WWF-Malaysia calls for greater efforts in combatting the haze
"Now is the time for all stakeholders to come together and work towards a common solution for nature and people. We need to prevent such a major pollution through concerted, sustainable and long-term national efforts, and regional and international cooperation. We must all do our part to protect the planet," said WWF-Malaysia Conservation Director Dr. Henry Chan. He added that the dire consequences for all of us in failing to do so is all too apparent, from health issues to the affected population, to the loss of biodiversity.
Experts predicted that weather conditions this year would be drier than normal, with the dry weather phenomenon called El Nino returning as early as July. This sparked concerns of severe forest fires breaking out across plantations and forest concessions, bringing the haze with it. However, the dry weather is not the only cause of forest fires that brought about the haze. Unsustainable agricultural practices, such as the clearing of land through the slashand-burn technique, created unsanctioned fires which were exacerbated by the dry weather, and some quickly ran out of control. This phenomenon is not a new occurrence but happens almost every year, resulting in a blanket of haze over Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The haze, resulting from widespread forest fires, not only impacts the environment, but also the well-being and health of our people. Early findings on the effects of haze on health, as monitored by the Ministry of Health, found that there has been an increase of 30% to 40% in certain illnesses such as respiratory tract infections, conjunctivitis and acute asthma attacks. WWF-Malaysia calls for urgent actions to combat the recurring haze, where all parties from Governments, companies, local communities and consumers take responsibility and upping the ante in our efforts to prevent the haze. There is a crucial need to conserve our forests and steer agricultural practices towards greater sustainability, throughout its supply-chain.
Sustainable and long-term efforts to prevent land and forest fires are also critical in addressing the challenges of climate change. Forests and other ecosystems contribute to both carbon removals from the atmosphere and also climate resilience building. All environmental impacts could be reduced or even avoided if ecosystems are allowed to function properly. If forests continue to be degraded or destroyed, human beings can no longer enjoy irreplaceable services that nature provides which all of us depend on – clean air, water, and food resources, among others.
Considering the haze’s immediate and expected long term societal and ecological impacts, efforts to maintain, repair and improve the integrity of the natural world is critical for our continued growth and survival. Sustainable agricultural productions, both at industrial scale plantations and subsistence farming by local communities, can help mitigate the haze. This includes strengthening policies and enforcing regulations to keep intact forests from being converted and limiting land clearance and conversion to degraded areas only, as well as supporting local communities from their dependence on the slash-and-burn method of agricultural land clearance. Administrative and implementation procedures should also be put in place to mitigate and combat fires, with strict auditing to monitor compliance.
WWF believes companies can be drivers of change to develop solutions for sustainably sourced agricultural products from within the value chain. We applaud companies who are taking extra steps to work with others in their value chain to create and support models for sustainable production and best practices, including fire prevention and mitigation procedures as well as models that are inclusive of farmers and smallholders. We also strongly believe that companies should take on the responsibility to communicate their sustainability initiatives to consumers, in order to educate them on the importance of sustainable production and consumption. We need more companies to champion sustainability, rather than shy away from talking about it. Additionally, companies who are lagging should be pressured to adopt environmentally-friendly practices by Governments, financial institutions and consumers.
Consumers should also realise that they have the purchasing power and can collectively form a strong voice to demand more sustainable products to be made available on the shelves. As such, WWF-Malaysia urges consumers to play a bigger role in sustainable consumption by exercising purchasing power towards buying responsibly. One of the ways that this can be done is by buying certified sustainable products, such as those with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifications. When there is a demand for sustainably produced products, there will be a higher likelihood that producers and manufacturers will increase sustainability in their production.
“A new deal for nature and people is needed to reverse the loss of nature as well as protect and restore nature by 2030 for the benefit of people and the planet. One of the key elements of this is that governments – ranging from heads of state to ministers – as well as businesses, civil societies and the public need to pool their resources to strengthen the multilateral treaties such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that will come into force next year, as well as a new framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that will be adopted in 2020. These conventions together with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals will lead to better national strategies for sustainable development,” Dr. Chan added.