Haze no longer due to El Nino or climate change

PETALING JAYA: Even as Malaysia braces itself for haze due to looming dry and hot conditions this year, experts warn that the frequency of such episodes has reduced from once in nine years to every other year since 1982.

In a report prepared by Akademi Sains Malaysia and presented by its vice-president Prof Datuk Dr A. Bakar Jaafar, it said climate change, or El Nino, was no longer the controlling factor in the increase and frequency of haze episodes in the southwestern part of South-East Asia.

“The climate change or the ever-changing climate that is generally attributed either to the natural cycle, namely El Nino, the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or to both, is no longer the controlling factor in explaining the increase in the frequency of haze episodes in the southwestern part of South-East Asia.

“Since 1982, the frequency of the episodes has been reduced from once in nine years to every other year, if not once a year,” he said during the presentation.

The presentation was delivered during a recent Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Regional Consultation on Business and Human Rights, Environment and Climate Change in Asean.

The event is being held days before the Fourth Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee (MSC) meeting and the Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting on transboundary haze on June 7 and June 9 in Singapore.

Prof A. Bakar said there must have been other factors that compounded the worsening environmental conditions.

“(These are) the losses in the capacity of the natural forest ecosystem to recover itself from one dry season to another and during the wet seasons.

“Not only the traditional slash-and-burn, but also the increase in and the extent of open burning of both forested and peat areas during the dry periods, particularly during the inter-monsoon period over the months of August to October,” said Prof A. Bakar, who is also the chairman of the academy’s Local and Transboundary Haze Study.

The academy’s assessment was made between 1982 and 2016, the last of which coincided with a strong El Nino event.

The last time Malaysia was hit by transboundary haze was in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic and a subsequent long stretch of La Nina from 2020 until early this year brought fires and open burning to a temporary halt.

El Nino is an irregular weather phenomenon that causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise, bringing hot and dry weather to Malaysia, while La Nina has the opposite impact.

Weather scientists have forecast a strong El Nino developing later this year while countries like Thailand, Laos and Myanmar experienced severe haze earlier this year due to open burning.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre has warned of more prolonged and intense heat and dry weather from June to October in the southern Asean region, with a higher risk of fires and transboundary haze.

Later, in an interview, he said the academy’s assessment showed that transboundary haze incidents seemed to be occurring more than El Nino.

“In the past they always blame El Nino or nature for the haze. We cannot blame nature,” said Prof A. Bakar.

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