In Indonesia, dramatic satellite images of heavy smoke plumes show the large amount of pollutants being discharged to the atmosphere. The fires are extensive in areas with deep peat soils, suggesting high volumes of carbon are being released, contributing to climate change.
Global Forest Watch shows that some of the largest fires are on fully developed plantations, despite the fact that many of these companies are committed to eliminating fire in their management practices. The persistence of the fires—and the intensity with which they have returned—raises important questions.
Forest fires ran rampant across Indonesia in the summer of 2013, spreading a toxic haze across South East Asia. Governments and NGOs are using WRI’s data and analysis to hold palm oil and timber companies accountable for these damaging forest and peat fires.
Burning forest is illegal in Indonesia. Yet June 2013 was one of the worst months for Indonesia’s fires in more than a decade, spreading an enormous cloud of haze and unhealthy pollution across the country and into Malaysia and Singapore. However, the governments of South East Asia didn’t have access to the same forest data, making it difficult to know where the fires were located and who might be responsible.
Using data from NASA and the Indonesian government, WRI was able to show within a few hours that half of the fires were within the boundaries of timber plantations and oil palm concessions. We leveraged our deep expertise on Indonesian forest and land issues, strong data analysis, and communications expertise to frame the issues around the fires and encourage governments to hold specific companies accountable. Our experts provided in-depth background information, clarified the facts where possible, and offered ongoing insights to media, resulting in coverage in more than 200 local and international outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, and Straits Times. The fires analysis became the most viewed blog series in WRI history, with more than 27,000 page views. This significant media outreach and attention improved the understanding of the crisis internationally, and helped build momentum to solve the problem.
The Indonesian and Singaporean governments have stated at the highest levels that they will prosecute major companies accused of setting illegal fires to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Crucially, the governments of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand agreed at an ASEAN international summit to establish a joint platform for monitoring fires using satellite technology. They will also share company concession data among governments in order to hold companies accountable when fires are detected on their land. Improved data availability, law enforcement, and government cooperation could dramatically reduce the occurrence of forest and peat land fires in Indonesia, enhancing local communities’ health and the economy.
Moving forward, WRI will use Global Forest Watch, a soon-to-be-launched forest monitoring system, to push for strong natural resource management on a worldwide scale.
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.