Countries need to cooperate for anti-haze laws to work: Balakrishnan

Singapore’s proposed Bill cannot be implemented in isolation, says minister
Neo Chai Chin Today Online 21 May 14;

SINGAPORE — It would be simplistic to think Singapore’s proposed anti-haze laws alone can solve the region’s haze problem, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday, as he issued a call for cooperation among the authorities from various countries.

Without inter-governmental cooperation, Singapore’s proposed law — which provides for fines up to S$300,000 on companies carrying out activities outside the Republic that result in unhealthy levels of haze on the island — would not work, he said at a dialogue on sustainable world resources organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) yesterday.

“Otherwise, there will be difficulties adducing enough evidence that could stand the test of the court of law,” Dr Balakrishnan told an audience consisting of key commodities and finance players, as well as non-governmental organisations from the region, at the Grand Hyatt.

“So, this call for cooperation among the authorities is a sincere one; this is not something we can embark on unilaterally,” he said, adding that amendments would be made to the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill before it is likely tabled in Parliament later this year.

Singapore would also encourage other countries to consider formulating or revising their laws to prevent companies from exploiting resources unsustainably or harming their people, he said, without referring to any specific country.

Dr Balakrishnan’s comments came as a senior Indonesian official cited fragmented authority and bad governance as key challenges in sustainable resource management. The splitting of tasks and activities — such as control over spatial plans and land use conversions — has hampered the search for long-term solutions, said Mr Agus Purnomo, special staff to the President for Climate Change in Indonesia.

Dr Balakrishnan, who had previously expressed frustration over the lack of sharing of concession maps among countries affected by the haze, noted several major moves towards transparency, such as the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch monitoring system and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) recent resolution for its members to make concession boundaries publicly available on the RSPO website.

Asked by SIIA chairman SimonTay about evidence reaching the threshold demanded by the court, Dr Balakrishnan said it was up to a judge to decide but, “in the court of public opinion, that may be good enough”.

Meanwhile, captains of industry and experts also noted that more businesses were moving towards sustainability, but at different speeds.

With the world population rising — throwing up issues of food, water and energy security — commodities giant Olam International’s chief executive Sunny Verghese highlighted the tension between private profits and public losses, as well as the need to account for externalities.

A study in 2011 estimated that environmental damage amounted to nearly 40 per cent of the profit of the world’s 3,000 largest corporations.

Mr Verghese said his calculation of Olam’s footprint, in terms of water extraction, carbon dioxide and bio-waste emissions, was about half of the firm’s profits last year.

“So 50 per cent of the profit I’ve generated, I’ve actually taken from Mother Nature and depleted natural capital,” he said. “And, because its back office is not set up as yet, it’s not showing me those invoices.”

Govt has to balance environmental laws right: Balakrishnan
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 May 14;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government has to get its balance right in implementing environmental legislation, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a dialogue session on sustainable world resources on Tuesday.

He added that Singapore's draft bill on transboundary haze pollution does not interfere with the laws of other regions, but has been crafted to illustrate a global challenge.

Panellists and speakers engaged the crowd of almost 300 people at the first Sustainable World Resources dialogue, which was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

The theme may have been on world resources, but much of the discussion centred on sustainable palm oil production.

It was a chance for all stakeholders -- from the large palm oil corporations to non-government organisations and to the banks that finance such investments -- to clear the air on an issue that's dogged the region for decades.

At the heart of the haze issue is environmental degradation -- drying peat and using it as fuel to clear land with fires, which produce thick smoke and release carbon that has been stored for years.

Experts say enforcement to prevent illegal clearing of land is fraught with challenges.

"You can have all the good intentions in Jakarta or at local level, but no one will really be able to implement because the authorities have been fragmented: different authorities, different agencies, and different levels of governments,” said Agus Purnomo, Special Staff to the President on Climate Change.

Mr Agus said tackling the issue involves collaborating with the private sector, many of whom have pledged a policy against deforestation, peat and exploitation.

The answer could lie with Singapore's draft bill on transboundary haze pollution, but by striking a balance.

"A lot more can still be done on the ground by NGOs, by sharing, by transparency without getting heavy-handed about it,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

“It would be counter-productive for Singapore to take an overly legalistic, burdensome regime that makes it in fact more difficult for responsible companies to do business here. So we've got to get the balance right."

For companies on the right path, Dr Balakrishnan said there is also the need to tilt the playing field in their favour, so that others follow suit.

- CNA/ec

Transboundary haze Bill 'not shrouded in secrecy'
Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 May 14;

SINGAPORE'S proposed transboundary haze law is not an attempt to interfere with other countries, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

The Republic has been transparent and answered its neighbours' questions about the Bill, he said at the inaugural Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources.

Responding to a question on whether the Bill went beyond ASEAN's principle of non-interference, Dr Balakrishnan said: "The Bill has not been hatched in secret, and there are no surprises.

"We've done it in an open manner because I know that, ultimately, we need to work together if it is going to have any effect."

The minister also gave the keynote address on Singapore's vision on sustainability and the haze.

Under the proposed law, companies and other entities that have fires on their land leading to transboundary haze in Singapore will be deemed to have committed an offence.

The law will also allow those affected by haze to bring civil suits against such companies. For instance, a construction firm that has to stop work could theoretically sue for damages.

The Bill is expected be tabled in Parliament later this year.

A sticking point in ASEAN discussions about the haze has been some governments' reluctance to share concession maps, needed to show firms burning land illegally.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said there are reliable maps compiled by non-government groups such as the World Resources Institute (WRI).

"The question is, will the evidence reach the level demanded by the court?" he said. "Can I take a WRI map and go to court and say, this is enough to convict a company? That's something only a judge in court can answer."

The dialogue, held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore Hotel, was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

It brought together policymakers, business leaders and non-government organisations to address the issues of climate change, and the connections between trade, the environment, investment and corporate social responsibility.

Topics during panel discussions included how to balance sustainability with the need for resources, encourage businesses to be environmentally friendly and use financing methods to boost green behaviour.

Mr Bustar Maitar, global head of non-government group Greenpeace's Indonesia Forest Campaign, said laws were not enough to prevent, say, illegal fires.

"There is a need for enforcement. Corporations should help to enforce the law and not make a profit out of the lack of enforcement," he said.

Other participants suggested that financial agreements should allow investors to exit contracts if the firms are found to have engaged in anti-environmental practices.