Siem Reap (Mar 4, 2003) – ASEAN Ministers responsible for environment met today and resolved to continue their efforts to tackle comprehensively, and on a concerted and collaborative basis, the transboundary haze pollution problem that plagued ASEAN periodically in recent years. The Ministers have agreed to work towards ensuring that the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution will enter into force by June 2003. The Agreement requires at least six ratifications to enter into force. Five countries (Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Viet Nam) have ratified the Agreement.

Pending the entry into force of the Agreement, the Ministers have set in place interim arrangements to implement the provisions of the Agreement including institutional mechanisms, using existing institutions and resources. The Ministers also noted that a subregional Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) among Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore has been developed for purposes of coordination, communication and disaster relief under the Agreement, and that the SOP will be tested and further refined through a simulation exercise to be conducted among these countries in the next few months. The Ministers also noted that an inventory is being done to determine resources available in member countries that could be shared in situations where such need arises.

The Ministers have noted that current predictions anticipate the El Nino to weaken gradually and weather conditions to return to normal from July onwards this year. However, slight to moderate haze could be expected in the affected countries during the dry season between July and October. The Ministers resolved to remain vigilant, and agreed to further enhance long term preventive measures to tackle transboundary haze pollution.

The Ministers recognized the need to take concerted preventive actions on fire prone areas such as peatlands. For this purpose, the Ministers noted that an ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI) has been developed to enhance cooperation among ASEAN member countries, among others, to build capacity, share best practices on peatland management, and to develop a regional strategy to sustainably manage peatlands, including reducing the incidences of peatland fires. The Meeting noted that Malaysia will host the International Conference on Peat Soils in Sibu, Sarawak, sometime in July this year.

The Ministers also noted that guidelines for implementing the zero-burn policy would be published soon. The guidelines are compilation of best practices on zero burning techniques, and member countries have been encouraged to use the guidelines based on national circumstances and wherever applicable. The Ministers also recognized the need for guidelines on controlled burning, where zero-burn techniques could not be practiced, especially by smallholders, farmers and shifting cultivators. Indonesia will take the lead in preparing the guidelines.

The Ministers had earlier expressed concern over the so-called Asian Brown Cloud phenomenon, contained in a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), since there is no evidence on the allegation of the linkage between forest fires and the Asian Brown Cloud. The Ministers had earlier called for an objective evaluation of this phenomenon. The Ministers noted that the recent UNEP Governing Council did not pursue this issue, and accordingly requested their officials not to undertake further work on this matter.

The Ministers noted Singapore’s draft concept paper on “Regional Sustainable Cities Programme” initiative. The Ministers supported Singapore’s proposal and agreed to form an ASEAN working group to develop strategies and action plan to drive this initiative. The Ministers also supported Singapore’s offer to take a lead role in this working group.

The Ministers expressed their appreciation to the several partners and funding agencies for their support to ASEAN in the prevention, monitoring and mitigation of land and forest fires. The Ministers hoped that with the legal framework provided by the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and the strong commitment shown by member countries, such collaborative efforts in the region could be further enhanced.