of the country'€™s Environmental Protection and Management Law.

He also highlighted the importance of catching criminals who unlawfully slash and burn forests and open areas outside of their licenses.

Last week, the Pelalawan District Court in Riau sentenced Malaysian company PT ADEI Plantation and Industry and its general manager, Malaysian Danesuvaran KR Singam, for their activities that caused forest fires in the region.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Yuyun Indradi added that there should be a thorough legal framework to catch rogue businesses and their investors. He suggested that local banks and stock markets exclude such companies or investors from business and trade activities in Indonesia.

'€œBanks and stock markets can become environmental law enforcement tools,'€ he said.

He said that the government should also follow Singapore'€™s lead, which had passed a haze law that has the authority to sue individuals or companies that cause severe air pollution in Singapore through slash-and-burn agricultural practices in neighboring countries up to S$2 million (US$1.6 million). (ask)

» Editorial p6

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