Singapore's haze remedy
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Singapore's haze remedy

The haze situation in the northern region has been relentless of late. Areas of the upper North and Northeast have been cloaked in hazardous levels of smoke since last weekend, with the worst pollution being found in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district.

The government has stated that some of the smog is a "transboundary haze" from elsewhere, such as Myanmar's northern Shan State.

Similar to Thailand, farmers in neighbouring countries use slash-and-burn techniques to harvest cash crops such as maize and sugar.

But how can the Thai government, which fails to solve similar problems in its own backyard, call on neighbouring countries to end slash-and-burn practices and cease burning forests?

Some policymakers and governments have turned to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution -- a regional framework designed for Asean member states to collaborate in preventing and monitoring transboundary haze pollution.

The framework has been in place since November 2003 following a massive fire caused by slash-and-burn practices in palm oil plantations in Indonesia during the late 1990s.

While such a regional framework held promise, it's a voluntary-based agreement which cannot override sovereignty. But it does not mean that the framework is just a paper tiger.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore made use of the framework as a platform for cooperation and creating a system to keep the palm oil industry in check and make the supply chain cleaner.

Singapore -- a hub for finance and trading in palm oil investment -- has by itself also played a big role in creating market and economic mechanisms to address the issue. It reportedly started campaigning consumers to use only palm oil products from green suppliers.

Singapore also worked with the United Nations Environment Program to draft guidelines for local banks in financing the palm oil business.

This measure jumpstarted a clean supply chain that encourages companies, traders and consumers to patronise farm products that come from sustainable harvesting and discourage palm oil companies from using open burning practices.

Meanwhile, economic campaigns such as the "Good Palm campaign" rewarded responsible companies and farms were also created.

While the haze from palm oil still persists, such campaigns, as used by Singapore, show there are solutions to reducing the haze problem.

It's also worth further noting that currently, there are several global sustainable consumption companies that only use products that do not come from slash-and-burn practices.

Thai policymakers can learn from this effort.

The government and business sectors, such as the Stock Exchange of Thailand, can work together to create a zero-emission and clean supply chain for locally harvested cash crops such as maize and sugar.

Monitoring systems and green labels are also needed to encourage consumers and companies to use farm products that are not harvested through slash-and-burn.

We all know that the government cannot keep using water and waiting for the rain to solve PM2.5. It needs a more realistic and effective system to deal with the issue. The example from our neighbour in the southern region might be a step in the right direction.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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