Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


The Clock Is Ticking Fast And Singapore Needs A Voice

19 March 2007

Timing is right for the little red dot to go green in a big way

P N Balji
Editorial Director

WITH the kind of ideological clarity and intellectual unity being shown by
most of the world's politicians, businessmen and scientists on a single
topic, the time has come for Singapore to play a bigger role in the world
debate on the environment, both locally and internationally.

The way climate has been playing havoc with the lives of millions of
people in the world topped the list of global concerns at the recent World
Economic Forum at Davos. The serious threat, especially the link between
the release of greenhouse gases and human activity, on planet Earth is now
clear to the scientific community, whose Fourth Assessment was released
earlier this year by the world panel of experts.

The politicians have started hugging green, too. In Australia, England,
Germany and San Francisco, the sometimes jingoistic embrace of The Next
Big Issue makes it difficult to differentiate the colours of competing

And businessmen are seeing money in fuel-efficient cars, solar power and
bio fuels and in branding their companies as those with a corporate
mission to save the Earth. With US$1.28 billion ($1.95 billion) in venture
capital being pumped into clean technology - although this is a small drop
in the US$34-billion ocean of total venture capital outlay - the economic
interest can only grow.

Where do all these put Singapore, an establishment that takes pride in
positioning itself as a trend-spotter, not just a trend-chaser? One of the
concrete steps Singapore has taken is where it is most vulnerable:
Reclaimed land. Such land is designed to be a consistent 125cm above sea
level, about two times the worst-case scenario identified by world

A two-year study on better understanding the new climate menace to the
planet and a public consultation to come out with a national strategy are
in the works.

Despite such moves, climate change is hardly in the national

Two reasons might explain this apathy.

One, Singapore is too small a country in size and voice to play a role
because its carbon emissions, compared to those released by bigger
culprits such as the United States, China and India, are puny.

Two, this whole climate debate is like chasing the colours of the rainbow,
with still no irrefutable evidence of the effect the melting of ice caps
has on sunlight, the release of greenhouse gases has on global warming -
and, eventually, the link with the dismay and destruction caused to human
lives through hurricanes, haze and other natural disasters.

On both counts, there is a need for a rethink. Our short history has
enough examples of Singapore playing a role bigger than its size. Mr S
Rajaratnam's leading voice in the international community warning that
communist Vietnam would create a domino effect on the rest of South-east
Asia to Professor Tommy Koh's leadership of the Law of the Sea conference
are just two examples. And this country has never been coy about peering
into the crystal ball and coming up with a winner before others could see

So, what should Singapore do?

First, we should relook the role of our custodian of the environment, the
National Environment Agency (NEA). Today, its portfolio extends to
mosquitoes, flies, rats, littering and hawker food. Of the five press
releases it sent out this year, not one was on the environment. Three were
on dengue and mosquitoes, one on hawkers and the last on litter. The time
has come for the NEA to be a truly National Environment Agency and not a
Nearly Everything Agency. The other roles, which are essentially of a
public health nature, can be hived off to be dealt with by another new
agency under the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.

The environment agency should be given two roles, one local and the other
international. With Germany pushing Europe to take on a leadership role in
the climate campaign, this might be an opportunity for Singapore to be
part of what Nobel laureate Joseph E Stiglitz calls a "coalition of the

It could, as the professor of economics at Columbia University says,
persuade countries to stop building coal-fired plants, increase fuel
efficiency of motor vehicles and provide assistance to developing
countries to improve energy efficiency and cut emissions.

A lot of hot air? With the western world in the mood to act and
politicians looking to rekindle voters with a new manifesto, the timing
may just be right.

Locally, the NEA should come up with a clear strategy to save our
environment by tapping on the young - especially those who have come back
from studying and working overseas - with a cool, hip and committed view
on rubbish disposal, plastics and trees.

This growing group is now so disparate that they disappear into the
woodwork once they return to Singapore because there is nothing to
motivate or pressure them to remain committed to going green.

Timing is everything these days. With the clock ticking fast, Singapore
needs to start projecting a higher profile now on this Mission to Save The

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