Why it makes cents for Singapore to be green:
thoughts for policy-makers
(written March 2006)
As a volunteer for Singapore's wild places, I am often asked:
"Why do you bother? There's nothing left to save anyway".
"Even if there was, Singapore can't benefit from keeping any of it"
The environmental issues facing Singapore today are those that the rest
of the world will have to face eventually.
We are not self-sufficient in water. We have very limited land. We depend
on imports of food, fuel and virtually everything we that use.
But we haven't given up.
We use technologies, efficient processes to make the best of the situation.
We are not afraid to implement new policies to ensure sustainable processes.
We collaborate with all sectors of society, forge partnerships with industry.
We develop programmes to break out of destructive mind sets and social
We have to succeed simply to survive.
Being among the first to overcome these hurdles (simply because we have
to), we have the potential to be global leaders in sustainable development.
And our success can have real economic returns.
Some examples ...
Water: As a critical national issue, resources and talent were
focused on establishing sustainability in this area. All aspects from
supply to demand were tackled. We succeeded to such an extent that Singapore
is now among the leaders in water technologies. And water technologies
are now designated our new R&D focus (Environmental
Technologies and Digital Media to be new areas for R&D Channel
NewsAsia 3 Jan 06)
Waste treatment and disposal: With
virtually no land, Singapore cannot afford the luxury of limitless landfills.
When the last of our mainland landfills was full, the offshore Semakau
landfill was set up on Pulau Saking and Pulau Semakau. Although half of
Pulau Semakau's mangroves and coral reefs and all of Saking's were lost,
the construction and operation of the landfill was of such high environmental
impact standards that the remaining shores are still rich and thriving.
In fact, public walks are now conducted
on Semakau's shores! Semakau has the largest seagrass meadows and coral
reefs in Singapore that the public can visit. In addition, birdwatching
and sports fishing activities are also being conducted on the island with
very positive experiences by nature lovers.
During our tour of the incinerator, the volunteer guides of Semakau were
told that when other countries face resistance to plans to build an incinerator,
they send the protestors to see how we operate ours. After such a visit,
there is usually no further resistance.
These achievements did not happen overnight. They involved a global and
long-term view, persistence and investment of talent and resources.
Wild reefs can co-exist with world class ports and petrochemicals industries:
Cyrene Reef is a stunning submerged
reef that lies in the middle of a triangle made up of Singapore's world
class container ports and Pulau Bukom and Jurong Island, the location
of world class petrochemical industries. (Did you know that Singapore
is one of the world's largest producer of petrochemical products?)
This clearly shows
that Singapore has the ability to develop and manage such facilities without
completely wiping out natural habitats. This credential will stand us
in good stead when Singapore participates in tenders to build or operate
similar facilities elsewhere. In other countries, their reefs may be important
for tourism, fishing or cultural heritage.
As Singapore starts to 'export' our development approaches, being able
to prove that our methods are sustainable will
put us ahead of the pack.
The next step?
Singapore can demonstrate that First World living standards can be achieved
without sacrificing all of the environment.
Compromises certainly have to be made. But with ingenuity, collaboration
and sensitivity; a sustainable solution can be worked out.
Effective compromises should be celebrated; purists and extremists will
have little contribution to a viable solution.
There are many areas that we still need to work on:
Brown issues: alternative energy, greener transport. Adoption of new
processes and products in these areas are particularly dependent on having
the supportive policies in place. Alternative energy is a new growth area
for investment and talent attraction.
Green issues: co-existence of our wild places with urbanisation.
A manicured garden may be nice, but it is wild
places that give Singapore heart and soul. I believe innovative urban
planning, technologies and educational programmes can integrate wild places
with our urban landscape for a more meaningful urban experience. And these
processes can be applied to others facing similar urban pressures.
Blue issues: amongst the most neglected of the issues.
It will obviously pay to better understand the dynamics of our shores.
Our reclaimed land on the east coast is being eroded and no one seems
to know why (Reclaimed land
under threat ST 6 Mar 06). How do reefs and other habitats
affect our shores? What is the possible impact of a rise in sea levels
on Singapore? Our main business district and many key industrial installations
are along the coast (Jurong, Bukom, Tuas), as well as major residential
areas. Many of these are built on reclaimed land too.
The Semakau landfill shows how reclamation can be done to meet urban needs
without sacrificing all. Similar diligence applied to other reclamation
projects can only benefit the nation. And the processes developed will
surely be of commercial interest. There are currently off shore landfills
in Manila, Hong Kong (it appears they may have as many as 12) and Osaka.
Most people believe our shores are dead and buried. But our shores are
very much alive and of world class standards! If
we can clear up our waters, our reefs can be as attractive (to wildlife
and tourists) as those in Malaysia and the region. And the processes,
technologies and educational programmes that we develop to do so can be
applied to other shores that are rapidly facing similar issues.
Integrated approach to wild places: Singapore is probably the only
place in the world where a tourist can visit a rainforest, a mangrove,
a coral reef all within half an hour from the central business district
(and a cold beer in a 6-star hotel).
Yes, our wild places may not rival those of neighbouring countries. But
ours make for a good first introduction to these magnificent and rapidly
Something that business travellers can squeeze into their busy schedules.
For many, it might be the only opportunity they can get to experience
tropical habitats first hand. No doubt, most will also be impressed at
how urban Singapore still has so much that remains wild.
Green global leader?
Singapore has shown that it can lead in many areas. In environmental issues,
Singapore's 'disadvantages': limited land, natural resources, can actually
MAKE us world no. 1!
We HAVE to solve these issues NOW, simply to survive.
The rest of the world will eventually face these problems as well. By
that time, we would have been there and done that. This is a position
that Singapore can certainly leverage on.
So "Should we bother?"
Not just because its pretty and it's good for our
Not just because we CAN if we just make the effort.
But because we MUST if we are to survive.
And also because it makes good sense and good cents.
Can the rest of us make a difference in this effort?
Can one person make a difference? Certainly!