Haze, financing get airing at green forum

SINGAPORE - The region's annual haze has been blamed on the big boys of the palm oil industry but small-time farmers also need to be monitored, a forum heard on Tuesday.

These farmers make up about 40 per cent of global production, are mainly located in Malaysia and Indonesia, and may not have the tools or know-how to grow crops without setting fire to the land - a practice that leads to the haze.

This key recommendation emerged from a group discussion on the palm oil industry on Tuesday as part of the two-day Res- ponsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development, of which The Straits Times is an official media partner.

The participants at the forum, held at Marina Bay Sands, were split into six groups on the second and final day on Tuesday to work on ways to improve specific industries' sustainability. The sectors were palm oil, agriculture and forestry, financial services, consumer goods, energy, and building and urban infrastructure.

The palm oil group included the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - a non-profit industry stakeholders' association that certifies that the oil is made in an eco-friendly way - and Singapore-based palm oil giant Wilmar International, which has been blamed for the haze although it has said any fires on its land were not lit for land clearing.

"Aside from monitoring the small farmers, we also need to be able to differentiate their borders, so that they do not get blamed for their neighbours' fires," said Dr Kenneth Richards, a sustainability professor at the National University of Singapore Business School who presented the group's ideas.

All six groups wanted governments and financial institutions to set an example, for instance, by making the environmental impact of projects a consideration for loans, requiring firms to account for their eco-footprint, funding energy audits and showcasing exemplary projects or firms.

Online publication Eco-Business founder and editor Jessica Cheam, who chaired the building and urban infrastructure group, mooted a "builders' responsibility" code of conduct that ensures materials are reused if their buildings are demolished.

The World Wide Fund for Nature's Asia finance and commodities specialist Jeanne Stampe, from the financial services group, said governments could move beyond using just gross domestic product to measure growth.

"While the financial services sector has a crucial role to play, governments can also take into account their country's natural capital (such as forests) to measure growth."


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