Ministers responsible for the environment from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand gathered at the 17th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 28.

The Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said in its press release that the participating ministers noted the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre’s weather outlook of drier-than-usual weather conditions for the prevailing southwest monsoon season (June – October 2015).

With the possibility of the prevailing moderate El Nino strengthening in the coming months, the risks of extended periods of drier and warmer conditions, which could lead to increase in hotspot activities and trans-boundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in the region, are high.

MSC countries agreed to remain vigilant and step up efforts to minimise any possible occurrences of trans-boundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in anticipation of the extended drier weather in the coming months.

The ministers appreciated the substantive efforts made by Indonesia in implementing its Plan of Action in Dealing with Trans-boundary Haze Pollution, which includes the mobilisation of armed forces to suppress fires; strengthening law enforcement to address open burning; and enhancing close and continuous monitoring of hotspots and coordination among local governments, the national government, private sector and communities to prevent and suppress land and forest fires.

At their meeting, the officials provided guidance on the implementation of the Strategic Review of MSC Programmes and Activities, which covers enhancing haze control management through early warning or monitoring, fire prevention and fire suppression, refinement of the Fire Danger Rating System and meeting the training needs of ASEAN member states under the Regional Haze Training Network.

The ministers noted the intention of and steps taken by Indonesia to host the ASEAN Coordinating Centre on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution Control.

They commended the significant achievements made through local, national and regional activities under the five-year ASEAN Peatland Forests Project funded by the Global Environment Facility from 2009 to 2014 through the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The meeting noted the substantive progress of the development of the successive ASEAN Programme on Sustainable Management of Peatland Ecosystems (2014-2020), and the encouraging response and support from ASEAN dialogue and development partners. The ministers also renewed their commitment to implement the regional programme through ASEAN mechanisms and enhance national-level efforts and multi-stakeholder partnerships.

They recognised the need to develop a roadmap on ASEAN cooperation to control trans-boundary haze pollution and welcomed Thailand’s offer to host a workshop to draft the roadmap next year.-VNA