Asean nations vow to be haze-free by 2020

PARITTA WANGKIAT Bangkok Post 4 Dec 15;

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PARIS -- The Asean region is looking to become haze-free by 2020, but reducing forest fires and fossil-fuel use will take time, said Southeast Asian officials meeting on the sidelines of the international climate conference in Paris.

Speaking to the media at the 21st Conference on Climate Change in Paris, Asean Secretariat representative Ampai Harakunarak said Southeast Asian countries have been under pressure since the 1990s to solve their transborder haze problem, which includes large volumes of carbon dioxide. This year's haze crisis, originating with forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo Islands, was reported to be one of the worst air-pollution disasters experienced by several Asean countries -- particularly Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Ms Ampai said the Asean Programme for Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems for the year 2014-2020 was drafted to establish long-term controls on burning peatland, which store 70 billion tonnes of carbon in Asean.

"Without stopping peatland fires and degradation, Asean will continue to be a major emitter of greenhouse gases," said Faizal Parish, director of the Global Environment Centre.

Meanwhile, Asean is implementing the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which encourages Asean member countries to collaborate on tracking haze and sharing information.

But Asean also depends heavily on fossil fuels. According to Global Coal Plant Tracker, 119 coal plants of 45 gigawatts are planned in Indonesia alone. Two more coal-fired power plants are planned for Krabi and Songkhla provinces.

Gary William Theseira, deputy undersecretary of climate change at Malaysia's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said an immediate reduction in the region's dependency on coal is unlikely. The potential for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind in Asean may not be comparable to developed countries, he said.

"We've been talking about [renewable energy]. But there are many conditions that slow the transition and we have to gradually solve them," said Ms Ampai.

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