Southeast Asia Faces Escalating Haze Crisis as Peatland Fires Worsen


Summary: Officials fear that the seasonal haze in Southeast Asia will worsen as global warming intensifies and makes peatlands and forests more combustible. These fires and resulting toxic haze are becoming a serious driver of climate change and pose significant health and economic risks to the region.

As El Nino amplifies, southern Southeast Asia is bracing for the worst transboundary haze since 2019. The fear is that intensifying global warming will make peatlands and forests even more susceptible to fires during the dry season. Southeast Asia is home to 40% of the world’s peatlands, making the region a major contributor to climate change. This adds to the ongoing haze problem in the region, which has caused respiratory and health issues, deaths, and economic losses for decades.

Bickering and denials among affected Southeast Asian nations have hindered effective collaboration. Indonesia has denied claims that its fires have caused the hazardous haze in neighboring countries. The lack of enforcement mechanisms in Southeast Asian agreements raises questions about the effectiveness of ASEAN in addressing the haze issue.

Peatlands play a crucial role in combating climate change, as they store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. However, drained and cleared peatlands, primarily for palm oil and pulp plantations, become highly flammable. Draining exposes the organic material to the air, leading to decomposition and the release of greenhouse gases. Peatland fires further accelerate this process and contribute to global warming.

Tackling the transboundary haze problem requires addressing the root cause of peatland fires. Indonesia, the largest palm oil producer, plays a significant role, but neighboring countries also have investments in the industry. Sustainable palm oil practices and market pressure from consumers can encourage companies to adopt environmentally friendly practices. Greenpeace has called for a regional legal framework to hold companies accountable for domestic forest fires. Governments and stakeholders must recognize the interconnectedness of climate change and the haze issue and work together to find sustainable solutions.

Tags: Southeast Asia, haze, peatland fires, global warming, climate change, transboundary, health risks, economic losses, palm oil, sustainable practices