A high-level meeting to discuss approaches for curbing fires that drive haze over Southeast Asia ended today with a recommendation that governments establish a haze monitoring system that would share detailed land-use and concession maps to help coordinate action against companies that set illegal fires, reports the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The meeting, which involved ministers of the environment from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, was called after fires in Sumatra cast a thick pall of haze over Singapore and Malaysia, triggered widespread health alerts. It aimed to advance stalled efforts to develop better strategies for addressing fires that burn forests, peatlands, and other areas on a regular basis in Sumatra and Borneo.
WRI said the meeting produced “mixed” results.
“The Ministers’ recommendation to share company concession data between governments is an important step forward, but lack of commitment to public disclosure is a serious obstacle to progress,” wrote Nigel Sizer, Director of the Forests Initiative at the World Resources Institute, in a blog post. “This agreement represents a missed opportunity, as publicly available concession data is essential for coordination between governments and local agencies, for contract compliance between commodity producers and their corporate customers, and for independent monitoring by researchers and civil society.”
Discrepancies between boundary maps for a concession held by the Sime Darby palm oil company made available to WRI. Sime Darby’s self-reported boundaries represent the Business Use Rights License (known in Indonesia as a Hak Guna Usaha or “HGU” license), but there is great discrepancy between the national government concession boundaries (even between 2010 and 2013) and the license information provided by the company. Courtesy of WRI.
Sizer went on to say that lack of transparency around land-use and concession ownership has been an obstacle in tracking down who is responsible for fires. WRI’s analysis found significant discrepancies between concession boundaries used by companies and local and national governments. These discrepancies make it difficult to determine who is accountable hot hotspots found in concession areas.
“The recent haze crisis demonstrated that better public information could improve coordination between national and local governments, and with companies,” Sizer continued. “Without a single public reference, law enforcement agencies and others government departments would be unable to adequately enforce fire prevention laws and respond to future crises.”
“It is also strongly in the interest of companies to make concession maps public. Companies have reputational and operational risks with non-disclosure, as the media and government seek accountability for fires using outdated public concession data.”
WRI, Greenpeace, CIFOR, and WWF/Eyes on the Forest were among the NGOs that released detailed analysis of hotspots during the haze crisis last month.