Less than four months ago, millions of people across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were choking on the worst air pollution ever recorded in Southeast Asia as hundreds of fires burned across Sumatra. The fires caused serious damage, eliciting a public health emergency, closing schools and harming tourism and other businesses.
This week the Sultan of Brunei is hosting many of Asia’s heads of state for the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. Preventing new fires and haze are high on the agenda. Key decisions and actions are urgently needed from the presidents and prime ministers this week.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country, and, potentially, the largest in terms of biodiversity. Environmental and development choices made by Indonesia have far reaching consequences, not just for its citizens, but for the health and well-being of the world. Indonesia recently joined Partnership for Principle 10, a growing coalition of governments, civil society organizations, and international organizations committed to giving citizens an “environmental voice.” For Indonesia, this means increasing public involvement in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, incorporating public participation guidelines in new local environmental regulations, responding to public grievances in environmental cases, and publishing more environmental information on the Internet and in environmental regulation booklets. The Ministry of the Environment is incorporating these commitments into the country’s revised Environmental Management Act.
Fires were ablaze once more on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, reaching levels almost as high as those of June 2013, when neighboring Singapore and Malaysia were smothered by record-breaking smog and haze. NASA satellites registered a total of 734 high-confidence fire alerts in Sumatra’s provinces for the period August 22-27. Fire alert numbers declined significantly August 28-29.
Indonesia’s Kalimantan Province on the island of Borneo is a resource rich region subject to forest fires that regularly break out during dry spells because of the spread of illegal land-clearing fires. Indonesia is the fourth largest global emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and forest fires are a significant contributor to these emissions. A new “fire atlas” produced by WRI, its local partners, and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is helping the government do a better job of monitoring fires and land clearing, thereby enabling the government to shift money and resources to at-risk protected areas. The next step is a fire atlas for the entire country.
For eight years, WRI and 160 partners in 40 countries have been working to open
up the channels of information on environmental decision-making. This effort –
The Access Initiative – is the largest global action network dedicated to ensuring
that people have the right and the ability to influence decisions about the natural
resources on which their communities depend.
How does it work? Coalitions of civil society groups assess the state of access to
information, public participation, and justice in their nation. Gaps in laws,
institutions, and practices are identified. The coalitions then engage their
government in a dialogue and develop campaigns to bring about reform.
It isn’t easy, especially in Southeast Asia where leaders have long kept
political control through information control. Eight years of work by
The Access Initiative, however, came to fruition recently when Indonesia
enacted a new Freedom of Information Act. The Access Initiative also
played a strong role in ensuring Thailand’s new constitution enshrines the
right of the public to have information about new development projects
that affect the environment and to participate in decisions concerning such
projects. Rights to remedies are provided when the government acts in
breach of these provisions.
Fires are flaring up once more on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Media reports in the region indicate that the resulting smog has already reached unhealthy levels over parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.