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  Straits Times Forum Online 19 Apr 06
S'pore can do more to rein in illegal logging

I wish to comment on recent international reports on illegal logging activities in Papua, Indonesia. Report sources include The Economist, The Washington Post, and the Environmental Investigation Agency. A Singapore Press Holdings reporter also wrote on the same issue in The New Paper a few years ago.

Rather than continue to finger-point the culprits of illegal logging, I will highlight the importance of the forest ecosystem, environmental consequences of deforestation, and Singapore's influence on the use of natural resources in neighbouring countries.

These, I hope, will explain why our country should take a more proactive role to stem illegal logging in the region.

Forests are important to the ecological well-being of our living planet. Even reafforested land pales in comparison to pristine centuries-old forests. Their biological richness and abundance take generations to achieve, just like a housing estate takes time to develop a homely ambience. Wild plants and animals fill a variety of ecological niches to keep nutrient cycles flowing, just like humans take on different roles in society to keep the economy moving.

Scientists literally sieve through forest biodiversity in search of new chemical compounds that can enhance human life. Because forests have much to offer in terms of food, medicine and shelter, many indigenous people call the forest their home, which we urbanites take for granted simply because we do not interact directly with it. This interaction is actually quite straightforward if only we care to take on a world view.

Forests and all things green are called the lungs of the earth. They keep the composition of our atmospheric gases in balance.

Altering this balance affects global climate, which may change living conditions for humans on earth for the worse. Melting ice caps and extreme weather patterns are indications of deviation from the norm. These phenomena are widely acknowledged and are already attracting serious attention from the global community.

The intrinsic ecological values of forests (not the wood) are not so easy to calculate in dollars and cents. It is going to be difficult to quantify the absolute contribution of pristine forests to the international economy.

Likewise, we do not know exactly how much deforestation is going to cost contemporary society, not to mention future generations.

But the association is staring us in the face, in terms of land degradation, loss of biological diversity, demise of indigenous cultures, and very importantly - global climate change.

The negative impact may not slap us like the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, but someone down the generation will certainly put blame on our environmental actions, or rather, inactions today.

Although the illegal logging is happening in a far-flung province of Indonesia, it does not diminish our responsibility as global citizens to do whatever we can to help rein in this problem.

The world environment recognises no political boundaries. Environmental issues are trans-boundary. This cannot be truer when globalisation makes commodity trading freer and over the greatest of distances.

Because Singapore serves well as an international trading hub, illegally logged wood is said to pass through our ports during transhipment.

Our not wanting to restrict trade and interfere in businesses is no excuse to lessen our environmental responsibility. While we are prepared to take legal action against drug couriers, why cannot Singapore also try to take steps to stem the illegal logging of tropical forests in the region?

While we sprung quickly to render aid to victims of the South Asia Tsunami, why cannot Singapore also explore ways to see if we can participate in preventing an ecological crisis from unfolding as a result of deforestation in the region?

Singapore enjoys a vibrant economy, attributed no less to the efforts of its Government and people.

But economic development consumes resources, such as water, oil, gas, sand and wood. Unregulated resource exploitation and consumption comes with negative environmental impact.

Negative repercussions are no longer limited by geography; they are global in nature and climate change is an example.

Sustainable development is important to a country. This can, however, only work if we are also prepared to do more to sustain the earth's ecosystem by preserving our forests.

This month, Singapore ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. This week, one of our national leaders will be recognised as a Champion of the Earth for his work with the United Nations.

In light of our many environmental achievements so far as a country, I am sure Singapore can do more when it comes to illegal logging.

Tan Choon Ming

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