Indonesia burning: Research about fires and haze in Southeast Asia
        • The Political Economy of Fire and Haze in Indonesia

          CIFOR’s new project entitled "The Political Economy of Fire and Haze in Indonesia", supported by DFID, will run throughout 2015. This project takes a uniquely trans disciplinary approach to understanding the resurgence in Indonesia’s haze-producing peat land fires, focusing on Sumatra’s Riau Province.

          The project seeks to strengthen mapping efforts related to the fire events of 2013 and 2014, integrating national, provincial and district-level maps to help unravel the complex tenure and land-claiming issues that are suspected to be at the heart of many recent fire events. CIFOR’s research will contextualize the mapping efforts with on-the-ground verification and more nuanced exploration of how local actors perceive, experience and explain fire events. This will involve policy review, field-based stakeholder mapping, political economic analysis of the drivers of fire, and grounded analysis of de facto fire-setting practices.

        • Satellites can mislead: policy makers beware!

          The loss of old-growth tropical forest area through fire and agricultural expansion has for decades challenged many of sustainability goals set out by policy makers, conservation groups, and forest managers. As part of the solution to halt tropical deforestation, a strong contemporary trend has emerged to assign blame and industrial commodity plantations are very much scrutinized.

          Maps showing the boundaries and ownership of land parcels, and the timing and distribution of deforestation and fire events (with satellites), are increasingly combined in online mapping services as a way to improve transparency, traceability and accountability of the corporate sector.

          Here, we caution that simple assessments of deforestation or fire events in concessions face significant methodological limitations.

          The challenge is in capturing the on-ground complexities by combining smart maps with field investigations. Maps should be a starting point not the unique and final source of information.

        • 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.
        • 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.