Ministers responsible for the environment from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand or their representatives met on the occasion of the Sixteenth Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution on 2 April 2014 in Brunei Darussalam.
The Ministers noted the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre’s (ASMC) weather outlook where, among others, rainfall is expected to be below average for most parts of the southern region until the end of the Southwest Monsoon season in early October 2014. ASMC also informed that the prevailing neutral conditions of ENSO (neither El Niño nor La Niña) are expected to persist for the first half of 2014, with a likelihood of El Nino developing in the second half of 2014 which may exacerbate the dry weather conditions. An increase in hotspot activities may lead to the occurrence of transboundary smoke haze during periods of dry weather conditions. The MSC countries will continue to be vigilant and take additional preventive measures and immediate fire suppression in the event of any occurrence of transboundary haze in the coming months.
The Ministers noted that the unusual dry weather conditions in the first quarter of 2014 has brought about a serious escalation of fires in several countries in the region. The Ministers noted the concerted efforts taken by these countries to control the fires and noted the importance of the lessons learnt in further improving the national and regional mechanisms to mitigate fires during such adverse weather conditions.
The Ministers expressed appreciation for the substantive efforts by Indonesia in implementing its Plan of Action (PoA) in Dealing with Transboundary Haze Pollution. Close and continuous monitoring of hotspots and coordination among local government, national government, private sector and communities continue to be enhanced as measures to prevent and suppress land and forest fires. National emergency response has been carried out since 15 March 2014 which included mobilisation of a national task force team, ground suppression and aerial operation (cloud seeding and water bombing), and intensive health care for affected communities. The National Team to Control Forest Areas and Forest Fires in Riau was established by the Ministry of Forestry decree to enhance law enforcement. The MSC member states reaffirmed their offer of assistance for emergency response should the situation warrants it.
The Ministers commended Indonesia’s commitment to expedite the process of ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. The Ministers noted the information by Indonesia that the deliberations in Parliament for ratification is proceeding smoothly. The Ministers urged that Indonesia place its highest priority on its ratification and complete it at the earliest possible time.
The Ministers provided guidance on the implementation of the Strategic Review of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) Programmes and Activities, which covers enhancing haze control management through early warning/monitoring, fire prevention and fire suppression, including refinement of the Fire Danger Rating System; establishment of a Task Force to review alert levels and formulate trigger points to ensure expeditious fire suppression and effective emergency response; and identifying training needs of member states under the Regional Haze Training Network. The Ministers noted that Malaysia will host the first meeting of the Task Force in June 2014. The Ministers recognized that it is important for ASEAN to review the trigger points and alert levels for expeditious response.
The Ministers noted the continued efforts undertaken to further enhance bilateral collaboration between Indonesia and Malaysia, and Indonesia and Singapore, to address transboundary haze issues, including through the proposed new Memoranda of Understanding that will build upon the previous successful experiences in bilateral cooperation in Riau and Jambi provinces. In this regard, Malaysia and Singapore look forward to finalising their respective MOUs with Indonesia soon.
The Ministers noted that the 23rd ASEAN Summit had welcomed the adoption of the recommendation of the 14th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment (IAMME) for an ASEAN Sub-regional Haze Monitoring System (HMS), as a joint haze monitoring system among Sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Transboundary Haze Pollution countries. The Ministers also acknowledged that the HMS is a useful tool to assist in monitoring and internal enforcement actions against irresponsible parties contributing to fires. The Ministers noted that the HMS has not been operationalized as the land use and concession maps have not been provided, due to the difficulties in sharing the land-use and concession maps by the MSC countries. The Ministers urged the MSC countries to take the necessary action in order to operationalise the HMS. In the meantime, the Ministers encouraged MSC countries to share hotspot areas that cause transboundary haze on Government-to-Government basis.
The Ministers further noted the progress of implementation of the Project on Rehabilitation and Sustainable Use of Peatland Forests in Southeast Asia (funded by Global Environment Facility) and the SEApeat Project (funded by European Union), including the various activities conducted at the pilot sites in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam. The Ministers emphasised that sustainable management of fire prone areas especially peatlands remains a high priority for prevention of fires and smoke haze, as well as the mitigation of the impact of climate change. The Ministers noted the substantive progress in the development of the ASEAN Programme on Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems 2014-2020 and the encouraging response and support from ASEAN Dialogue Partners and other partners, and key stakeholders such as the plantation companies towards the Programme. The Ministers renewed their commitment to coordinate the implementation of this regional Programme through national level support and commitment.
The Ministers noted that the next MSC Meeting may be held during the 15th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Environment (IAMME) in September 2014 in Lao PDR, or earlier if necessary.
The Ministers expressed their appreciation to the Government of Brunei Darussalam for organising the 16th MSC Meeting and the excellent arrangements made and hospitality provided.