We have not been experiencing the haze for about 2 years now, all thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a report published by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) suggested the possible return of haze to Southeast Asia.
The report said despite its return, things should not be as bad as in previous years. On a colour scale ranking, the risk of transboundary haze this year is classified as amber or medium, which is between green (low) and red (high).
It also said that the pollution that could stem from this year’s smog would be “unlikely to be on the same degree” as the haze situations of 1997 to 1998, 2013, 2015, and 2019.
The risk assessment scale is conducted base on 3 factors, namely weather (rainfall and temperatures), human behavior, and governmental policies (climate and land management).
The medium severity of this year’s haze can be attributed to the region’s weather conditions this year, which are likely to be wetter than usual due to increased rainfall in the coming months.
In addition, the report also expects that the amount of land clearing (particularly in Indonesian areas) will not be as extreme as in previous years, even despite the high commodity prices witnessed over recent months.
Thus, we may expect to see more haze than the year before, when the 2021 risk was categorised as green (low) by the institute.
What causes haze?
According to the report, the cause of the 2022 haze will have less to do with Indonesia’s sustainability policy or the region’s weather conditions but rather the market forces, such as the high prices of palm oil, influencing more illegal land clearing through fires.
Since the beginning of the year, palm oil prices have skyrocketed thanks to the soaring prices of other commodities and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has also affected the prices of oil and food.
In addition, oil palm growers have bought double the amount of oil palm seeds compared to 2018 (when oil prices were at an all-time low). All these indicated that there will be more oil palm planting in the near future, which has increased the risk of haze should fire be used to clear new lands for crop planting.
Despite the Indonesian government has implemented several policies meant to lower the number of land-clearing fires, the surge in palm oil prices may still prove to be a problem where illegal burning is concerned.