MINISTERS representing Asean Member States participated in the 15th Informal Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Environment and 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution on October 30-31, in Vientiane, Lao PDR.
The ministers reviewed regional cooperation on a number of environmental issues, in particular actions taken on sustainability under the Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) blueprint, where new initiatives were discussed to further promote further regional cooperation.
Brunei Darussalam was led by its Minister of Development, Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Suyoi bin Haji Osman, together with the Permanent Secretary (Administration and Finance) at the Ministry of Development, Awang Haji Muhammad Lutfi bin Haji Abdullah; senior officials from the Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Department at the Ministry of Home Affairs; and the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation at the Ministry of Development and the Ambassador of Brunei Darussalam to Lao PDR, Dr Haji Emran bin Bahar.
The ministers noted the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre’s (ASMC) weather outlook, where rainfall is expected to be slightly below average for most parts of the region for the rest of the year. With the onset of Northeast Monsoon, the northern parts of the region will experience its traditional dry season and an escalation of hotspot activities can be expected, while the southern parts of the region will see wetter weather conditions during the rainy season which will help subdue hotspots.
The ASMC also revealed that neutral conditions will continue to prevail in the equatorial Pacific Ocean with the likelihood of a weak El Niño developing towards the end of 2014 or early 2015.
The ministers agreed that the bloc will continue to be vigilant and take additional preventive measures and work on improving immediate fire suppression in the event of any occurrence of transboundary haze in the coming months.
Indonesia was congratulated for ratifying the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, culminating in the full ratification of the agreement which entered into force in 2003.
The ministers reviewed national, regional and sub-regional activities to address land and forest fires in the region and its associated transboundary haze pollution effects. They welcomed the significant progress in the implementation of the Work Programme of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, including on-the-ground activities and the implementation of the Asean Peatland Management Strategy (2006-2020). The ministers welcomed the adoption of the Terms of Reference for the Asean Task Force on Peatlands by the conference committee.
The ministers also adopted the ‘Alert Levels, Trigger Points and Actions on Fire Suppression’, to complement and enhance the existing standard operating procedure for monitoring, assessment and joint emergency response under the transboundary haze agreement, and urged AMS to operationalise it.
Meanwhile, they welcomed the initiative by Thailand to develop the Air4ASEAN app for smart phones and tablets, an application to make air quality information available to the public, including pollution indices for the region. The application will be launched later this month.
The ministers noted that several member states have contributed funds to combat the transboundary haze problem to help realise the pledge of providing an initial seed contribution of US$500,000.
The significant achievements made upon the completion of activities under the fiver-year Asean Peatland Forests Project (APFP) which was funded by the Global Environment Facility (2009-2014), and the good progress made under the EU-supported SEApeat Project – which aims to promote sustainable management of peatlands in Asean to sustain local livelihoods, reduce outbreaks of fires and its associated haze – was lauded by the participants.
The ministers appreciated the positive development of the Asean Programme on Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems (2014-2020) which was endorsed during the 9th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-9) for the Asean regional bloc’s transboundary haze agreement.
They noted the initiatives by the Sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution countries to take the necessary actions in order to operationalise monitoring systems. In the meantime, the participants encouraged member states to share the locations of hotspots that lead to transboundary haze, on a government-to-government basis.
Progress regarding the implementation of the Asean Action Plan on Joint Response to Climate Change was touched by ministers who said they looked forward to a successful outcome of UNFCCC negotiations.
The ministers noted that the joint statement by Asean Environment Ministers to the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 12) was conveyed from October 12-15, in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, to express their commitment to the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the Aichi targets.
The gathering also saw the nomination of Mt Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (MHRWS) and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) from the Philippines as the 34th and 35th Asean Heritage Park, a programme that serves as a regional network of national protected areas of high conservation importance. Preserving a complete spectrum of representative ecosystems to generate greater awareness, pride, appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of rich natural heritage is considered important. The Asean Centre for Biodiversity in Los Baños, the Philippines, serves as the Secretariat for the programme.
Meanwhile, the ministers presented Asean Environmentally Sustainable Cities (ESC) Awards and Asean Certificates of Recognition for Clean Air, Clean Water, and Clean Land, to selected cities in member states as a way of recognising exemplary initiatives to keep the region’s cities clean, green, and habitable even as they continue to grow as centres of economic activities.
All the Asean member states received an ESC Award, while certificates were presented to Indonesia (Clean Air for Big Cities), Vietnam (Clean Air for Small Cities), Cambodia (Clean Water for Big Cities) and Thailand (Clean Water for Small Cities). Thailand received two certificates (Clean Water as well as Clean Land for Small Cities).
The ministers met their counterparts from Japan, the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China at the 13th Asean+3 Environment Ministers Meeting on October 31, to review current activities and discuss cooperation on areas such as biodiversity, climate change, environmental education, environmental science and technology, and environmentally sustainable cities.
They also met their counterparts at the 4th East Asia Summit Environment Ministers Meeting (EAS-EMM) on October 31 to review current activities focusing on environmentally sustainable cities and discuss future cooperation under the EAS EMM framework.