ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN SINGAPORE: GLOBAL WARMING, SUMATRAN FIRES. RECYCLING AND THE ILLEGAL ANIMAL TRADE

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN SINGAPORE

The air and water in Singapore are generally very clean. According to a survey of expatriates living in Asia, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia were regarded as the cleanest. while India, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong are regarded as the dirties countries in Asia, while Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan were in the middle.

Major environmental issues in Singapore include industrial pollution, limited freshwater resources, and seasonal smoke and haze resulting from forest fires in Indonesia. Limited land availability presents waste disposal problems. During the great Indonesia forest fire of 1997, the birds in the bird singing neighborhoods stopped singing and birdowners kept them at home.

Environment - international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution.

Lowest ranking nations on environmental sustainability index: 1) Madagascar; 2) Bangladesh; 3) Uganda; 4) Nigeria; 5) Iran; 6) Vietnam; 7) Malawi; 8) Senegal; 9) Singapore; 10) Algeria. [Source: Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy]

People are given tax breaks if they buy environmentally-friendly “green” cars such as those with fuel cells.

About 85 percent of Southeast Asia’s coral reefs in Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are severely threatened by human activities such as pollution and overfishing.

See Automobiles.

Environmental Issues in Singapore in the 1980s

Singapore's rapid economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s was accompanied both by increased air and water pollution and by increasingly effective government efforts to limit environmental damage. The government established an Anti-Pollution Unit under the Prime Minister's Office in 1970, set up the Ministry of the Environment in 1972, and merged the Anti-Pollution Unit with that ministry in 1983 to ensure unified direction of environmental protection. The new unit, subsequently renamed the Pollution Control Department, had responsibility for air and water pollution, hazardous materials, and toxic wastes. Singapore first moved to limit air pollution, closely monitoring oil refineries and petrochemical complexes and limiting the sulfur content of fuel oil for power plants, factories, and diesel motor vehicles. Because motor vehicles were the main source of air pollution, the government required emissions controls on engines and reduced (but not eliminated) the lead content of gasoline. The government also acted, partly for environmental reasons, to restrict private ownership of automobiles through very high (175 percent) import duties, high annual registration fees, and high charges for the entry of private automobiles to the central business district. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Between 1977 and 1987, the Ministry of the Environment carried out a major program to clean up rivers and streams by extending the sewer system, controlling discharges from small industries and workshops, and moving pig and duck farms to resettlement areas with facilities to handle animal wastes. The success of the program was demonstrated by the return of fish and aquatic life to the lower Singapore and Kallang rivers. Singapore, the world's third largest oil refiner, also acted to prevent the pollution of coastal waters by oil spills or discharges from the many large oil tankers that traversed the Strait of Malacca. The Port of Singapore Authority maintained oil skimmers and other equipment to clean up oil spills, and a comprehensive plan assigned both the oil companies and Singapore's armed forces responsibilities for dealing with major oil spills. *

Singapore's environmental management program was intended primarily to ensure public health and to eliminate immediate hazards to citizens from toxins. Protection of the environment for its own sake was a low priority, and the government did not respond to local conservation societies' calls to preserve tropical forests or mangrove swamps. The pollution control laws gave the authorities wide discretion in dealing with offenders, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s penalties usually were light. Enforcement of the laws often reflected an appreciation of the economic benefits of polluting industries and provided time for industrial polluters to find ways to limit or eliminate their discharges. *

Global Warming and Singapore

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “The per-capita carbon dioxide emissions from Singapore are about are half the levels in the U.S. Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy: 172.2 million Mt (2010 est.), country comparison to the world: 31. In the 1990s, Singapore had the highest carbon dioxide emission per capita (metric tons per year): 1) Singapore (21.6); 2) the United States (20.0); 3) Australia (16.7); 4) Norway (15.3).

With 0.1 percent of the world’s population, Singapore accounts for 0.2 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, or an average of 12.3 tonnes per person, according to the Human Development Index. (If all countries in the world were to emit CO2 at levels similar to Singapore’s, it would exceed the world’s sustainable carbon budget by approximately 453 percent, a report said). [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 1, 2007]

Climate change presents many of challenges for Singapore. David Fogarty of Reuters wrote: “More intense rainfall has caused embarrassing floods in the premier Orchard Road shopping area. And the government says average daily temperature in tropical Singapore could increase by 2.7 to 4.2 degrees Celsius (4.9 to 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from the current average of 26.8 deg C (80.2 F) by 2100, which could raise energy use for cooling. [Source: David Fogarty, Reuters, January 26, 2012 *-*]

“Here lies another dilemma. The country is already one of the most energy intensive in Asia to power its industries and fiercely airconditioned malls and glass office towers -- a paradox in a country at such risk from climate change. The government has focused on energy efficiency, such as strict building codes and appliance labeling to curb the growth of planet-warming carbon emissions and has steadily switched its power stations to burn gas instead of fuel oil. *-*

“It has also invested heavily in slick subway lines and promoted investment and research in the clean-tech sector. But electricity demand is still set to grow. Consumption doubled between 1995 and 2010, government figures show, and long-term reliance on fossil fuels for energy is unlikely to change, given limited space for green energy such as solar. Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Reuters the government is keen to do its part in any global fight against climate change and that pushing for greater energy efficiency made sense anyway in a country with virtually no natural resources. *-*

“But there was a limit to how fast it would move, opening the way for criticism from some countries that Singapore was hiding behind its developing country status under the United Nations, which obliges it to take only voluntary steps to curb emissions. "What we want is a level playing field and unilateral moves are not feasible, not possible, for a small, tiny island state that actually is not going to make a real difference at a global level to greenhouse gases," Balakrishnan said. *-*

“Singapore's emissions, though, are forecast to keep growing, having roughly doubled since 1990. The government is looking at putting a price on carbon emissions and perhaps setting up an emissions trading market. "We're already half way there in the sense we are already pricing everything according to the market," said Tilak Doshi, head of energy economics at the Energy Studies Institute in Singapore. *-*

“He pointed to Singapore being the world's largest bunkering port. "Bunkering is huge in terms of carbon emissions and Singapore can play a key role in how to handle global shipping emissions," he said. "How to handle bunker fuels -- do we tax it, do we cap-and-trade it, do we get bunkering companies to start trading emissions certificates?" The government has a number of levers to adjust energy policies over time. *-*

Rising Sea Levels Presents Challenges to Singapore

As a densely populated, low-lying island state, Singapore is "extremely vulnerable" to sea level rise and coastal erosion. Most of Singapore’s business and industrial infrastructure — its airport, its business and financial districts and, of course, its busy container ports — lie less than 2 meters above sea level. David Fogarty of Reuters wrote: “A 15-km (10 mile) stretch of crisp white beach is one of the key battlegrounds in Singapore's campaign to defend its hard-won territory against rising sea levels linked to climate change. Stone breakwaters are being enlarged on the low-lying island state's man-made east coast and their heights raised. Barges carrying imported sand top up the beach, which is regularly breached by high tides. The new land is now the frontline in a long-term battle against the sea. [Source: David Fogarty, Reuters, January 26, 2012 *-*]

“Singapore is also among the most vulnerable to climate change that is heating up the planet, changing weather patterns and causing seas to rise as the oceans warm and glaciers and icecaps melt. Late last year, the government decided the height of all new reclamations must be 2.25 meters (7.5 feet) above the highest recorded tide level -- a rise of a meter over the previous mandated minimum height.The additional buffer was costly but necessary,Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Reuters. "You are buying insurance for the future," he said during a visit to a large flood control barrier that separates the sea from a reservoir in the central business area. The decision underscores the government's renowned long-term planning and the dilemma the country faces in fighting climate change while still trying to grow. It also highlights the problem facing other low-lying island states and coastal cities and the need to prepare. *-*

“The U.N. climate panel says sea levels could rise between 18 and 59 centimeters (7 to 24 inches) this century and more if parts of Antarctica and Greenland melt faster. Some scientists say the rise is more likely to be in a range of 1 to 2 meters. Singapore could cope with a rise of 50 cm to 1 m, coastal scientist Teh Tiong Sa told Reuters. "But a rise of two meters would turn Singapore into an island fortress," said Teh, a retired teacher from Singapore's National Institute for Education. That would mean constructing more and higher walls to protect against the sea. *-*

“Indeed, between 70 and 80 percent of Singapore already has some form of coastal protection, the government says. Topping up reclamation levels "does not fundamentally change the way we approach reclamation -- while we reclaim to meet our development needs, we are cognisant that there is a physical limit to how much more land we can reclaim," a spokesman for the National Climate Change Secretariat told Reuters. To make more efficient use of existing land, a government agency floated the idea this month of building a science city 30 stories underground. *-*

“Against rising sea levels, it is a campaign in progress to tame the tides. In some cases, it might be better to let the sea reclaim the land in a managed retreat, said Teh, the coastal scientist. "It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Some areas you keep, others you let go." For land-limited Singapore, that could prove a tough decision to make.” *-*

Singapore Says the WWF’s High Carbon Emission Ranking Unfair

Saira Syed of the BBC wrote: “A 2012 World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) report says Singapore has the biggest per person carbon footprint in the Asia Pacific region. "If everyone in the world enjoyed the same level of consumption as the average Singaporean, we would need close to 3.5 planets to meet the demands placed on our resources," according to the WWF. It's a view that doesn't sit well with the government because the report attributes emissions to the country where carbon is consumed, instead of where it is produced. [Source: Saira Syed, BBC, June 18, 2012 \^/]

“The WWF explains that if a car is made in Japan but exported to Singapore, its carbon emissions are counted under Singapore not Japan. However, Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tells the BBC that the measure is unfair because Singapore is a resource-poor nation that must import almost everything the population needs. "If you look at our utilisation of resources, the way we generate electricity and way we organise our transportation system, we're not perfect yet but we've actually done more than our fair share," he says. \^/

“Some 80 percent of Singapore's power generation comes from natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels, according to the Energy Market Authority. It says some of its oil refineries and petrochemical companies, which account for 50 percent of all carbon emissions and are a major industry driving the economy, have also made the switch to natural gas. "Singapore's total emissions at a global level only accounts for 0.2 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, a very small almost insignificant number," Mr Balakrishnan says. The International Energy Association's latest publication, which also measures by production, puts Singapore behind countries such as Brunei, Korea and Taiwan in terms of per person emissions. \^/

Singapore’s Efforts to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Saira Syed of the BBC wrote: “Singapore is committed to reducing its carbon emissions. Authorities are promising a 7-11 percent cut by 2020. The goals seem particularly ambitious given that Singapore says a total abandonment of fossil fuels is very difficult for the country because it is "alternative energy disadvantaged" Hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, tidal and even solar are not viable renewable energy sources for Singapore, according to Melissa Low from the Energy Studies Institute, a government-linked think tank. "Because of our geographical region and size, we are unable to adopt these types of renewables on a large scale," she says. [Source: Saira Syed, BBC, June 18, 2012 \^/]

“Ironically, Singapore's government has helped develop a burgeoning clean technology sector, but given that many of these innovations cannot be used within the country, it is rendered an almost purely commercial venture. "Singapore is a test bed and the companies use their performance in Singapore as their calling card overseas," says Mr Balakrishnan. "It is desirable for companies to look at sustainable development and the green economy as a business opportunity." \^/

"When we talk about climate change in the case of Singapore, this is not just a negotiating or debating point," says Mr Balakrishnan. "This is a reality." He says the government is taking steps to mitigate risks, mandating that all reclaimed land, which much of the central business district is built on, must be 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level. Drainage systems are also being reviewed to deal with changing weather patterns that could cause flooding.\^/

“Alongside those measures is the government's recent initiative to get Singaporeans to change habits and cut consumption. In June 2012, the National Climate Change Secretariat released a national climate change action plan that stresses that individuals need to do their part through lifestyle changes such as using fans instead of air conditioners. That, though, has been met with some cynicism, with one micro blogger, Johnny Wong, commenting on Twitter: "Yeah switch off aircon in parliament." \^/

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “With Dutch help, the government plans to build a high seawall to protect it from the raging tides that may one day engulf much of what it has. It has drafted a plan to address climate change, including commissioning a two-year study on its possible impact on Singapore. The republic signed the Kyoto Protocol last year. Some S$350mil (RM812mil) has been set aside to develop alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 1, 2007]

Green Housing and Clean Energy in Singapore

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “The corridors of some homes in Singapore’s heartland will soon be powered by solar panels, and outside walls will be covered with cooling plants to reduce the need for air-conditioning. These pioneering features in the Housing and Development Board are part of Singapore’s reinforced environmental trend. Seven blocks of Singapore’s first eco-friendly apartments will be built in Punggol, due for completion in 2011, which will have a garbage chute for recyclable materials on every floor. Integrated washbasins will channel used water into the toilet cistern for the next flush. An “eco-deck” garden in the estate centre will act as a green lung, absorbing heat and providing shade. Officials say that will reduce the temperature by 4̊C. The total reduction of energy consumption in these areas is expected to be about 80 percent. Motion sensors in the carpark will provide lighting when required. The estate will have a rainwater collection system designed to provide more than half a million litres, or 130,000 gallons, of water a year for cleaning the corridors and common areas. The unit price could become 5 percent -10 percent higher. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 1, 2007 ~]

“Eco-HDB is just one of several recent environment-friendly measures being adopted; others include: 1) Singapore’s first “zero-energy” building that produces as much energy as it consumes; now under planning; 2) An eco-friendly mall with urinals that use no water and sensors, which monitor carbon monoxide levels in the air; 3) A S$610mil (RM1.4bil) island (measuring 3.5 sq km) off southern Singapore built from rubbish from the country’s four incineration plants, and which was recently opened to the public. 4) A whole new street fronting Raffles Hotel at Beach Road (due to finish in 2012) will have a host of eco-features – sky gardens, sunken courtyards, slant-sided towers and a large environmental canopy. ~

“Some academicians say the city-state has done very well in controlling pollution and building a green environment, but does poorly in addressing major environmental concerns. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country would do its utmost but has to protect its economic growth. The city-state is totally dependent on fossil fuels, with no feasible alternative, he said. “Every year we have 25 million containers shipped through Singapore, (and) ships taking bunker fuels in Singapore,” he noted. “These are not Singapore’s consumption, they are international but happen to upload in Singapore and we have to account for this fairly.”“ ~

Green Buildings and Air Conditioning in Singapore

Marissa Lee wrote in The Strait Times, “Going green is all well and good - helps the planet and all that - but Singaporeans do not like being denied their air-conditioning. Working in an eco-sound building can often seem more like an endurance test in a sweatbox with desks. But employees at the Standard Chartered (Stanchart), Citi and Xilinx offices at Changi Business Park have found that going green does not have to be an ergonomic compromise. For them, working in a well-designed green office means embracing the environment outside rather than being boxed in and away from it.It means more windows to maximise natural lighting and ventilation, which also means the end of jostling for once-rare window seats. [Source: Marissa Lee, The Strait Times, March, 29 2010 <^>]

“Stanchart chief information officer Shee Tse Koon said: 'One of the key things that I enjoy about working in this building is that it has lots of windows and plenty of natural light.' Trees and shrubs deck a rooftop garden while greenery also infiltrates the offices and ground floor. 'The greenery and natural light provide a healthier working environment and give me a chance to relax, even if it's for a brief respite,' said Mr Shee. <^>

“Next door at the DBS Asia Hub, staff who move in from May are expected to benefit from the better air quality achieved by using 'green' materials, such as carpets that emit less volatile organic chemicals. Carbon dioxide levels will be monitored in the office to regulate fresh air intake, while checks in the carpark will prevent harmful levels of carbon monoxide and exhaust gases from accumulating. 'Going green makes good business sense both financially and as part of a corporate's social responsibility,' said Mr Ho Twee Teng, managing director of technology and operations at DBS Bank. 'With better and cleaner surroundings, our organisation will benefit from healthier employees.' <^>

“Indeed, more companies are starting to ride the green wave. Mr Tan Swee Yiow, chief executive of Singapore Commercial at Keppel Land, observes 'an increasing trend for multinational companies to include 'green' as one of the selection criteria when choosing office buildings'. Keppel Land has pledged to achieve a minimum Green Mark Gold certification or its equivalent for all its developments in Singapore and overseas, as a form of product differentiation. Keppel does not charge higher rental costs for companies that choose sustainable developments, Mr Tan said. <^>

“Lend Lease, the developer behind 313@Somerset, is also pushing for a greener work environment. Last year, 313@Somerset was the first retail centre here to introduce the Green Lease. 'The Green Lease is a two-way collaboration with the tenants whereby the landlord helps them reach the centre's sustainability aspirations by providing consultancy, sustainability tools and access to sustainable vendors and materials,' said Mr Philip Yim, development manager of Lend Lease Retail. A retail calculator was provided to show tenants how different choices with regard to a shop's interior and display could translate into reduced electricity usage. More importantly, this information was translated directly into a figure of the tenant's energy savings, as well as the exact reduction in the business' carbon footprint. <^>

“While there are some higher initial capital costs for tenants that have invested in things like energy-efficient lighting, the average payback period is a mere one to three years, and Mr Yim expects this period to shorten as utility prices continue to rise. 'Having benefited from all this, some of our tenants have asked for our assistance in their other retail outlets in other centres,' he added. <^>

“But building a green workplace does not always mean higher costs. The concept of passive design was deployed in the DBS Asia Hub so that the building is no less than a simple yet eloquent response to a tropical climate. A double-glazed building facade and naturally ventilated staircases help lower the air-conditioning load and eliminate the need for mechanical fans. <^>

“The National Institute of Education (NIE) campus has also been 'greened' at no additional cost, with the help of sunscreens, overhanging roofs and cavity walls that let in light but not heat and direct glare. But there is more to passive design than just metal and plaster. 'Our canteen is also known as the rainforest cafe,' said Mr Selvarajan Selvaratnam, head of the development and estate department at NIE. He explained how the NIE cultivated a small plot of tall trees at the building's western face to shade the canteen and the library above it from the evening sun. Besides creating a visually pleasing dining atmosphere, the foliage also doubles as a rain shield. And like any other cycle of nature, NIE's green cost savings are ploughed back to staff and students via landscaping projects. <^>

“So far, NIE has funded the planting of more trees and the installation of a miniature water terrace, which has become a popular venue for wedding photos. Rewards even went straight to the stomach when some of Mr Selvarajan's colleagues from the Malay language department identified a certain rough green fruit growing from the new trees as breadfruit. They proceeded to slice, fry and serve them like potato chips to the other staff. 'So you have a form of multiracial bonding,' said Mr Selvarajan, 'because...most Indians and Chinese don't know about this fruit. <^>'

Singapore’s Super-Trees Put on a Dazzling Light Show

“The towering man-made trees appeared alien-like during the dazzling display, contrasted against the night sky,” News.com.au reported. “Stretching up to 50 metres high, the 12 giant trees feature hanging gardens with plants from around the world. They are illuminated with spotlights during daily light display and music shows. They also generate solar power, act as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories and collect rainwater. They are part of a huge $535 million development in the Marina Bay area, called the Gardens by the Bay Park, which opened in June, 2010. It’s central to Singapore’s goal to become “a city in a garden” and the botanical capital of the world. The trees feature alongside dozens of lavish hotels and towering skyscrapers, including the unique Marina Bay Sands Hotel, many with stunning rooftop infinity pools. [Source: news.com.au, December 10, 2012]

Saira Syed of the BBC wrote: “They look like they belong on another planet with their wiry canopies and greenery where the bark should be, but the man-made "supertrees" that sit against the backdrop of Singapore's central business district mimic the qualities of trees here on earth. Seven of the 18 structures are fitted with solar panels that convert sunlight into energy. They are part of an energy-efficient green space called Gardens by the Bay that has cost 1 billion Singaporean dollars ($784 million). "It provides a green lung for the city rather than just having high rises everywhere," says Kenneth Er, chief operating officer on the project and a forest ecologist. He hopes that people leave the garden with a sense of "how to recreate nature's balance". [Source: Saira Syed, BBC, June 18, 2012]

The trees are one of a half a dozen or so major projects scattered all over the island, aimed at attracting tourists – but with a heavy bent towards nature and greenery. Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Take the two casino resorts. Sentosa Island will see “a wonderland of glossy vegetation,” according to an Australian journalist. “It will be like staying in a botanic garden, and make that a tropical estate thriving with fan-shaped travellers and palmyra palms, fruit trees, spiky strelitzia, black bamboo and boldly flowering vines.” At the other resort at Marina Bay, three designed parks – Gardens by the Bay - will form Singapore’s new 94ha waterfront landmark from where the Sands casino will sprout. At Mandai, a 30ha area next to the Singapore zoo and Night Safari will be turned into one of Asia’s top nature spots, with luxurious tropical space. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, December 1, 2007]

Singapore Chokes on Haze from as Sumatran Forest Fires

In June 2013, forest fires in Sumatra blanked Singapore in smoke and haze. AFP reported: “Singapore urged Indonesia on Monday to take "urgent measures" to tackle its forest fires as severe air pollution blown from Sumatra island choked the densely populated city-state. Singapore's skyscrapers including the famous Marina Bay Sands casino towers were shrouded in haze and the acrid smell of burnt wood pervaded the island-state. The city-state's Pollutant Standards Index soared to 152, well past the officially designated "unhealthy" threshold of 100, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website. It was Singapore's worst haze reading since 2006 when the PSI reached 150, statistics from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources showed. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2013 <+>]

“The NEA said it had alerted its Indonesian counterpart on the situation "and urged the Indonesian authorities to look into urgent measures to mitigate the transboundary haze occurrence". But the Indonesian forestry ministry said firefighters were already tackling the blazes and water-dropping aircraft would only be deployed if local governors made a request, which they had yet to do. Ministry official Hadi Daryanto attempted to shift some of the blame onto Malaysia and Singapore, saying their palm oil companies that had invested in Indonesia were also responsible. "We hope the governments of Malaysia and Singapore will tell their investors to adopt proper measures so we can solve this problem together," he said. <+>

“The NEA said 138 "hotspots" indicating fires were detected on Sumatra, and prevailing winds carried smoke over to Singapore. People with heart and lung disease, those over 65 and children are advised by the NEA to "reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion" even in "moderate" haze conditions, defined as a reading of 51-100. Singaporean doctor Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory specialist at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said he expected a surge in patients in the coming days if the haze stays at current levels. "The usual complaints during haze are throat irritation, eye irritation, cough and difficulty breathing," he said. Those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic bronchitis are more at risk, he said.” <+>

Peter Shadbolt of CNN wrote: “Singapore was shrouded in haze as smoke from forest fires in nearby Sumatra drifted across the Malacca Strait in the city's worst pollution crisis in more than a decade. Buildings in the city of 5.3 million people have been enveloped in a smoky haze since the beginning of the week as illegal burn off in nearby Indonesia and prevailing winds were causing a smoke crisis not seen since 1997. Singapore's pollution index reached 173 on Wednesday, the worst level since 1997 when it reached 226, according to the Straits Times. The city's National Environment Agency said air quality becomes 'very unhealthy' when the index passes 200. [Source: Peter Shadbolt, CNN, June 20, 2013 ||||]

“Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he would urge commercial pressure against firms causing the haze. Critics have accused Singapore and Malaysian palm oil companies of investing in Indonesian companies that are clearing land for palm plantations. Who would have thought that I'd be going to Hong Kong simply to get a breath of fresh air Energy industry analyst Dr Balakrishnan said on his Facebook site that he had approached his Indonesian counterpart, Balthasar Kambuaya, to express his "deep distress" at the situation. "I suggested Minister Kambuaya name the companies responsible for the fires," Dr Balakrishnan posted on the site. ||||

“Singapore residents, meanwhile, could be seen around the central business district wearing facemasks or handkerchiefs. "I can say it's actually getting worse," a Singapore-based energy industry analyst who did not want to be named told CNN. "The staff are taking pictures out of the office window because you can't see the cruise ship terminal which is only 500 metres away." He said for three days the city has been under a pall of wood smoke that gave Singapore's normally highly urban central business district the smell of a campfire. "It gives off this smoky smell like you've been sitting a bit too close to the hearth," he said. "Whoever would have thought that I'd be going to Hong Kong for a weekend simply to get a breath of fresh air." ||||

See Indonesia, Malaysia

Indonesian Forest Fires in 1997 Blanket Singapore in Smoke

Indonesian forest fires in 1997 and the haze they produced cost Singapore $9 billion in health care costs and disrupted air travel and business. At that time the pollution index reached 226 National Environment Agency says air quality becomes 'very unhealthy' when the index passes 200 The problem occurs in the dry season as a result of forest fires in the sprawling Indonesian archipelago, some of them deliberately started to clear land for cultivation.

See Indonesia, Malaysia

Singapore Urged to Cut down on Waste, Increase Recycling Rate

In March 2002, AFP reported: “Singapore should cut down on waste generation and recycle more waste or face being buried under a mountain of garbage, Environment Minister Lim Swee Say said. "We have to find ways to slow down the increase in waste generation. Land is scarce in Singapore. We cannot keep on building more incineration plants and finding more landfill sites," he said at a seminar on the environment. "The only sustainable solution is to cut down on waste generation and speed up waste recycling." [Source: Agence France Presse, March 5, 2002 >>>]

In 2002, 40 percent of Singapore's waste was recycled. “Under a plan under formulation, the private and public sectors have proposed to raise the recyling rate to between 50 and 60 percent by 2012, improving on an earlier target of between 40-50 percent by 2010. "I think this is achievable, if we all act together and step up our efforts to promote more recycling in the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors," Lim said. Industrial and commercial businesses generate about 50 percent of the waste disposed daily, he added. >>>

“Between 1974 and 2000, Singapore's per capita gross national product had increased about eight times, but the solid waste produced by industries and commerce also rose by the same rate in that period. "Looking ahead, we may not be able to achieve sustainable development simply by continuing to do what we have been doing in the past 30-40 years," he said. JTC Corp., which develops and manages industrial estates, has agreed to recommendations to set up a pilot "eco-recyclying park" to recycle plastic, paper, glass and wood waste, he said. Lim said he hopes that recycling companies with advanced technologies can set up shop on the 19-hectare (47-acre) zone on the outskirts of the island. >>>

Dealing with Singapore's Trash Problem

In 2008, Gillian Murdoch of Reuters wrote: “Creeping out of their condo after dark carrying illicit bags of garbage was not part of the life Sarah Moser and her husband envisioned for themselves before moving to tropical Singapore. But with recycling in its infancy on the island, such nocturnal escapades have become normal for the two academics. Each week they dodge watchful security guards, barking dogs and suspicious neighbors to carry rubbish they cannot recycle at home to recycling bins far down the road. "We end up storing tons of stuff," Sarah Moser said. "Paper and cardboard, plastics like milk, juice, takeaway containers." "Then we have to do a huge big binge trip, and we're so embarrassed because the guards are watching us." [Source: Gillian Murdoch, Reuters, May 21, 2008 ***]

“This small act of rebellion illustrates the problem faced, on a much larger scale, by tiny Singapore: there's nowhere to put the trash. "It is very costly to get rid of our waste," said Ong Chong Peng, general manger of the island's only remaining landfill, which cost S$610 million (US$447 million) to create on Pulau Semakau eight kilometers south of the mainland. The landfill "island," a 350-hectare feat of engineering reclaimed from the sea, opened the day after the last of five mainland landfills closed in 1999. Every day it takes shipments of over 2000 tonnes of ash -- the charred remnants of 93 percent of Singapore's rubbish, burnt at its four incinerators. The National Environment Agency (NEA) predicts a new multimillion dollar incinerator will be needed every five to seven years, and a new landfill like Pulau Semakau every 25 to 30 years. ***

“Untroubled by the festering mounds of pungent tropical garbage that frequently pile up in its less-developed neighbors, clean, green and super-efficient Singapore's unique rubbish headache stems from its small size and high population density. Incinerators have met with public resistance in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, and have been banned in the Philippines because of perceived health risks. But the plants are sacred cows in Singapore, which opened its first in 1979, little commented on or questioned. "Singaporeans understand and accept that because land is scarce, incineration is one of the most cost effective ways of waste disposal, as it can reduce the volume of waste by up to 90 percent," the NEA said in a statement. ***

“Other proponents stress that the four waste-to-energy plants scattered in the south, centre and north, recover enough heat from the combustion process to generate power equal to lighting up the city three times over. "Some people think that incineration is just merely a destruction method, but it's not true," said Poh Soon Hoong, General Manager of the S$900 million ($659 million) Tuas South Incineration Plant, Singapore's largest, which burns up to 3000 tonnes of trash a day. "We actually generate power. The plants produce two to three percent of the total power generated in Singapore." ***

“For critics, however, Singapore's set-up is a dirty mess. "Waste incineration sounds like a pretty good idea if you don't really look into it too deeply," said Neil Tangri, of the international Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA). "It's power, it gets rid of this problem we have... but it creates dioxins where none existed before. Dioxin is known to increase rates of cancer growth... An incinerator is a major contributor to a whole range of major health problems," he said. ***

“For Greenpeace Southeast Asia Director Von Hernandez, the plants fly in the face of the green goal of resource conservation. "Incineration does not really make the waste disappear, it transforms the problem into a formidable pollution problem," said Hernandez, who led the world's first successful campaign to ban the technology in his native Philippines. "If you look at this model, from harvesting resources to selling them, disposing of them, it's a linear model. In fact we should be looking at circular models to bring back some of this stuff to nature, and conserve materials." "In a small country like Singapore, inevitably, their landfill space will run out and they will have to find other ways of dealing with the problem," he said. ***

Efforts to Get Singapore to Recycle More

Gillian Murdoch of Reuters wrote: “With nowhere to site another landfill, recycling, though not yet rolled out to the masses in condominiums or state Housing Development Board (HDB) skyscrapers, is no longer just nice to have, but a necessity, said Ong. "Singaporeans have to practice the three Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) to extend the lifespan of Semakau as long as possible," he said, "and also reduce the need to build new incineration plants." [Source: Gillian Murdoch, Reuters, May 21, 2008 ***]

“With Semakau landfill expected to be full by 2040, even those who have worked for decades in Singapore's incineration industry agree the old burn-and-bury approach is unsustainable. "We cannot keep building incinerator plants," said Poh. "It's not really the solution." Like the NEA, he says Singaporeans must change their mindset. "We need to get people aware of the environmental impact of their actions." ***

“Convincing people to buy less in a country whose "national pastime" is shopping is a hard win, he said. Instead, a wave of softly-softly initiatives are being deployed to enthuse, inspire, or slyly enforce compliance. Recreational Sentosa Island pushes edu-tainment, with a troupe of trained macaque monkeys who perform daily recycling displays. At supermarkets, shoppers are now asked to bring their own bags to reduce the likelihood of the thousands of plastic bags handed out each day ending up in incinerators. ***

“Another stealthy project, which began in March, targets the cornerstone institution of Singapore life -- the hawker centre. Darting between tables to snatch up dirty plates at Chinatown's Smith Street food court, the army of plate clearers are at another new frontline in the battle -- food waste recycling. Leftovers scraped into black sacks on the end of the cleaners' trolleys are trucked to a start-up food waste recycling plant that hopes to save 800 tonnes of organic scraps a day from being sent to the incinerators. ***

“Local company IUT Global feeds the scraps into a bacteria-filled digester which turns them into biogas energy and compost. The plant's capacity will make it Southeast Asia's biggest bio-methanisation and renewable energy plant when fully operational, said Assistant Manager Leon Khew. In the meantime, normalizing the idea of recycling through legislation would help, he said. "Right now in Singapore recycling is not legislated. In Europe, everyone separates organics, everyone recycles, it's legislated." ***

Animals in Singapore

Some say Singapore’s last wild tiger was shot in the billiards room of the Raffles Hotel in the early 1902. But in actuality it was shot by one Ong Kim Hock near what is now Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 1930. The tiger shot at Raffles escaped from a show. The one at Bukit Timah was wild. It s said the island of Singapore once was teeming with tigers.

Toads, geckos, spiders and tree frogs are commonly seen and sometimes make their way into people’s shoes. Occasionally cobras are seen slithering through gardens and underbrush. The government has staged an aggressive campaign to get rid of unwanted crows.

The demand for porcupine quills for talismans in Uganda and Singapore has added some species to the endangered list.

See Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Places

Coconut Monkeys, see Malaysia.

Singapore and the Illegal Animal Trade

Singapore is a major hub for wildlife trafficking. So many endangered wild animals have been smuggled into Singapore, and then exported out with false documents, that wildlife officials call Singapore one of the "black holes" of "animal laundering." In wild animal markets in Singapore not so long ago one could buy peeled pythons, gutted six-foot long monitor lizards, caged flying foxes and beheaded toads.

Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “Singapore's extensive trade links and efficient ports have lured opportunistic wildlife smugglers, who use the country as a transit point to ship exotic fauna to customers worldwide, animal welfare activists said. Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC lists Singapore as among the world's top 10 wildlife smuggling hubs. "The animals are just shipped into Singapore, (which acts) like a transit point from other countries like Indonesia or Malaysia or other neighbouring countries or surrounding islands," Boopal said. [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, March 30, 2010 /~/]

“High-value birds and reptiles such as cockatoos, turtles and snakes frequently pass through the island nation's borders illegally en route to other countries to be sold as pets, food or for medicine. There is also trade in even more exotic wildlife such as star tortoises, hornbills and the sugar glider, a small marsupial, Boopal said. Figures released by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) show that the number of controlled items detected, including live wildlife, as well as unsanctioned food products, hit 5,900 in 2009, more than triple the level recorded in 2008. The ICA called the increase "significant" and said it noted the "wide array of animals and wildlife species that travellers had attempted to smuggle into Singapore". /~/

“But activists say despite the increased level of detection, they represent just the tip of the iceberg, believing traffickers are exploiting Singapore's international reputation to boost trade. "When you smuggle the animals into Singapore and you export out with a country of origin as Singapore, it is very rare that other countries will check because of our very good reputation," said Louis Ng, executive director of ACRES. /~/

“He said that Singapore's free trade agreements with other countries also meant smugglers could often avoid paying tax and made clearing customs easier. Ng said checks for wildlife and animal products remain inadequate, believing sniffer dogs would help plug the loophole, such as those used in South Korea. Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC's Southeast Asian acting regional director, urged the government to be tougher in cracking down on illegal trade. "The authorities in Singapore and in other importing-exporting countries should take great care in ensuring the wildlife they are importing is from a legal source and has been acquired in a legal manner," he said. /~/

Rescuing Animals in Singapore from the Illegal Animal Trade

Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “Midori the iguana sits on a platform contemplating his snack of fresh fruit. He is one of the lucky ones, rescued and nursed back to health in Singapore. Three months ago the huge and notoriously touchy 1.5-metre (five-foot) adult male was brought into the non-profit Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) rescue centre in bad shape. Director Anbarasi Boopal said Midori had mouth ulcers and excreted a razor blade on his first day at the sanctuary. "He was under critical care for a while, now he is completely fine," Boopal told AFP as she beamed at the iguana, due to be repatriated to his natural habitat in the lush rainforests of Central and South America. [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, March 30, 2010 /~/]

“The lizard, whose name, given by his rescuers, means "green" in Japanese, was likely part of the steady stream of creatures brought into Singapore illegally when he was smaller and then abandoned after growing too big. Other mistreated pets and trafficked animals are not so fortunate, destined for slaughter or a life of confinement away from their natural habitats. /~/

“The ACRES centre, where Midori is recuperating, received more than 220 abandoned, surrendered or rescued lizards, tortoises and turtles in just seven months after opening last August, many of them illegal and endangered. Boopal forgives Midori his bad temper, saying signs of stress in the presence of humans can be a positive sign. "He gets a bit stressed when people walk nearby, so he might start lashing his tail," Boopal said. "This is good. He is still wild, which is good." /~/

Painted Elephants Promote Conservation in Singapore

In November 2011, more than 100 elephants, some painted with big "come hither" eyes and others coloured bright red, were paraded in and around Singapore street corners and office parks— and even inside some buildings—to promote conservation. Reuters reported: “It's the Elephant Parade, a collection of 162 elephant sculptures decorated by artists and celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais, singer Leona Lewis and actor Rupert Grint of "Harry Potter" fame -- all in the name of conservation.” [Source: Reuters, November 21, 2011]

"We hope to highlight the plight of the Asian elephant, whose survival in the wild is threatened by habitat loss due to urbanization as well as human-elephant conflict resulting from competition for limited space and food resources," said Biswajit Guha, general manager at the Singapore Zoo, which is also taking part in the event.

The original sculptures, around 1.5 metres high, will be on display for the next two months and in January will be auctioned by Sotheby's, with part of the proceeds going to The Asian Elephant Foundation and the conservation fund of Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Similar fundraising efforts have taken place in Europe before, but this is the Elephant Parade's first Asian stop. For now, many in the stressed and hectic city-state said they welcomed the presence of the light-hearted pachyderms.

"After working in front of a computer screen and looking at lots of numbers, seeing this type of street art kind of makes the other part of your brain do a little thinking," said Richard Bowman, a partner at Ernst & Young. "I love the brightness of the elephants against what are mostly grey office buildings."

Rainforests in Singapore

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (Upper Bukit Road, only seven miles from the city center) is one of only two city primary rain forest parks in the world (the other is in Rio de Janeiro). It covers 3,043 hectares and features a network of well-organized hiking trails. In the middle of the park is Singapore's highest point (162.5-meter Bukit Timah Hill). On the walking trails, visitors can see exotic birds, butterflies, long-tailed macaques, flying squirrels, mouse deer, reticulated pythons, venomous green Malayan coral snakes and other wildlife. There are photo displays and exhibits about the rain forest in the visitors center. The names of some the trees and plants on the hiking routes are presented on little signs by the trees.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has been left mostly undisturbed; despite the progress and development that has transformed much of Singapore. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has more than 500 species of animals and over 840 flowering plants. It was also once an active quarrying site in the mid-1900s, with an abandoned quarry which has now been developed as the Hindhede Nature Park, and features rock-climbing activities. Biking trails outside the reserve and guided tours are also available. [Source: yoursingapore.com, Singapore Tourism Board]

To protect the forest’s native biodiversity, certain activities are prohibited within the nature reserve – such as hiking in groups of more than 30 without a permit or the feeding of animals. So if you’re planning a trip here, it’s best to come in smaller groups to enjoy the park in a more personalised proximity.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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