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The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage

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Helena Varkkey

on 3 May 2017

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Transcript of The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage

Research Question
ASEAN has been trying to collectively resolve transboundary haze issues since 1985, but haze persists. Why?

International Relations approach:
nexus between regional governance and national interests
Thesis Statement
"Patronage politics is a mutually symbiotic relationship between individuals in which the one with the higher socio-economic position (patron) exercises their influence and resources to provide for the other person of lower status (client) in exchange for support, assistance, and services"
Access to Peatlands
peatlands should not be developed by law; but in high demand (suitability, timber etc)

well-connected companies can secure licenses for peatlands
'functional directors' appointed to perform 'extra-economic functions'
including foreign companies: Malaysian & Singaporean (added layer at home)

decentralization as an enabler
localised patronage networks
fast way to fill regional coffers
Protection from Prosecution
Peatfires - either intentional or accidental

Law
not responsible for adjacent fires
'strict liability' in 1997 EMA, but never operationalized

Enforcement
police very rarely investigate
successful prosecution extremely rare (eg. KLK case - too lenient?)
Research Background
University of Sydney PhD
fieldwork from 2009-2012 in Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore
Over 130 interviews

Published under Routledge Malaysia Series in 2015
Problem Statement
while peat fires make up about 40% of forest fires, it contributes about 90% of transboundary haze

slash-and-burn rarely on peat (too expensive)

about 25% of all oil palm plantations in Indonesia are on peat
The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage
Weak Regional Response
ATHP 2002 legally binding, but...
no dispute resolution / enforcement mechanisms
commercial plantation burning 'too sensitive'
no open sharing of maps (something to hide?)
Indonesia last to ratify with little effect (Jokowi: give me 3 years)

Outcomes:
appease civil society & protect national interest
ASEAN Way used to ensure (elite) economic interests prevail
environment not a priority in ASEAN
Conclusions
Recent Developments
New Considerations
Haze &
Environmental Politics
Environmental pollution problem originating in one country, with effects manifesting in neighbouring countries

Questions of 'models' of regional environmental governance
an important complement to national governance?
Acid Rain & EU; Haze & ASEAN
Helena Varkkey, University of Malaya (helenav@um.edu.my)
Political Economy
of Palm Oil
Moving Forward
Important regional sector
economy: GDP, foreign exchange
social: development, employment, poverty
involving elite business interests

ASEAN's approach to natural resources and economic growth

About 50% of Indonesian plantations have Malaysian or Singaporean interests: poetic justice?

the political economy of the region, characterized by its celebration of agribusiness and the patronage culture, can explain the persistence of haze

patronage enabled elite access to otherwise forbidden lands, and a culture of impunity with regards to fires

ASEAN regional governance was useful in addressing public concerns ('doing something'~) but at the same time protecting national, elite interests
Indonesia (Jokowi)
linking fire activity to KPI (police/military)
7 arrests, 27 licenses revoked, major court victories
3 Riau governors caught for land-based corruption
Peatland Restoration Agency, peat moratorium

Singapore
national interests no more in line with neighbours?
THP Act specifically targeted to companies

RSPO

P&C recommends avoiding peat
RSPO NEXT bans peat
significant improvement in the practises of major players (being watched)
eg. NDPE pledges

the access effect:
medium-sized players now opening up plantations adjacent to existing ones
still 'under the radar'; risk of aggravating peat, fires & haze
Chief Editor, Transboundary Haze Study (Academy of Sciences Malaysia; completed 2016)

Evidence-Based Agribusiness & Forestry in Indonesia (British Academy; since 2016)

Sustainable Governance of Transboundary Environmental Commons in Southeast Asia (Singapore; awarded 2017)
Full transcript