Thursday, September 28, 2023
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Call for regional cooperation to tackle transboundary haze

James Kon

With the potential of hot and dry weather in the coming months due to El Nino developing this year, Minister of Development Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Muhammad Juanda bin Haji Abdul Rashid, urged the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution Countries (MSC) comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei Darussalam to continue working closely together and further strengthen regional cooperation towards preventing haze pollution.

The minister highlighted on the importance of continuous regional cooperation to tackle haze at the 24th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution (24th MSC) held in Singapore on June 8. The minister shared that Brunei Darussalam’s air quality was good with a pollutant standard index (PSI) below 50. The favourable wind conditions and intermittent showers and rains have lessened the impact of hazy condition in the Sultanate. The 24th Meeting of the Technical Working Group on Transboundary Haze Pollution (24th TWG) preceded the meeting.

According to JASTRe, the meeting noted the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre’s (ASMC) weather and smoke haze review, as well as outlook for the southern ASEAN region. Hotspot counts detected in January to May were around 16 per cent lower than in January to May 2022 for the southern ASEAN region.

Based on current climate models, ASMC forecasts a 70 to 80 per cent chance for El Niño conditions to develop between June to September 2023 and for a positive Indian Ocean Dipole to develop between June and July 2023.

Both these phenomena would likely result in below normal rainfall for many parts of the southern ASEAN region in the next few months. Alert Level One was issued for the southern ASEAN region on May 29 which indicates the start of the dry season.

The meeting noted ASMC’s continuous efforts to improve its products and services in remote sensing, dispersion modelling, sub-seasonal to seasonal prediction and climate change projections modelling. This supports fires/haze monitoring, assessment and early warning, as well as weather and climate prediction in the ASEAN region. The ASMC extended its regional capability building programme to 2027 and conducted an attachment programme for participants from Myanmar and Laos from March to April.

The meeting noted that the information presented by the Malaysian Meteorological Department (METMalaysia) on the refinement of the Southeast Asia Fire Danger Rating System (SEA FDRS) comprises three elements. An increase in the number of weather stations from 264 to 459. The implementation of new fire danger code for the northern ASEAN sub-region (Fire Weather Index – FWI and Fine Fuel Moisture Code – FFMC) and simulation of the seven-day forecast. The meeting also noted the refinement development started from 2021 to 2022 and the new element of FDRS was operationalised from January 13. Verification of FWI data showed that FDRS seven-day forecast product was reliable and robust. The meeting supported the initiatives by METMalaysia and will continue the cooperation and promote the usage of new refinements of SEA FDRS.

Minister of Development Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Muhammad Juanda bin Haji Abdul Rashid in a group photo during the meeting. PHOTO: JASTRE

The dry season this year could be prolonged and intense compared to the past three years when La Niña conditions were present, and that the risk of elevated hotspot activities and transboundary smoke haze occurrence was the highest since 2019. The MSC countries pledged to stay vigilant and intensify their fires monitoring and haze preventive efforts to minimise the occurrence of transboundary smoke haze during drier periods. The MSC countries reaffirmed their readiness to provide assistance on emergency response situation and to collaborate among MSC countries with enhanced cooperation and coordination to mitigate land and forest fires. The meeting recognised the effects of climate change, such as more frequent drought and agreed on the importance of taking strong action to improve vigilance, preventive measures, and immediate fire suppression to minimise the occurrence of transboundary haze during periods of drier weather.

The meeting expressed appreciation and commended the various initiatives and actions by MSC countries on the implementation of the Strategic Review of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee Programmes and Activities. This includes enhancing haze control management through early warning/monitoring and fire prevention, building capabilities for fire suppression at the local, national and regional levels. Bilateral collaboration in line with the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) and capacity building of ASEAN member states under the Regional Haze Training Network.

The meeting underscored the coordinated support of ASEAN centres and agencies to provide data and information relating to land forest fires for ASEAN member states. The meeting also highlighted that ASEAN’s efforts to increase the preparedness to mitigate the risks arising from land and forest fires require all stakeholders, including local communities, non-governmental organisations and private companies to work together.

The meeting reaffirmed its commitment towards the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. It also looked forward to the finalisation of the new roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control with Means of Implementation (Haze-free Roadmap) 2023-2030. The meeting also highlighted that ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) 2023-2030 further strengthen, intensify, and comprehensively address the root causes of transboundary haze pollution. The meeting also looked forward to the finalisation of the Investment Framework for a Haze-free, Sustainable Land Management in Southeast Asia to prioritise actions on haze reduction and enable predictable funding flows and potential for joint programme and project development among ASEAN member states.

The meeting stressed the need to pursue the finalisation of the Establishment Agreement of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control (ACC THPC) in Indonesia and resume the discussion on the Host Country Agreement for timely finalisation.

The meeting reiterated the call for expeditious establishment and operationalisation of the ACC THPC to facilitate for faster and effective implementation of all aspects of the AATHP.

The meeting looks forward to the convening of the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (COP-18) in August in Laos. The 25th MSC meeting will be held in Thailand in 2024.

The Brunei delegation includes Permanent Secretary (Planning, Land Use and Environment) at the Ministry of Development Dr Nor Imtihan binti Haji Abdul Razak and officials from Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRE).

The meeting was attended by ministers, officials and representatives from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, Singapore Grace Fu also attended the meeting.


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