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Doing more to make S’pore green

How green is Singapore? The answer depends on which report you read.

How green is Singapore? The answer depends on which report you read.

The latest good news from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) is that the Republic’s carbon intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per dollar of gross domestic product — fell by 30 per cent between 2000 and 2010. It also recently announced the S$1.5 billion Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 to create a more liveable and green environment, which could place the nation as a leader in conservation.

Other statistics, however, paint a less favourable picture. While carbon intensity decreased, Singapore’s total greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by about 21 per cent to 46 million tonnes during that period, albeit as GDP increased 76 per cent.

And a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) showed that Singapore’s environmental ranking has worsened to the seventh-worst ecological footprint per person among 150 countries analysed, moving down from the 12th-worst spot a year before.

About 70 per cent of the city’s footprint comes from carbon emissions, with electricity usage and high consumption of imported food and services contributing to the large amount of carbon emissions produced, based on the WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report. Doing far more to create a better environment and give green businesses a more credible base of operations could bring a multitude of benefits.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

A good first step towards making Singapore even more environmentally friendly is to set more ambitious targets in MEWR’s 2015 blueprint and then working to change people’s habits sooner.

The blueprint contains targets reducing per capita water usage from 151 litres per day to 140 by 2030, for example, as well as increasing domestic recycling rates to 30 per cent and raising the target for sky-rise greenery from 50ha to 200ha.

Yet average daily water consumption is already down to 107 litres per day in Denmark and stands at about 130 litres per day in Hong Kong. The household recycling rate in Taiwan is already 42 per cent and in the United Kingdom, it is 44 per cent. Adapting best practices from places such as Taiwan for recycling and Hong Kong for lower water usage could lead to far greater improvements than the blueprint’s current goals.

And since transport accounts for about 14 per cent of carbon emissions, further promoting public transport and considering policies to encourage more fuel-efficient cars and reduce the number of highly inefficient sports cars or sport utility vehicles could have a significant impact.

MEWR has criticised the WWF report as failing to recognise Singapore’s unique circumstances as a small island city-state with no hinterland and with little control over upstream manufacturing or processing of imports.

Yet, areas policymakers could consider is where Singapore imports goods from and how to promote a change in consumer mindsets so that products from nearby countries or with a lower ecological footprint are perceived more positively than ones from far away. Importing more fruit from nearby countries rather than Africa, consuming beverages produced in Asia rather than in Europe and importing sustainably grown lumber from nearby countries are a few of many opportunities for improvement.

As WWF International’s director-general Marco Lambertini said, Singapore should “consume products that have a lower footprint or no footprint, or products that are incentivising sustainable practices”.

While such changes by consumers can make a significant dent in improving the environment, it is also critical to change practices in the industrial sector — such as the manufacturing, refining and chemical businesses — as it accounts for 60 per cent of carbon emissions.

Parliament took a brave step by passing the Clean Air Act in the 1970s, requiring industries to install air pollution control equipment to meet emission standards, in order to avoid the economic loss and impairment of health which it said air pollution caused. So, too, could today’s Parliament support a similar stance to encourage refineries or other heavy polluters to take proactive steps more quickly to reduce their emissions.

To support businesses in the sector, Singapore could further showcase technology from companies such as Germany’s E.ON that are setting up offices or research labs to develop carbon emissions reduction technology for export.

If it wanted to go even further, Singapore could enhance its growing role as a leading global investment hub by applying sustainability standards to investments and investing in companies with high environmental standards. As Mr Lambertini said, it could redirect investments towards applying sustainable standards, investing in companies with high corporate social and environmental standards and divesting from fossil fuels.

Whether it is in the daily activities of consumers or the practices of large businesses, promoting faster progress towards a better environment and a green economy can improve health, liveability and businesses.

The WWF has outlined opportunities for improvement, and following its suggestions from the report as well as other global best practices could enable Singapore to improve the environment, enhance quality of life and make the city more attractive for top talent. We can indeed do far more to move faster towards what MEWR described as a more liveable environment for all of us and “a hub for the cutting-edge business of sustainable development”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Hartung is a financial services consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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