If you have seen the news from Southeast Asia recently, you would know the haze is back again, impacting health, lives and livelihoods of thousands. Caused mainly by illegal slash and burn practices to clear land to meet the growing demand for pulp, paper and palm oil, the haze is widely regarded as an (almost) annual nuisance - but little do we realize that the haze is also linked to climate change. How we tackle the haze today could set an example for the climate action our planet needs.

1. Protecting our forests and peatlands is paramount:
We all know that forests and peatlands act as important carbon sinks, helping to regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and keeping one of the primary greenhouse gases driving climate change in check. Protecting our forests and peatlands is therefore key to changing climate change, but uncontrolled expansion of palm oil, pulp and paper production has already led to massive loss of forest cover in Indonesia and Malaysia. According to the WWF Sumatra Forest Report 2010, the 44 million hectare Sumatran mainland, home to species like the Sumatran elephant, tiger and rhino lost approximately 50% of its forest cover between 1985 and 2009.

© Alain Compost / WWF

2. We need to keep emissions in check:
The loss of forests not only adversely impacts the role they play as carbon sinks but also contributes to emissions themselves. When forests fall to illegal logging or agricultural conversion they release carbon back into the atmosphere, becoming sources of harmful greenhouse gases instead of regulating them. Indeed, a recent report on the Global Fire Emissions database shows that on 26 days between 1 September and 14 October, Indonesia’s daily emissions surpassed those of the entire US.



© Alain Compost / WWF

3. Seasonal patterns & forests are going to change and our practices need to change too:
As at present, the haze often coincides with the dry Southwest monsoon season, which enables clearing of land in the absence of rain and is also characteristic of air currents that move the smoke towards neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Scientific research indicates that climate change will contribute to longer and more intense dry spells in the region, with similar wind patterns, and this probability must be taken into consideration when considering haze challenges and solutions in the future. In addition, rising temperatures also make forests drier and more susceptible to fires, making it difficult to control the spread of flames once ignited and constituting a serious risk to the biodiversity and communities living in the region.

4. Sustainable practices are what we need:
So is boycotting palm oil the answer? Actually, it is not. Although it may seem like palm oil is the enemy, the reality is that palm oil actually has the highest yield per hectare when compared to other vegetable oils (see picture below) and, if grown sustainably, could be beneficial to both the economy and the environment.


What we need more than anything are sustainable practices that ensure only palm oil that has been grown and sourced sustainably is made available for consumption. The good news is we do have the tools, knowledge, and certification we need to do so, but we need everyone - consumers, corporates and countries - to act together.

5. Collaboration from all actors is a must:
Indeed, the transboundary haze is a classic example of the kind of collaboration we need to tackle environmental challenges like climate change. Not only do we need countries to collaborate and work together but we also need companies and individuals to make a commitment to adopt and encourage sustainable practices. Each of us has a part to play. Much like a popular song from the 80s, we need to realize that although “we didn’t start the fire and we didn’t light it’, we absolutely must fight it - for our planet and its incredible species and communities.

Do your bit today- support WWF-Singapore’s ‘We Breathe What We Buy’ campaign and encourage companies to make the switch to sustainable practices now!