Prevention of forest fires in Indonesia: evaluation of international and regional legal frameworks.

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Theses / Dissertations
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Doctor of Philosophy
University of Canterbury
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Sitompul, Muhammad Ibnu Khaldun

This thesis explores the effectiveness of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) initiatives, relevant international environmental agreements, and principles of international environmental law on the prevention of forest fires and transboundary haze pollution in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. For many years, forest fires in Indonesia have resulted in transboundary haze pollution that has harmed neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. Despite numerous prevention efforts, forest fires continue to occur in Indonesia, particularly during the dry season. The majority of these forest fires are caused by human activity, including the slash and burn method in land clearing, which has been used in Indonesia for centuries, but it is now being used on a larger scale by big plantation companies. Additionally, logging and land expansion of palm oil plantation contribute to the occurrence of forest fires. Regional initiatives such as the 2002 ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) have been ineffective in reducing Indonesian forest fires and their transboundary impact in the region. The obligatory nature of the AATHP is frequently weakened by the strong influence of the ASEAN Way norm, adopted by ASEAN member states, which puts forward the principle of non-interference in addressing the relationships between them.

Furthermore, this research asserts that obligations under relevant international environmental agreements have had minimum impact on states, particularly Indonesia, in terms of indirectly assisting them in preventing forest fires and transboundary haze pollution. The obligations imposed by these agreements are often too general, leaving states like Indonesia with an excessive amount of discretion in terms of national implementation. In addition, this thesis concludes that principles of international environmental law have been ineffective at influencing states’ behaviour in addressing forest-related issues. The existence of the ASEAN Way, which is based on a strong belief in state sovereignty, has hampered implementation of these principle in the region. In addition, owing to the fact that the ASEAN Way promotes a peaceful means of settling dispute, which is informal and non-judicial, it is more difficult for states impacted by transboundary haze pollution caused by forest fires in Indonesia to challenge Indonesia before an international court or tribunal.

The methods to be used in conducting this research are primarily positivist doctrinal legal approach combined with desktop studies. The purpose of a doctrinal legal approach is to assist in the formulation of legal doctrines by analysing legal rules. It is based on current regional and international positive laws that are applicable to environmental protection, including regulations and conventions relating (directly and indirectly) to forest fires as sources. This thesis argues that the effectiveness of regional initiatives, including the AATHP, must be improved in order to foster cooperation in resolving the ongoing issue of forest fires and transboundary haze pollution in the Southeast Asian region. In addition, international environmental agreements must engage more in forest fire prevention in a way that could be clearly implemented at the national level, particularly in Indonesia, the region’s primary source of forest fires and transboundary haze pollution issues. Ultimately, impacted states must have a way to hold a source state accountable for their actions that harm the environment without having to violate the region’s fundamental values.

forest fires, transboundary haze pollution, international environmental law
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