EARTH Thailand

Government proposes new approach to fight haze

Bangkok Post 08 March 2016 | Apinya Wipatayotin

Asean leaders mull clean air roadmap

Chiang Mai: Thailand has proposed each country set its own measures to reduce air particle levels according to their own standards, arguing such "active" measures could then be included in the Asean Haze-Free Roadmap to control transboundary haze pollution.

The proposal came Monday as high-level Asean officials gathered in the northern province to attend the three-day First Taskforce Meeting to Draft the Roadmap on Asean Cooperation Towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control with Means of Implementation. Myanmar and Brunei were absent from the meeting.

Wijarn Simachaya, chief of the Department of Pollution Control, said Asean members have worked together to reduce haze pollution in the region. CLMV countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- reached an agreement with Thailand to keep the number of hotspots (fires) below 50,000 a year. The number of hotspots, a significant indicator for haze pollution, in CLMV countries last year was less than 50,000. Non-CLMV countries have not reached a similar agreement.

It is possible Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Brunei will agree with the Thai proposal to set their own measures to reduce the level of air particles to meet safety standards.

Malaysia and Singapore have set the level of particles at 150 microgrammes per cubic metre as their standard for safety. Thailand and Indonesia have set the measurement at 120 microgrammes per cubic metre. Each country sets standards according to different criteria.

"We do agree that if each country could control or manage dust levels in line with their safety standards, it will not have any impact on neighbouring countries. The problem of transboundary haze will also be limited," Mr Wijarn said.

He said Asean has no punitive agreements to deal with countries that produce haze. Instead, he said, the bloc prefers to push for cooperation which it sees as the norm in the region.

The first taskforce is working towards establishing measures to control and limit haze pollution in the Asean region by the year 2020. A roadmap will be submitted for the consideration of Asean leaders during their summit at the end of this year.

Environment Minister Surasak Karnjanarat said that the meeting is a follow-up event after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha called on Asean to more closely cooperate in dealing with haze pollution during the Asean summit held in Malaysia late last year.

Many instances of haze pollution in specific countries have escalated to become transboundary pollution issues. A clear example is the annual peat fires in Indonesia that create transboundary haze pollution in Malaysia, Singapore and sometimes the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Department of Pollution Control found the level of particles in Chiang Mai was at 119 microgramme per cubic metre, with a tendency to increase in Chiang Mai and Lampang. The department has forecast that haze in northern provinces will peak this month. State agencies are on alert to quickly respond to forest fires.