Two years on, are there reasons for optimism?

September 2017 marks the 2-year anniversary of the 2015 Southeast Asia haze crisis. This article outlines the key developments in Indonesia and Singapore since the 2015 haze crisis in a time line format.

September 2017 marks the 2-year anniversary of the 2015 Southeast Asia haze crisis. Although the haze has not affected Singapore this year, land and forest fires are still raging this dry season in Indonesia. The government has declared emergency status in five provinces. This once again highlights that the underlying issues have not yet been resolved. Due to the complex social, economic and environmental nature of the haze all stakeholders – governments, companies, and civil societies all need to do their part for its resolution.

This article outlines the key developments in Indonesia and Singapore since the 2015 haze crisis in a time line format.

On the Indonesian side challenges in implementing peatland management policies are a major issue. The main developments include:

  • The formation and progress of the Peatland Restoration agency and its progress so far
  • Formation of Fire Free Alliance
  • Moratorium on new oil palm and mining permits
  • Lobbying by palm oil and paper groups to push back legislation

The developments on the Singapore side include:

  • The National Environment Agency (NEA)’s investigation of companies linked to the 2015 haze under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) is still on-going.
  • The government mandating green procurement of paper.
  • Following the responsible finance guidelines the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), DBS adopting NDPE policy and all three local banks adopting responsible financing frameworks.
  • More Singaporean businesses and organisations have joined Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil membership.
  • Sustainable palm oil products, especially palm-based cooking oil, are now widely available in supermarkets.

Timeline of key developments in Indonesia and Singapore since the 2015 haze

Month and Year Country Development
Sept 2015 Singapore The National Environment Agency (NEA) starts an investigation of four indonesia-based companies for their roles in the 2015 haze and issued a legal notice to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA).
October 2015 Singapore The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) temporarily suspends the use of Singapore Green Label Certification for APP products. Major supermarkets NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong withdraw all APP products from their shelves.

The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) releases guidelines on responsible financing comprising three main elements: disclosure of senior management’s commitment, internal controls that support responsible financing, and raising staff awareness on environmental, social and governance issues.

Jan 2016 Indonesia The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) is established, reporting directly to the President.

The responsibility of BRG is to coordinate and facilitate the restoration of peatlands in priority regions, including the provinces of Riau, South Sumatra, Jambi, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and Papua.

BRG’s target is to restore the approximately two millions of hectares of degraded peatland by 2020. 1.4 million out of targeted 2 million ha are in concession area.

BRG Progress:

2016: target to restore 600,000 ha, realised 260,000 ha (43%). More than 16,000 canal blocks built.

2017: target to restore 700,000 ha, more than 20,000 canal blocks to be built. Realised less than 10% by May

February 2016 Indonesia The Fire Free Alliance is launched, aiming to achieve fire prevention mainly via community engagement. Members include Asia Pacific Resources International Holding Ltd. (APRIL), Asian Agri Group, Musim Mas Holdings, Wilmar International Limited, Sime Darby Berhad, IOI Corporation Berhad, PM Haze [NGO], Rumah Pohon [NGO], IDH (The Sustainable Trade Initiative)[NGO]. As of 2017, FFA’s initiatives are reported as being implemented in more than 200 villages in Indonesia, covering more than 1.5 million hectares of land.
April 2016 Indonesia President Jokowi declares a moratorium on new oil palm and mining permits. A timeline for implementation is not given.
June 2016 Singapore WWF Singapore and founding members Unilever, Danone, Ayam Brand, IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, establish the Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (SASPO). The alliance aims to engage more local businesses to make a transition to sustainable palm oil.
October 2016 Singapore NTUC FairPrice announces that their house brand cooking oil is from RSPO sources.
November 2016 Singapore First RSPO certified cooking oil carrying the RSPO label (Cabbage Brand by Ngo Chew Hong) is found in major supermarkets.
Dec 2016 Indonesia President Jokowi issues a moratorium banning all activities that damage the hydrological functions of peatlands. The moratorium prohibits the draining and clearing of not only new peatland, but also concession land previously licensed to plantation companies
Jan 2017 Singapore The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) launches new green label (SGL) category for pulp and paper products which encompasses peatland management and fire prevention standards as part of its criteria
Feb 2017 Indonesia A series of guidelines for peatland management is published. These guidelines address the zoning of peatland, measuring water table, recovering peat ecosystem, obligations and compensations for pulp and paper companies on peat.

Indonesia’s peatland hydrological area (KHG) map completed. The map divides Indonesia’s peatland areas into two categories, namely conservation and production. The Indonesian government has started the process of converting concessions and plantations in peatlands into conservation areas. Companies affected are required to submit working plan contains details of its operation map, as well as its plans for recovery of its peat areas and convert back its concessions.

March 2017 Singapore The National Environment Agency clears two of the six companies investigated for their role in the 2015 haze under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA). The remaining four companies are suppliers to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which only provided limited information requested by NEA.
May 2017 Indonesia President Jokowi extends the moratorium on the issuing of new conversion permits for primary forest and peatlands. The Presidential Decree gives instructions to specific government agencies regarding a two-year suspension of new permits on areas of primary natural forest and peatland. However, a new study finds that the moratorium has “scant effect on forest protection”.

Palm oil and paper lobby groups, The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) and the Indonesian Association of Forestry Concessionaires (APHI), lodges a judicial review with the Constitutional Court. They want the court to amend the 1999 Forestry Law and the 2009 Environment Law so that companies are not strictly liable for fires that occur in their concessions. They also want to the court to extend the ban on using fire to clear land to small farmers.

June 2017 Singapore The government launches “Public Sector Sustainability Plan 2017-2020”. Under green procurement section, white printing paper is to be accredited with the SEC’s (SGL).

DBS announces that it will require palm oil companies seeking loans to demonstrate alignment with no deforestation, no peat and no exploitation policies, or other equivalents that are increasingly adopted by the palm oil sector. This announcement comes as a response to a report by NGOs Rainforest Foundation Norway, AidEnvironment and Fair Finance Guide Sweden and Norway, which states the banks have provided loans to palm oil firms accused of environmental damage and unsustainable practices in Indonesia.

July 2017 Indonesia PermenLHK No. 40/2017 land swap scheme is published. It outlines the requirement of timber planters to manage substitution land in their concessions. 910,393 hectares of concession areas which located inside protected peat areas are to be swapped with over 900,000 hectares of empty land throughout Indonesia .

Jul 2017, land and forest fires have broken out. The government declares an emergency status in five provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan.

Singapore Singapore reaffirmes its commitment to work together with Indonesia on haze and provide assistance to mitigate fires.
August 2017 Singapore Three more RSPO certified cooking oils are found on supermarket shelves: Chief brand (Sime Darby), Golden (Lam Soon) and New Moon pure vegetable cooking oil.

References and further readings:

  1. First real test for Jokowi on haze as annual fires return to Indonesia,
  2. Here’s what Indonesia is doing about its deadly haze from forest and peatland fires,
  3. In Indonesia, finding the right ways to fight fire and haze,
  4. Keynote address by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the 4th Singapore Dialogue on sustainable world resources on 6 April 2017,–minister-for-the-environment-and-water-resources–at-the-4th-singapore-dialogue-on-sustainable-world-resources-on-6-april-20