Singapore is bankrolling haze

PM Haze, Singapore, 25 April 2019  –  We all know that haze is caused by fires, but how do these fires start is the million dollar [rupiah] question. We often place blame on palm oil cultivators in Indonesia without asking ourselves the questions: Who are they farming for? Where do they get their money from?

We have focused on consumer based solutions in the last 3 years and have ascertained that our consumption choices may cause haze. This year we are pushing the envelope and have embarked on a research project to investigate into whether Singapore is bankrolling haze. Executive Director of PM.Haze, Benjamin Tay, recently caught up with Felicia Liu, a doctoral research candidate in a joint programme with Kings College London and the National University of Singapore. She is currently collaborating with PM Haze for our inaugural study on the landscape of [responsible] palm oil finance in Singapore.

B: What got you interested in environmental issues?

F: I started with interest in climate change. I wanted to know how different societies [with diverse cultures and languages] respond to climate change, how they perceive the environment? My interest stemmed from Hong Kong, a major financial hub in Asia, and I wanted to know what Hong Kong could do to stop climate change. The Hong Kong Exchange is a key market for raising capital and therefore engaging in green finance is an important way to move the climate conversation forward.

B: So, why palm oil and haze?

F: Some years back, I listened to a lecture on how oil palm plantations were affecting biodiversity. I was fascinated by the nuances around community livelihoods, indigenous rights and I wanted to dig deeper into how the social sciences could respond to a meteorological problem like haze [or air pollution]. I came across a paper co-authored by 139 highlighting the dangers of long term government and industry denial of the environmental problems caused by planting on peat. As we know from PM Haze’s work and the work of many peat scientists, it is not a good idea to plant on peat.

B: The haze issue is definitely complex and requires a socio-cultural, political and economic approach to understanding the underlying causes and find appropriate solutions. Tell us more about this palm oil finance research that you are working on with PM Haze.

F: Using Singapore as a case study, we hope to demonstrate the strategies that financial institutions can take to encourage oil palm industries to prevent haze and other forms of environmental degradation.

B: What is your ideal impact of the research?
F: I hope that our intended audiences can learn the landscape of sustainable finance. Arming ourselves with knowledge is an important step towards effective advocacy to prevent haze. I also hope that future campaigns can be designed and built – to attract attention in the public sphere and raise awareness on Singapore’s footprint in haze.