Singapore raises concerns over haze at UN meeting

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 30 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore has taken to the global stage to raise concerns about the impact of transboundary air pollution, stressing that both domestic action and greater international cooperation are essential to address the challenge.

Speaking at an event convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, Senior Minister of State (Health and the Environment and Water Resources) Amy Khor said air pollution stunts economic development and is detrimental to human health.

Calling it a key environmental challenge faced by many countries, Dr Khor said the burning of peatlands and forests in South-east Asia has resulted in transboundary haze.

Singapore thus works actively with countries in the region to mitigate it, she said in Singapore’s statement for the high-level segment of the UN Environment Assembly, which was attended by more than 120 environment ministers.

Dr Khor did not refer specifically to the worst-ever haze episode in the region last year, which affected tens of millions of people and cost Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion (S$22.1 billion) and Singapore about S$700 million.

Nor did she mention a recent disagreement with Indonesia, in which Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) obtained a court warrant against the director of an Indonesian company that is linked to forest fires that cause haze.

The director had failed to turn up for an interview with the authorities in Singapore despite being served a legal notice to do so when he was here. He could be detained the next time he enters the country.

But Dr Khor reiterated Singapore’s enactment of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014 to penalise errant companies and individuals who cause haze pollution here.

“Singapore will not tolerate any actions of entities that harm the environment and put at risk the people’s health,” she said.

Singapore is also a party to the Association of South-east Asian Nations’ Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which requires parties to take measures to prevent and control haze, said Dr Khor. Singapore collaborates with its neighbours on fire prevention and mitigation.

Civil society and businesses play an important role, she added. Civil society can boost consumer support for sustainably-sourced products, and businesses can ensure accountability in their supply chains.

The Unep’s flagship environmental publication recently highlighted the impact of peatland fires and cited transboundary haze as a pressing regional air quality challenge.

The World Health Organization estimates that seven million deaths occur every year from air pollution exposure.

Dr Khor, who was accompanied by officials from the Environment and Water Resources Ministry and the NEA, also met key partners and Unep’s outgoing executive director Achim Steiner and his successor Erik Solheim during her trip.

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