Challenges in regulating transboundary haze

27 Oct 2015 NUS scientists discussed on the problems with, and potential for, laws addressing transboundary pollution, in particular Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Transboundary pollution originates from various anthropogenic economical activities of one country, and may affect others within the region, adhering to no geographical, political, or economical boundaries. A team led by Dr Zeehan JAAFAR from the Department of Biological Sciences in NUS and Dr Janice LEE, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, explores the efficacy, and practicality in regulating transboundary pollution through legal actions. The Singapore government passed a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) to protect its citizens and economic interests from the effects of smoke-haze by penalizing agri-business companies responsible for burning activities outside her political boundaries.

Prosecution of perpetrators must ensure indisputable evidence of fire burning and accurately identify fire-initiators but on the ground resistance from beneficiaries and supporters of plantation development pose considerable obstacle to the smooth implementation of this law. Land conflicts and unreliable land-use maps present further challenges. In attempts to obtain necessary information for prosecution, Singapore must ensure that the sovereignty of pollution-origin states is upheld.

They recommend that land-use maps are improved and more funds be made available to monitor, and understand hotspot trends. A portion of the penalties obtained from successful prosecution should be channeled into ameliorating efforts such as fire brigades and monitoring systems. Additionally, incorporation of environmental clauses to the law, such as pegging penalty to value of ecosystem burnt, may result in environmental co-benefits related to carbon emissions, biodiversity preservation, and ecosystem services.

With the THPA, Singapore has taken a bold legal stance towards transboundary pollution. For the first time in two decades, there now exists a possibility to address drivers of fire events that bring about haze to the Southeast Asian region. Countries in the region, especially Indonesia, would reap substantial environmental and health co-benefits with the implementation of the THPA.


Haze-affected expressway and surrounds in Singapore on 30th September 2015. [Image credit: WONG Ley Kun]



Lee JSH, Jaafar Z, Tan AKJ, Carrasco LR, Ewing JJ, Bickford DP, Webb EL, Koh LP. “Towards clearer skies: Challenges in regulating transboundary haze in Southeast Asia.” Environmental Science & Policy 55 (2015) 87