Singapore

S’pore can take steps to curb domestic sources of air pollution, say experts

Published: 4:15 AM, March 8, 2014

SINGAPORE — The Republic could take measures to curb domestic sources of air pollution, in addition to laws proposed to take action against parties causing transboundary haze, said legal and environmental experts at a roundtable yesterday.

These include greater adoption of low-sulphur fuel, better monitoring of vehicle exhaust fumes, including that of foreign vehicles here, as well as more focus on levels of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5). Greater consumer awareness could also be promoted through eco-labelling.

The group of 11 experts yesterday discussed key features of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill — such as the proposed penalties and whether the Government had sufficient capacity to monitor the activities of companies abroad. Their discussion came as air quality crept up to moderate levels last evening due to hotspots north of Singapore and north-easterly winds.

A summary of the discussion, led by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), will be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, which is conducting a public consultation on the Bill.

Sufficient technical capabilities exist to monitor the activities by companies abroad, said Assistant Professor Jason Blake Cohen of the National University of Singapore.

The air pollutants and climate change expert noted multiple sources of information available from different satellites, data from the World Meteorological Organization as well as measurements taken here.

There is very high confidence, based on calculations, that the haze from June 19 to 23 last year was from Sumatra, and that from June 26 to 28 last year was from Borneo, said Asst Prof Cohen.

But there can be uncertainty when it comes to land titles and exactly who does the burning, other experts noted.

The proposed laws seek to address deterioration of air quality here for more than 24 hours caused by fires abroad, and Asst Prof Cohen noted that a “continuous string of moderate events could actually be quite hazardous”, especially to more vulnerable groups.

While some have said proposed fines are too low, SIIA Chairman Simon Tay felt hefty penalties could result in businesses relocating interests away from Singapore, reducing the influence the Republic is able to wield. Fines, if collected, could be channelled to the ASEAN Transboundary Haze Pollution control fund, some experts felt.

Under the proposed laws, entities can be fined up to S$300,000 for haze-causing activities and up to S$450,000 for not taking directions to reduce or control the pollution. It also allows for civil liability and some experts suggested that suits could be allowed by organisations, including the Consumers Association of Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board and even public hospitals.