Air Quality and Haze Episode in Malaysia


Transboundary haze (or ’haze’ for the purpose of this study) is one of the major environmental issues in Southeast Asia for the last three decades. The haze has not only affected the countries within the region but even beyond because of the impacts on environmental concerns with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and biodiversity thus challenging international attempts to address these issues. According to the ASEAN Haze Action Online, ‘haze’ consists of sufficient smoke, dust, moisture, and vapour suspended in air to impair visibility and haze pollution can be considered ‘transboundary’ if its density and extent is so great at source that it remains at measureable levels after crossing into another country’s air space. The use of the term ‘haze’ as opposed to ‘transboundary atmospheric pollution’ in ASEAN is to play down the impact of Indonesian fires even though the fires and associated haze could pose risks to human health and the environment. The usage of ‘haze’ is a diplomatic way to avoid having to confront the State that causes the problem by linking it with principles of state responsibility under international law.
This Working Group is tasked to examine the problem of transboundary haze and to contribute to innovative approaches in promoting the conversion of biomass into energy or some useful material in order to eliminate the use of fire for land preparation and thereby transform palm oil production or shift towards sustainable production practices. The overall purpose is to present a viable economic solution to the political actors and investors. Much has been documented and debated on the transboundary haze. However, this study will not deal with issues of deforestation, draining of peatlands, Indonesia’s lack of capacity or ASEAN’s limitations to address the issue, or diagnosing cronyism and corruption as the problem or even analysing the legal implications as possible solutions. This study instead will focus first on our perception on the nature of the problem. Framing the problem will then help us to shape our response.