Indonesia burning: Information about fires and haze in Southeast Asia

  • Haze returns to Singapore – and we can expect more of it, new study warns

    This week, windblown smoke from land fires in Sumatra, western Indonesia, has again clouded the skies of neighboring Singapore. And according to a new study, episodes like this one are bound to happen more frequently.

    The air pollution in Singapore this week has yet to match the record levels seen in June 2013, when the haze made international headlines and caused a diplomatic spat. That crisis spurred action, ranging from a multi-stakeholder workshop to a Singapore law criminalizing land fires in Indonesia, to the recent news that Indonesia will ratify a regional agreement on transboundary haze, 12 years after the country signed it.

    The crisis also spurred research, including a new paper from scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) that sought to examine the circumstances of the fires. The study, published in August in Scientific Reports, used remote sensing, rainfall records and other data to show that the fires – deliberately set by people to clear land for agriculture – occurred mostly on dried and degraded peatlands, not forests as originally thought, and that they were enabled by a short dry period.

  • New maps reveal more complex picture of Sumatran fires

    Policy interventions for mitigating fires require solid information on who is setting fires to whose land. However, this basic information is missing, because competing claims over land ownership in Indonesia gives rise to confusion over who is setting fires to whose land.
    Land use and land tenure in Indonesia are governed by a tangle of national, provincial and customary laws that often compete with each other, resulting in confusion over who owns which bit of land. This situation is exacerbated by an influx of land-seeking migrants and by investments in agricultural expansion by mid-level investors of unknown origin. Tensions — and occasionally conflict — can arise among these land users. Another confounding factor is the fact that fires move across the landscape, propelled by topography and wind.
    One cannot assume — based only on fire hotspot locations overlaid on concession maps — that burning within concessions is caused by large companies.

  • Singaporean Minister: Economic interests causing ‘environmental vandalism’

    Short-term economic interests in Southeast Asia are driving “environmental vandalism,” Singapore’s top environmental official said Monday.
    Vivian Balakrishnan, the Singaporean Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, spoke in direct terms about the causes and effects of deforestation in the region, urging greater transparency, stronger law enforcement and stricter penalties for activities related to deforestation.

  • How to better manage forests and farms? Start talking

    The persistent, high-impact and high-profile haze problem in Riau, Sumatra, has been a salutary reminder of how difficult it can be to manage landscapes once some “tipping points” have been passed.

  • Research will be key to unlocking Indonesia haze crisis

    The smoke rising over Sumatra has started early this year, with peatland fires in Riau, Sumatra, creating a haze so thick that in March it grounded flights and closed schools; at least two deaths were attributed to the choking smoke. It was a grim reprise of June 2013, when windblown haze from peatland fires in Riau clouded Malaysia and Singapore, leading to Singapore’s highest air pollution measure on record.
    Now, a major multilateral effort to stop the haze is gaining traction, seeking to encourage more research into a few key areas.
    But a few key questions must be answered via more research if there is to be any real progress on snuffing out the haze.

  • Credible data key to Indonesia’s efforts to solve forest fire, emissions challenges — expert

    Accurate information on the causes of wildfires and the amount of carbon emissions they produce is critical if Indonesia is to meet its emissions reductions targets, said experts at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. climate change meetings in Warsaw, Poland.

  • Fires and haze – how to maintain a glow of interest?

    Disasters — such as the recent Southeast Asia haze crisis — only briefly capture public and media attention. Is this contributing to a lack of long-term planning by decision makers?

  • Fire and haze in Riau: Looking beyond the hotspots

    A team of CIFOR staff recently visited Riau province in Sumatra — the area that caused most of Southeast Asia’s haze crisis. Peter Holmgren, CIFOR’s Director General discusses what they observed on the ground and how this could help define future forest fire research.

  • Research: Nearly a quarter of June fires in Indonesia occurred in industrial plantations

    A new CIFOR analysis shows 21% of haze-causing fires in Indonesia in June were in industrial oil palm and pulp plantations. The list of questions this raises is long.