Regional cooperation, patronage and the ASEAN Agreement on transboundary haze pollution

  • Helena Varkkey
Original Paper


Transboundary haze pollution is an almost annual occurrence in Southeast Asia. Haze originates from peat and forest fires mostly in Indonesia, with Malaysia and Singapore suffering the worst of its effects. Most of these fires are man-made and linked to land-clearing activities of local and foreign commercial oil palm plantations. The regional nature of the haze has resulted in a concentration of haze mitigation activities at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) level. However, these initiatives continually fail to effectively mitigate haze. This article argues that this failure is due to the influence of patronage politics in the sector, which is linked to the ASEAN style of regional engagement that prioritises the maintenance of national sovereignty. States are compelled to act in their national interests, as opposed to the collective regional interests. The economic importance of the oil palm sector to the states involved, coupled with the political importance of the clients populating this sector to elite patrons in the governments, meant that the maintenance of the status quo, where clients could continue to clear land using fire, was of crucial national interest. Therefore, the ASEAN style of regional engagement has enabled political elites to shape ASEAN initiatives to preserve the interests of their clients, while the public continue to suffer the haze. This article demonstrates this through a close analysis of the negotiations, outcomes and the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on transboundary haze pollution, with a special focus on Indonesia’s decision to withhold ratification of the treaty.


Haze Association of Southeast Asian Nations Southeast Asia Transboundary pollution Indonesia Patronage 



The author would like to thank interviewees from the media, government and civil society in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore who willingly shared information and insight for this paper. The author would like to also thank the University of Malaya and the University of Sydney for a scholarship and travel grant, respectively, for the completion of this research paper.


  1. Aggarwal, V. K., & Chow, J. T. (2010). The perils of consensus: How ASEAN’s meta-regime undermines economic and environmental cooperation. Review of International Political Economy, 17(2), 262–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ASEAN Secretariat (2002). ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution Kuala Lumpur.Google Scholar
  3. ASEAN Secretariat (2004). 4: Transnational issues. Paper presented at the ASEAN Annual Report.Google Scholar
  4. ASEAN Secretariat (2007). Review of existing ASEAN institutional mechanisms to deal with land and forest fires and transboundary haze pollution. Paper presented at the 2nd prepatory meeting for the 2nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Bandar Seri Begawan.Google Scholar
  5. ASEAN ups pressure on haze as lawmakers bicker. (2006). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  6. Boas, M. (2000). The trade-environment nexus and the potential of regional trade institutions. New Political Economy, 5(3), 415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boom and bust. (2011). Financial times. Google Scholar
  8. Budianto, L. (2008). Lawmakers refuses to endorse forest haze bill. (2008-3-14). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  9. Caroko, W., Komarudin, H., Obidzinski, K., & Gunarso, P. (2011). Policy and institutional frameworks for the development of palm oil-based biodiesel in Indonesia. Working paper. Jakarta: Center for International Forestry Research.Google Scholar
  10. Casson, A. (2002). The political economy of Indonesia’s oil palm sector. In C. J. Colfer & I. A. P. Resosudarmo (Eds.), Which way forward? People, forests and policymaking in Indonesia (pp. 221–245). Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies.Google Scholar
  11. Chang, L. L., & Rajan, R. S. (2001). Regional versus multilateral solutions to transboundary environmental problems: Insights from the Southeast Asian haze. The World Economy, 24(5), 655–671.Google Scholar
  12. Colfer, C. J. P. (2002). Ten propositions to explain Kalimantan’s fires. In C. J. Colfer & I. A. P. Resosudarmo (Eds.), Which way forward? People, forests and policymaking in Indonesia (pp. 309–321). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.Google Scholar
  13. Cotton, J. (1999). The “haze” over Southeast Asia: Challenging the ASEAN mode of regional engagement. Pacific Affairs, 72(3), 331–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Deutsch, A., & Sender, H. (2011). Boom and bust. (2011-6-8). Financial Times.Google Scholar
  15. Eaton, P., & Radojevic, R. (2001). Forest fires and regional haze in Southeast Asia. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  16. Elliott, L. (2003). ASEAN and environmental cooperation: norms, interests and identity. The Pacific Review, 16(1), 29–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Enderwick, P. (2005). What’s bad about crony capitalism? Asian Business & Management, 4, 117–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Environmental law should target haze. (2006). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  19. Environment minister warns of haze’s serious effects. (2006). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  20. EPSM wants haze constituents to be made public. (1997). New straits times.Google Scholar
  21. Fairhurst, T., & McLaughlin, D. (2009). Sustainable oil palm development in degraded land in Kalimantan. Kent: World Wildlife Fund.Google Scholar
  22. Ferguson, R. J. (2004). ASEAN concord II: Policy prospects for participant regional “development”. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 26, 393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Florano, E. R. (2003). Assesment of the “strengths” of the New ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution. International Review for Environmental Strategies, 4(1), 127–147.Google Scholar
  24. Gomez, E. T. (2009). The rise and fall of capital: Corporate Malaysia in historical perspective. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 39(3), 345–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Government, House discuss bill on transboundary haze. (2007). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  26. Hamilton-Hart, N. (2007). Government and private business: Rents, representation and collective action. In R. H. McLeod & A. MacIntyre (Eds.), Indonesia: Democracy and the promise of good governance (pp. 93–111). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.Google Scholar
  27. Ho, W. F. (1997). The Big Haze - Indonesian plantations’ denial ‘incredulous’. (1997-10-2). The Straits Times.Google Scholar
  28. Hudiono, U. (2003). RI missing out on ASEAN haze agreement: Activist. (2003-12-3). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  29. Indonesia must ratify anti-haze treaty. (2006). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  30. iStockAnalyst (2009). Indonesia’s palm oil contributes 4.5 pct to GDP. Accessed Oct 6, 2010.
  31. Jarvis, D., Richmond, N., Phua, K. H., Pocock, N., Sovacool, B. K., & D’agostino, A. (2010). Palm oil in Southeast Asia. Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin, 4, 1–18.Google Scholar
  32. Jones, D. S. (2004). ASEAN Initiatives to combat haze pollution: An assessment of regional cooperation in public policy-making. Asian Journal of Political Science, 12(2), 59–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jones, D. S. (2006). ASEAN and transboundary haze pollution in Southeast Asia. Asia Europa Journal, 4(3), 431–446.Google Scholar
  34. Khalik, A. (2006). ASEAN ups pressure on haze as lawmakers bicker. (2006-10-14). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  35. Khoo, N. (2004). Deconstructing the ASEAN security community: A review essay. International Relations of the Asia Pacific, 4(1), 35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kim, M. (2011). Theorizing ASEAN integration. Asian Perspectives, 35, 407–435.Google Scholar
  37. Kivimaki, T. (2001). The long peace of ASEAN. Journal of Peace Studies, 38(1), 5–25.Google Scholar
  38. Koh, K. L. (2008). A breakthrough in solving the Indonesian haze? In S. Hart (Ed.), Shared resources: Issues of governance. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.Google Scholar
  39. Koh, K. L., & Robinson, N. A. (2002). Regional environmental governance: Examining the association of South East Asian nations (ASEAN) model. In D. C. Esty & M. H. Ivanova (Eds.), Global environmental governance: Options & opportunities. Yale: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy.Google Scholar
  40. Kurer, O. (1996). The political foundations of economic development policies. Journal of Development Studies, 32(5), 645–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kurniawan, M. N. (2002). RI to speed up ratification of ASEAN haze accord. (2002-11-15). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  42. Larson, A. M., & Soto, F. (2008). Decentralization of natural resources governance regimes. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 33, 213–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lawmakers refuses to endorse forest haze bill. (2008). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  44. Maulidia, M. (2006). Indonesia must ratify anti-haze treaty. (2006-1-28). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  45. Mayer, J. (2006). Transboundary perspectives on managing Indonesia’s fires. The Journal of Environment & Development, 15(2), 202–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McCarthy, J. F. (2010). Process of inclusion and adverse incorporation: oil palm and agrarian change in Sumatra, Indonesia. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 37(4), 821–850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McLellan, J. (2001). From denial to debate—And back again! Malaysian press coverage of the air pollution and ‘haze’ episodes, July 1997–July 1999. In P. Eaton & M. Radojevic (Eds.), Forest fires and haze in Southeast Asia (pp. 253–262). New York: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  48. Muhamad Varkkey, H. (2012). The Asean way and haze mitigation efforts. Journal of International Studies, 85(3), 77–97.Google Scholar
  49. Murray, P. (2010). The European Union as an integration entrepreneur in East Asia—Yardstick or cautionary tale? In Australian political studies association conference, University of Melbourne, Sept 27–29, 2010.Google Scholar
  50. Narine, S. (1998). ASEAN and the management of regional security. Pacific Affairs, 71(2), 195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nesadurai, H. (2008). The association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). New political economy, 13(2), 225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nguitragool, P. (2011). Negotiating the haze treaty. Asian Survey, 51(2), 356–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nurhidayah, L. (2012). The influence of international law upon ASEAN approaches in addressing transboundary haze pollution in the ASEAN region. Paper presented at the 3rd NUS-Asian SIL Young Scholars Workshop, NUS Law School, Feb 23–24, 2012.Google Scholar
  54. Ortuoste, M. C. C. (2008). Internal and external institutional dynamics in member-states and ASEAN: Tracing creation, change and reciprocal influences. Arizona: Arizona State University.Google Scholar
  55. Palm oil sector to become larger contributor to GDP. (2010). Bernama daily Malaysian news.Google Scholar
  56. Parliament of Singapore (2007). Estimates of expenditure for the financial year 1st April, 2007 to 31st March, 2008 (2007-03-06). Singapore.Google Scholar
  57. Parliament of Singapore (2009). Haze situation (Action plan) (2009-09-15). Singapore.Google Scholar
  58. Parliament of Singapore (2010). Haze and forest fires (Commitment from Indonesia) (2010-11-22). Singapore.Google Scholar
  59. Pas-ong, S., & Lebel, L. (2000). Political transformation and the environment in Southeast Asia. Environment, 42(8), 8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Prasiddha, R. (2009). Update on the implementation of the ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution. In 2009 pan Asia forest fire consultation, Busan, Korea, Feb 2–7, 2009: ASEAN Secretariat.Google Scholar
  61. Rajenthran, A. (2002). Indonesia: An overview of the legal framework of foreign direct investment. Paper presented at the ISEAS Working Papers: Economics and Finance, Singapore.Google Scholar
  62. RI missing out on ASEAN haze agreement: Activist. (2003). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  63. RI to speed up ratification of ASEAN haze accord. (2002). Jakarta post.Google Scholar
  64. Robinson, N. A. (2000–2001). Precedents for the progressive development of international environmental law. Pace Environmental Law Review, 18, 459–504.Google Scholar
  65. Severino, R. C., Hew, D., Suryadinata, L., Hsu, L., & Moeller, J. O. (2005). Framing the ASEAN charter. Singapore: ISEAS.Google Scholar
  66. Shelton, D. (2003). Commitment and compliance: The role of non-binding norms in the international legal system. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sijabat, R. M. (2006). Environment minister warns of haze's serious effects. (2006-10-10). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  68. Sijabat, R. M. (2007). Government, House discuss bill on transboundary haze. (2007-3-13). Jakarta Post.Google Scholar
  69. Smith, A. L. (2000). Strategic centrality: Indonesia’s changing role in ASEAN. Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies.Google Scholar
  70. Smith, A. L. (2004). ASEAN’s ninth summit: Solidifying regional cohesion, advancing external linkages. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 26, 416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Solingen, E. (1999). ASEAN, Quo Vadis? Domestic coalitions and regional co-operation. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 21(1), 30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Syarif, L. O. M. (2007). Regional arrangements for transboundary atmospheric pollution in ASEAN countries. Sydney: University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  73. Syarif, L. M. (2010). The source of Indonesian environmental law. IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, 1, 1–18.Google Scholar
  74. Tacconi, L., Jotzo, F., & Grafton, R. Q. (2008). Local causes regional co-operation and global financing for environmental problems: The case of Southeast Asian Haze pollution. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 8, 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tan, A. K. J. (1999). Forest fires of Indonesia: State responsibility and international liability. International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 48, 826–885.Google Scholar
  76. Tan, A. K. J. (2004). Environmental laws and institutions in Southeast Asia: A review of recent developments. Singapore Year Book of International Law, 8, 177–192.Google Scholar
  77. Tan, A. K. (2005a). The ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution: Prospects for compliance and effectiveness in Post-Suharto Indonesia. N.Y.U. Environmental Law Journal, 13, 647–722.Google Scholar
  78. Tan, B. (2005b). The norms that Weren’t: ASEAN’s shortcomings in dealing with transboundary air pollution. Spring: International Environmental Politics.Google Scholar
  79. Tan, K. T., Lee, K. T., Mohamed, A. R., & Bhatia, S. (2009). Palm oil: Addressing issues and towards sustainable development. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 13, 420–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tay, S. (1998). South East Asian forest fires: haze over ASEAN and international environmental law. Reciel, 7(2), 202–208.Google Scholar
  81. Tay, S. S. C. (2002). Fires and haze in Southeast Asia. In P. J. Noda (Ed.), Cross-sectoral partnerships in enhancing human security (pp. 53–80). Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange.Google Scholar
  82. Terjesen, S., & Elam, A. (2009). Transnational entrepreneurs’ venture internationalization strategies: A practice theory approach. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 33(5), 1093–1116.Google Scholar
  83. The Big Haze—Indonesian plantations’ denial ‘incredulous’. (1997). The straits times.Google Scholar
  84. Update 1—Wilmar to invest $900 mln in Indonesia palm oil product plants. (2011). Reuters.Google Scholar
  85. Varkkey, H. (2012). Patronage politics as a driver of economic regionalisation: The Indonesian oil palm sector and transboundary haze. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 53(3), 314–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Varkkey, H. (2013). Patronage politics, plantation fires and transboundary haze. Environmental Hazards. doi: 10.1080/17477891.2012.759524.
  87. World Growth. (2011). The economic benefit of palm oil to Indonesia (pp. 1–26). Virginia: World Growth.Google Scholar
  88. Yahaya, N. (2000). Transboundary air pollution: Haze pollution in Southeast Asia and its significance. Journal of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, 2(2), 41–50.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia

Personalised recommendations