New Forests: Path clears for ethical investors
Haze: it is, dangerously and expensively, south-east Asia’s filthiest four-letter word.
Every dry season from June through to October, the illegal slash-and-burn techniques used in palm oil and pulp plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia envelope the region in toxic smog.
The haze has been a life-threatening constant of the region for years. In 1997, Singapore introduced a Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) to measure air quality after a particularly putrid season: locals immediately dubbed it “Pay Suharto Immediately” because they knew how business was done under the Indonesian dictator, as well as some of the more democratic administrations that followed him.
A decade ago, Malaysia’s national tourism marketing tagline – Malaysia, Truly Asia – was ritually twisted to replace the final word, with variants including Malaysia, truly hazier.
The pollution forces schools and offices to close, grounds flights and puts thousands in medical care. The World Bank estimates the annual haze costs the regional economies it affects – mainly Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – around $30 billion. Medical studies attributed around 100,000 premature deaths to the haze in 2015, a particularly bad year.
But New Forests, an investment fund manager based between Singapore, Sydney and San Francisco, wants to help put an end to Asia’s suffocating cycle. It aims to convince plantation owners and their investors that it’s possible to make good money from the region’s forests without trashing them. And, by setting up shop in Singapore, it hopes to further the city-state’s credentials as a centre for ethical investing.
Photo courtesy of Señor Codo.