Stepping up for a haze-free Southeast Asia

Countries collaborate for transboundary haze pollution control
The lush rainforests of South Konawe, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by Khairul Abdi/CIFOR-ICRAF

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The wet years have passed, and Southeast Asia is once again facing a dry year triggered by El Niño, the cyclical warming phase of the Pacific Ocean temperature.

Countries are bracing against the looming hazard of forest and land fires that not only destroy remaining patches of healthy forests and ecosystems but also contribute to worsening of the regional haze pollution and associated health problems and the climate crisis, as burning of forests and peatland release the high amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere and sending fumes across national borders.

For example, the 2015 forest and land fires in Indonesia led to five months of haze reaching as far as Vietnam, costing Indonesian economic loss of USD 16.1 billion. And by mid-2023, the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) reported fires and haze across northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar.

Responding to decades of haze pollution problems, all ASEAN Member States (AMS) ratified the ASEAN Agreement of Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) in 2015 which aims to prevent and monitor transboundary haze pollution as a result of land and/or forest fires through concerted national efforts and intensified regional and international cooperation in the overall context of sustainable development.

Following this, the Roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control was developed and adopted in August 2016 to further operationalize the agreement, after a series of consultations with relevant stakeholders.

This Roadmap contained eight interrelated and mutually reinforcing key strategies that translate the AATHP’s principles into tangible and collaborative actions – ranging from sustainable peatland management to prevent fire to reduce associated health and environmental risks – to be implemented by AMS at different levels and timescales. It had a vision of creating a ‘Transboundary Haze-Free ASEAN by 2020.’

Delegates hold the second roadmap document demonstrating collective commitment towards eliminating transboundary haze pollution. Photo by Ricky Martin/CIFOR-ICRAF

Given this vision, Parties to the AATHP agreed to an independent review between 2020-2021 of the Roadmap’s progress to take stock of implementation by each AMS.

The review found most of the strategies were moderately complete with good progress in several categories, including implementing effective preventive measures by enhancing forest fire monitoring, assessment and early warning systems and the passing of national and local laws aimed at preventing forest and land fires.

Other notable achievements included activities to enhance cooperation and exchange of information and technology between the AMS. However, the review also indicated moderate to low rates of completion in decreasing burned peatland areas and number of regulations and/or incentives for zero-burning practices.

Overall, the 2016-2020 Roadmap has helped ASEAN countries to work together in reducing the risk of wildfire and preventing health-affecting haze pollution—but there is still much room for improvement. Additionally, the review recommended incorporating alternatives to zero-burning policy for community livelihoods.

Most traditional communities in Southeast Asia have prescribed burned some parts of the forest they live within, rarely resulting in large land or forest fires. Therefore, the approach to haze management needs to include all relevant stakeholders across all levels.

Now, under the shadow of a worsening climate crisis and predicted frequent and more catastrophic fires – the likelihood of which is expected to increase by at least 20-33 percent by 2050 – ASEAN has been working to develop and subsequently implement the Second Roadmap.

Launched on 21 February 2024, the Second Roadmap seeks to guide AMS to one goal: elimination of regional transboundary haze pollution by 2030 through the effective implementation of collective actions to prevent and control land and forest fires.

“This Roadmap is not just a document, it is a declaration of intent, a roadmap to a healthier future. It embodies the collective goals of our nations,” said Lonkham Atsanavong, the chairperson of the Committee under the Conference of the Parties to the AATHP (COM), who hails from Lao PDR.

The Second Roadmap was created through meetings of a Task Force with senior officials from AMS and development partners between 2022 and 2023.

It builds on past experiences and uses multi-disciplinary and science-based methods, outlining nine strategies and corresponding actions aiming to address transboundary haze pollution by improving regional capacity, implementing tailored subregional strategies, promoting sustainable land use practices, implementing best peatland management practices, securing resources, strengthening national policies, enhancing cooperation, raising public awareness, and mitigating the impacts of haze on various sectors. It was officially adopted at the 18th Meeting of the COM in August 2023.

“Positive results from past collective efforts by stakeholders, including local communities and the private sector, to control land and forest fire demonstrates the importance of continuous stakeholder engagement within and across sectors and disciplines.” said Ky-Anh Nguyen, the director of the ASEAN Secretariat’s sustainable development directorate. He added that stakeholder participation is crucial to the successful implementation of the Second Roadmap.

The planet is getting hotter every year, meaning more efforts are needed to achieve a haze-free region. In this context, the Second Roadmap recognizes the challenges of managing land and forest fires as well as transboundary haze pollution. It acknowledges that countries have different abilities and capacities to address fires and pollution. As such, a new strategy in the Second Roadmap encourages cooperation and learning from each other to create a haze-free Southeast Asia.

“Our collaborative efforts will pave the way for innovative solutions, technological advancements, and policy reforms that will ultimately lead us closer to achieving our common goal — a future free from transboundary haze,” said Swetha Peteru, a scientist and MAHFSA Coordinator at CIFOR-ICRAF, in her closing remarks.


For more information, please contact Swetha Peteru:



This piece was developed with the assistance of CIFOR-ICRAF scientist Ahmad Dermawan, and ASEAN Secretariat members Etwin Kuslati Sabarini, Dyah Ayu Ritma Ratri, Mardiah Hayati, and Wiraditma Prananta.
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