You are on page 1of 5

Dealing with Indonesia’s Transboundary Haze Pollution1

Author: Bobby Hamenda

Transboundary haze pollution (THP) is one of the most importan1t environmental issues
over last two decades among Indonesia neighbouring countries. Land, peat and forest
fires from Kalimantan and Sumatera, the two big islands in Indonesia had massively
brought transboundary smoke to several Southeast Asia countries. Dry season (El Niño
effect) in 1997 exacerbated forest fires in Indonesia, causing the most severe haze
problem with Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand (Forsyth 2014). In response, the
issue, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created environmental
agreement in 2002, namely ASEAN Agreement on THP (ATHP) (Tan 2015). Despite the
existence of ASEAN ATHP, forest fires in Indonesia had been occurring for more than
one decade after 2002 even in 2013, and 2015 had experienced almost the same in 1997
(Sunchindah 2015). As a result, Indonesia neighbouring countries still continued to bear
the negative externalities from THP. That kind of situations has raised international public
concern, tension and criticism to Government of Indonesia (GoI). In order to maintain
GoI’s credibility and performance, President Joko Widodo has to respond and address
this big sensitive issues, once and for all. This paper will argue why GoI should conduct
the combination strategies between mutual compensate principle at international level
and strengthening legal and law enforcement as institutional reforms at domestic level are
the best strategies to deal with THP in Southeast Asia.

What common factors lie behind the land and forest fires in Indonesia? At least three
main reasons cause forest fires in Indonesia. First, lowest government officers in the area
of potential forest fire have authority to burn the forest. Neighbourhood leaders can
approve people to burn the 1-hectare forest. These neighbourhood leaders in Central
Kalimantan, for example, have law enforcement of their governor no. 15 yr. 2010 to do
so (Welle n.d.). Second, it is a palm oil plantation strategy to expand its area effectively
and efficiently. Companies just spent 180 USD per hectare if the areas are fired
meanwhile the cost of 800 USD will be spent if companies choose to utilise chemicals or
any other non-burning methods (Guinness & Nurhayati 2016). Thus, it was found that

This paper was the third assignment of author when he took CRWF8000 at Australian National
University in 2016.
there were 413 companies had conducted forest fire of 1.73-million-hectare area (Welle
n.d.). However, the companies cannot be penalised if they can prove that the area that
they fired were less than 2 hectares and have obtained authority from local government
at the time. However, the third reason: corruption has deteriorated the problems. This
third reason is crucial for a forest fire. Governor of Riau and former governor of Riau
were caught in receiving money from palm oil entrepreneurs and head of palm oil farmer
association. It was their collaboration to burn forests for palm oil plantation (Henschke
n.d.; The Jakarta Post 2015).

Regarding with international environmental problems, the case of THP problems in

Southeast Asia has unidirectional externalities where Indonesia is an upstream country
while its neighbours, particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand are
downstream countries. It is because several countries are polluted only by Indonesia’s
smoke. In that case, according to Mäler (1990, p.83), there would be free riders since the
downstream countries may rely on other downstream parties to solve the THP issue for
them. Furthermore, he says that many international environmental problems have
prisoner’s dilemma issue. However, the issue can be done by international

Before continue to look further, it is better to know the negative externalities of THP.
There are not only affect to downstream countries but also to the upstream country. THP
that generated from peat and or forest fires can spread an enormous cost to both polluter
and victims. It has environmental costs, health costs, costs to the economy and regional
and global costs. For instance, loss in the diversity, millions of people suffer respiratory
diseases due to a huge carbon dioxide emission release into the atmosphere. Also,
economic activities such as tourism and productivity of labour decrease, (Guinness &
Nurhayati 2016, p.4-6; Othman, Sahani, Mahmud & Sheikh Ahmad 2014, p. 194-195).
Therefore, by understanding the negative externalities of THP, GoI and ASEAN countries
must realise that sharing costs is the best way to solve the problem.

In order to do that, Indonesian government needs to initiate some cooperation:

international and domestic cooperation. About international cooperation, Indonesian
government needs to encourage ASEAN countries that were usually influenced by the
bad impacts of forest fires to collaborate to tackle the problem together. Warokka & Kubo
(2015), suggest that Indonesian government cannot merely rely on their capabilities to
handle forest fires, but has to collaborate with ASEAN countries. ASEAN Agreement on

Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 (ATHP) is the great solution to handle the problem
mainly because of three reasons as follows. First, the capability to control and manage
forest fire location is increased by obtaining the technical assistance of high-resolution
satellite pictures from Singapore and Malaysia. Second, peat is more likely to reduce with
the application of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy for 2006 to 2020. Third,
forest fire is also fought by water-bombing aircraft and trained teams (Warokka & Kubo

Another strategy is to obtain financial technical from developed countries. Although this
strategy seems to be antagonistic issues in the negotiation of United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the result of the convention of UNFCCC can
be the argument of claiming that developed countries have to provide technical and
financial assistance to developing countries such as Indonesia. That situation would be
helpful as developed countries open the access of obtaining 52 billion USD in 2013 and
62 billion USD in 2014 (Warokka & Kubo 2015). Furthermore, forests in Indonesia,
specifically in Kalimantan and Sumatera constitute “the lung” of the earth that produce
significant oxygen to the world. Many countries on this planet enjoy the oxygen.
Therefore, logically and fairly, many countries in the world should concern and support
GoI for preserving forests in Kalimantan and Sumatera.

In the domestic level, corruption is the key issue. According to Robbins (2000, p.424),
‘corruption in natural resources as a system of normalised rules, transformed from legal
authority, patterned around existing inequalities, and cemented through cooperation and
trust’. It had proved when the governor and former governor of Riau province were caught
and convicted of corruption.

Dealing with the problem, GoI must strengthen domestic institutions. GoI must evaluate
all policies, systems and regulations to ensure all of them are pro-environment.
Indonesian government through its Minister of Environment and Forestation must be
formed a team to investigate and to apply strict control of forest in potential forest fire
areas. Law enforcement is necessary for Indonesia to support the strategy above. It is
found that one of the key problems of the forest fire is weak law enforcement in Indonesia.
It is unclear about the ownership of the land. It is suggested that land ownership must be
transparent and should be exhibited by centralised and public map (Reuters 2015). The
government should also have to apply strict rules and regulation to maintain their forest.
For example, individuals and corporations should be put into prisons for 25 years, and the

corporation’ operation should be closed for any action of forest fires. Therefore, sanction
and punishment have been applied to individuals and corporations. In other words, all
polluters within Indonesia have to pay a huge amount of fine.

In conclusion, land, peat and forest fires that lead to THP is very costly and complex
problem that makes it difficult to solve by Indonesian government itself. Because of that,
GoI needs to promote negotiation and cooperation with other countries so that GoI can
receive a grant that will be used to make institutional reforms successful in Indonesia.

GoI implement polluter pays principle at the domestic level while mutual compensation
principle at international level. Hence, although the mutual compensation principle looks
unfair since the victims have to share the costs to address THP, this strategy should be
implemented by ASEAN countries to avoid environmental, health, social and economic
costs from the negative externalities of THP. Besides that, strengthening institutions in
Indonesia by good regulation pro-environment, monitoring, cooperation will reduce
rampant corruption and rent-seeking activities, particularly in natural resources.

If the other countries and ASEAN members especially Singapore and Malaysia can
cooperate with GoI regarding sharing costs, monitoring to strengthen institutional
framework in Indonesia that binding by treaties, there will be no THP issues again from
Indonesia to Southeast Asia countries and Indonesia will experience fewer environment
issues in the future.

(1,404 words)


Forsyth, T 2014, ‘Public concerns about transboundary haze: A comparison of

Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia’, Global Environmental Change, vol. 25, pp. 76–

Guinness, H & Nurhayati, L 2016, Indonesia, ASEAN, and the problem of

transboundary haze,

Henschke, R ‘Ada korupsi di Balik kabut asap Indonesia’, BBC Indonesia. viewed 8
June 2016,

Mäler, K-G 1990, ‘International environmental problems’, Oxford Review of economic

policy, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 80–108.

Othman, J, Sahani, M, Mahmud, M & Sheikh Ahmad, MK 2014, ‘Transboundary

smoke haze pollution in Malaysia: Inpatient health impacts and economic valuation’,
Environmental Pollution, vol. 189, pp. 194–201.

Reuters 2015, ‘FEATURE-SE Asia seeks a new strategy to fight slash and burn haze
problem’, viewed 9 June 2016, <

Robbins, P 2000, ‘The rotten institution: corruption in natural resource management’,

Political Geography, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 423–443.

Sunchindah, A, 2015, ‘Transboundary Haze Pollution Problem in Southeast Asia:

Reframing ASEAN’s’, viewed 6 June 2016, <

Tan, AK-J 2015, ‘The’Haze’Crisis in Southeast Asia: Assessing Singapore’s

Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014’, Available at SSRN 2547379. viewed 7 June
2016, <>.

The Jakarta Post 2015, ‘Court sentences Riau governor to 6 years in prison for corrupt’,
viewed 9 June 2016, <

Warokka, A & Kubo, K 2015, ‘International Cooperation in Environmental Issues;

Dream or Strategy?’, Stanford Law School. viewed 9 June 2016,

Welle, D ‘Penyebab Kebakaran Hutan Terungkap? | dunia’, viewed 8 June

2016, <>.