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Regional Policy Framework

The 1997/1998 forest and land fires in Indonesia that triggered adverse knock-on effects, such as transboudary haze pollution, emphasised the need for a more coordinated effort at the regional level to prevent and control such negative impacts. Despite increased efforts since then, it was only in June 2002 at the 9th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH) that serious note was made of fire prevention and control measures in peatlands. The Meeting requested the ASEAN Senior Officials of the Environment Haze Technical Task Force (ASOEN HTTF) to initiate a collaborative effort to develop and provide a framework for regional cooperation on fire, haze and peatland management. 

The ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI) was adopted during the 20th HTTF meeting in Manila after rounds of extensive consultations and reviews. The APMI is seen as a long term initiative working though the ASEAN structure, to be coordinated by the ASEAN Secretariat and the HTTF. The APMI was then translated into action in the form of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS) in November 2005. The APMS provides guidance to ASEAN Member countries and other implementing bodies on measures to promote sustainable peatland management. The Strategy is the most relevant regional framework in ASEAN for promoting sustainable peatland management through collective action and enhanced cooperation to support and sustain local livelihoods, reduce the risks of fire and its associated haze, and contribute to global environmental management.

i. ASEAN Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP)

The Regional Haze Action Plan was endorsed by the ASEAN Environment Ministers in December 1997 during a period of intense fire and transboundary haze pollution. Under its overall framework, strategic measures and activities have been targeted to strengthen the region’s capacity and capability to address transboundary haze pollution. The RHAP has three primary objectives, namely (i) to prevent land and forest fires through better management policies and enforcement; (ii) to establish operational mechanisms to monitor land and forest fires; and (iii) to strengthen regional land and forest fire-fighting capability with other mitigation measures.

The RHAP has three major components: prevention, mitigation and monitoring. Malaysia takes the lead in prevention, Indonesia in mitigation, and Singapore in monitoring of fires and haze. ASEAN Member Countries (AMCs) also undertake national-level actions that relate to the three RHAP components. Implementation of the RHAP at the sub-regional and regional level should complement measures taken at the national level.

ii. ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution

The Landmark ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was signed by the ten AMCs on 10 June 2002 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was enforced on 25 November 2003. It contains provisions on monitoring, assessment and prevention, technical cooperation and scientific research, mechanisms for coordination, lines of communication, and simplified customs and immigration procedures for disaster relief. The Agreement also provides for the establishment of an ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control. To date, Brunei Darussalam, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam have ratified the Agreement and deposited their instrument of ratification/ approval with the ASEAN Secretariat.

iii. ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI)

The concept for this initiative was developed through discussion with a broad range of agencies in 1999-2001. Information on peatland fires and the need for cooperation was discussed at the 13th ASOEN-HTTF Meeting and the 7th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH) in July 1999. The 19th ASOEN-HTTF Meeting and the 9th AMMH on 10-11 June 2002 discussed the issue of fire prevention and control in peatlands. The 9th AMMH also discussed the need for proper development and utilisation of peatlands in the region, and requested the HTTF and its working groups to explore development of this initiative. The APMI was discussed and developed further through consultations, questionnaires and regional meetings, and was adopted in February 2003 at the 20th ASOEN-HTTF Meeting in Manila, Philippines, together with a work plan for 2003-2005. The APMI was highlighted at the 10th AMMH in March 2003 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

iv. ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (APMS)

As a main output of the APMI, this regional Strategy was developed to provide a common framework for peatland management in the region in the period 2006–2020. There are four main objectives to the proposed strategy, namely:

  • To enhance understanding and build capacity on peatland management issues in the region
  • To reduce the incidence of peatland fires and associated haze
  • To support national and local level implementation activities on peatland management and fire prevention
  • To develop a regional strategy and cooperation mechanisms to promote sustainable peatland management

This strategy includes 25 operational objectives in 13 focal areas namely inventory and assessment; research, awareness and capacity building information sharing, policy and legislation, fire prevention, control and monitoring, conservation of peatland biodiversity and integrated management of peatlands, promotion of demonstration sites for peat, restoration and rehabilitation, peatland and climate change, regional cooperation and financing of the implementation strategy. The strategy was endorsed by the HTTF in November 2005 and will be presented to the AMMH. ASEAN Member Countries with significant peatlands are currently developing complementary National Action Plans (NAPs) on Peatlands. The NAPs will provide the respective countries with their national focus, and identify agencies involved, funds and requirements for implementing activities towards the sustainable management of peatlands.

Regional Institutional Framework

The main regional institutional framework related to peatland management and degradation lies within the ASEAN mechanisms on transboundary haze pollution as described below.

i. ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Haze (AMMH)

The AMMH provides policy guidance and direction to the ASOEN HTTF for the implementation of the RHAP.

ii. ASEAN Secretariat

The Environment and Disaster Management Unit of the Bureau for Resources and Development of the ASEAN Secretariat provides coordination and secretarial support to the above ASEAN bodies. The secretariat also serves as a resource for the development of regional policy frameworks and coordinates the implementation of regional projects and activities. The ASEAN Secretariat currently serves as the interim ASEAN coordinating centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control, together with the ASMC.


The region of South East Asia faces common problems relating to peatlands, namely the drainage of peatlands, the occurrence of peatland fires and the over-exploitation of its resources. Peatland fires and their associated haze have had the most severe negative impact on the environment, socio-economic and health. It is said that the 1997-98 fire episodes have resulted in economic losses estimated at close to USD 9billion. The phenomena of annually recurring peatland fires have resulted in the depletion of peat swamp forests and increased degradation of these ecosystems are the result of other human activities.

Since the devastating fires of 1997-98, the region has made significant effort to address the issue of peatland fires, their associated transboundary haze and greenhouse gas emissions with guidance from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through its Secretariat, ASEAN member countries and the assistance of the international community. These efforts were represented by various stand-alone activities at the site level that focused on fire fighting measures and have not effectively addressed the root causes of the problem. Hence, annual peatland fires still persist especially in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and these generate huge amounts of smoke. One such fire incident was felt by Malaysia on 12 August 2005 when a state of emergency was declared due poor air quality as a result of the transboundary haze caused by peatland fires in Sumatera, Indonesia and in the state of Selangor in Malaysia.

Recognising that peatland drainage and degradation are main root causes of regular land and forest fires and that the need to address these root causes of peatland degradation were urgent, a subsequent framework was developed to allow AMCs to address these issues through the wise use and sustainable management of their peatland resources.

The regional component of the Project aims to support the implementation of a Regional Action Plan of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (RAP/ APMS) and the National Action Plans (NAPs) of the countries involved in the project. It will also synergise the various country component activities and provide a platform for the integration of project activities towards achieving the overall desired goal. Strategic intervention from a regional perspective could contribute to stimulating regional approaches leading to on-the-ground activities that could be carried out in various pilot sites in the region. A coordination mechanism will be set up for compiling information and to disseminate or share amongst the countries within the project scope, including on issues such as the status of peatland carbon storage and climate vulnerability, best management practices and community livelihood participation options. This information is to be compiled, analysed and disseminated to provide guidance for specific peatland management policies to address their respective issues on peatland degradation, poverty alleviation and sustainable environmental management for the benefit of the ASEAN region.

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