Are We Causing the Haze?

Slash-and-burn agriculture in Indonesia has often been blamed as the cause of the haze. Yet, slash-and-burn agriculture has been practised by indigenous tribes and small-scale farmers for thousands of years. Why has the haze emerged only in recent decades?

The uncontrolled expansion of palm oil and paper plantations in recent decades is one major reason.

Are Singaporeans Involved?

People in Singapore buy palm oil and paper products every day. In fact, palm oil is widely used as a cooking oil here. We surveyed some popular restaurant and fast food chains in Singapore and found that 32 out of 33 were using cooking oil containing palm oil.

Unfortunately, awareness of palm oil is alarmingly low.

When we asked them what type of oil they were using, many of the restaurant staff themselves were not even aware that they were using palm oil and would refer to it with generic terms such as “vegetable oil” or “tempura oil”.

  • Use palm oil in cooking oil
  • Do not use palm oil in cooking oil

We are also investing in palm oil and paper companies either directly through buying their shares or when our banks and financial institutions invest in these companies.

Our Singapore Dollars are therefore fueling the expansion of palm oil and pulp and paper plantations.

haze-causing money flow

The big question. Are we giving money to haze-causing or haze-free companies?

Haze-causing companies…

use fire to clear land
Use fire to clear land.
land conflict
Snatch land from locals, with fire being used as a weapon.
Destroy forests, resulting in drier and fire-prone area.
drain peatland
Drain peat, exposing flammable peat soil.
inadequate fire fighting resources
Lack manpower and equipment to fight fires.

Haze-free companies…

zero-burning clearance
Use zero-burning methods to clear land.
cooperation with locals
Respect land rights and work with local communities to minimise use of fire.
protect forests
Protect forests and plant on existing open land.
protect peatland
Avoid new planting on peat and raise water level in existing plantations on peat.
sufficient fire fighting resources
Have sufficient manpower and equipment to detect and stop fires early.

What is Singapore doing?

In recent years, baby steps have been taken to ensure that our Singapore dollars are supporting haze-free rather than haze-causing companies.

However, there is still much we can do. Around the world, countries and companies which are not even impacted by the haze are doing more.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified palm oil is currently the closest option we have for haze-free palm oil. Only one Singapore company has switched to using RSPO-certified palm oil for their cooking oil. Meanwhile in Europe, 11 countries have committed to using 100% certified sustainable palm oil (find out more on RSPO’s webpage on national commitments).

The Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) announced in 2016 that all listed companies had to publish sustainability reports, thus allowing investors to better understand the environmental and social impacts of these companies before investing. However, none of the Singapore banks and financial institutions have publicly disclosed policies to ensure that their investments and loans only go to responsible companies.

On the other hand, 84 financial institutions globally have adopted the Equator Principles which commits them to implementing stringent checks in their financing decisions. The Norges Bank even dropped 11 companies in 2015 for causing deforestation.

National commitments to sustainable palm oil