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People must be at the heart of blueprint for a sustainable S’pore

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement of a review of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, in order to update it with new initiatives, is timely. The document, released in 2009, is five years old and many, if not all, of its recommendations are on the way to being implemented.

People will need to be convinced that public transport is a better option than driving a car, especially in a city where people live and work in a limited space. Photo: Bloomberg

People will need to be convinced that public transport is a better option than driving a car, especially in a city where people live and work in a limited space. Photo: Bloomberg

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement of a review of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, in order to update it with new initiatives, is timely. The document, released in 2009, is five years old and many, if not all, of its recommendations are on the way to being implemented.

The vision is to make Singapore a liveable and lively city state come 2030, one that Singaporeans love and are proud to call home. This aim holds true today and, with a public consultation exercise to be held over the next three to six months, there will probably be further calls to ensure that the city is one which is also lovable.

Sustainable development demands long-term effort and commitment. A short-term view towards developing a city of the future can only be detrimental. Make a mistake today, and future generations will end up paying.

Coming out of this review, for any new or improved recommendations to be accepted and implemented effectively, the key will lie not only in the policies themselves but also in people’s behaviour. It is thus imperative that Singaporeans be at the heart — and the starting point — of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint version 2.0.

From the man in the street to bankers, from business owners to hawkers, from government to corporate citizens, the v2.0 blueprint must demonstrate to as many as possible the benefits of ensuring that Singapore grows sustainably, and the important role they play in this.

Without this awareness of their personal stake, it is all too easy for the year 2030 to fall off people’s radar, wrongly assuming that what happens in the immediate future is of more urgent priority. But behaviour today affects the future. There needs to be, for instance, greater understanding of the need to change habits, be it in consuming energy, conserving water, reducing carbon emissions or helping to keep the country clean.

This is where the challenge lies for the authorities: To get not just the policy strategies right, but also their communication to the public of what the future holds.

GET PUBLIC TRANSPORT RIGHT

One of the things that people will need to be convinced of is that public transport is a better option than driving a car, especially in a densely-populated city where people live, work and play in very limited space. Consider London, Barcelona and Tokyo, where even CEOs take trains or buses because it just makes more sense to do so.

For this paradigm shift to succeed here, the public transport infrastructure must be constantly upgraded and people must have confidence in the system. The Government and its transport partners must get this right over the next decade or so, now that the Land Transport Master Plan has been released and with the rail network set to double by 2030.

People must find it convenient to take public transport; it must be comfortable and relatively affordable (here, the latest fare review proposals are timely). More people making the switch would alleviate the unsustainable construction of more and more roads and reduce vehicle emissions.

SELLING IT BACK TO THE GRID

If we are to dramatically increase recycling rates in homes, Singaporeans have to buy into the importance of recycling and it should be made even easier for them to do so.

Dual bins should be a feature in all new apartments, and apartment dwellers should be allowed to experiment with renewable energy to reduce their consumption from the grid.

One recent announcement is that it will be made easier for small consumers — such as schools, factories and warehouses — with intermittent energy use and their own renewable energy sources to be paid for supplying excess electricity that they generate back to the grid. Let us hope this can become a reality for home owners some day too.

We should also look at food waste recycling. Last year, Singapore produced enough food waste to fill more than 600 Olympic-sized swimming pools, a 26-per-cent increase from 2007 figures. With growing affluence here, it is very likely that more food will go to waste unless people grasp why climate change will make food security an even greater national issue — for we rely almost entirely on foreign sources for our food supply.

Energy efficiency and water conservation are another two key areas to tackle. In 2011, total household energy consumption measured 6560GWh, compared to 3794GWh in 1995. Domestic water consumption has been brought down from 165 litres per person each day in 2003 to 152 litres. But with the goal being to reduce this to 140 litres by 2030, a more intensive education programme will be necessary, even as Singapore strives towards self-sufficiency in water supply.

Mr Lee, in his letter to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development in 2009, noted that sustainable development requires long-term commitment, understanding and the efforts of not only the whole of Government but also the “whole of country”. Which is why people should be at the core of the blueprint.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jose Raymond is Executive Director of the Singapore Environment Council.

ABOUT THE BLUEPRINT:

The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development was set up in 2008 to formulate a national strategy for Singapore’s sustainable development.

Based on feedback from the public and stakeholders, a blueprint was drawn up with strategies and initiatives to achieve both economic growth and a good living environment over the next 20 years. For more, visit www.sustainablesingapore.gov.sg

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