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Sustainable development: Much progress made, much more to be done

SINGAPORE — Five years after the first Singapore Sustainable Blueprint (SSB) setting out the Republic’s goals on sustainable development was published in 2009, progress has been made and, in some instances, even achieved ahead of projected timelines.

SINGAPORE — Five years after the first Singapore Sustainable Blueprint (SSB) setting out the Republic’s goals on sustainable development was published in 2009, progress has been made and, in some instances, even achieved ahead of projected timelines.

But while the Government has added significantly to Singapore’s green spaces, expanded the use of renewable energy and stayed on track in meeting emission targets, experts and observers say much remains to be done — in particular, improving public attitudes towards environmental conservation and sustainable living.

The SSB 2009, the first of its kind on sustainable development, covered four broad areas. The first was to green Singapore’s urban environment by setting aside more land for parks and creating more skyrise greenery or rooftop gardens. Second, Singapore would look at making better use of resources, through initiatives such as exploring renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, improving recycling and waste management.

Third, Singapore would aim to become a lead example in green technology, as a test-bed for new technologies, such as solar energy and “green” buildings.

Fostering community action on leading environmentally-friendly lifestyles through greater outreach comprised the fourth area of focus.

The second edition of the SSB is due today, following a review that began last year.


The 2009 blueprint had set a target to reach 4,200ha of parkland by 2020 and 0.8ha of parkland per 1,000 people by 2030, by opening new parks such as Gardens by the Bay and Coney Island Park. On track to reach this target, Singapore’s current park space measured 4,040ha as of last year.

Significant headway has also been made in expanding green spaces upwards through rooftop gardens on blocks of newer flats and on the top decks of Housing and Development Board (HDB) multi-storey carparks. Originally set at 50ha by 2030 in the blueprint, figures from the Ministry of National Development show Singapore already exceeded this target with 61ha last year.

Despite this visible progress, Nature Trekker founder and wildlife guide Ben Lee said increasing park space and skyrise greenery has little impact on preserving Singapore’s biodiversity, which requires large spaces with more vegetation to thrive.

Assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Geography Harvey Neo also pointed out that the 2009 blueprint had made no mention of increasing the number of nature reserves or expanding the size of existing ones.


In the 2009 blueprint, the goal was to raise national recycling standards from 56 per cent in 2008 to 65 per cent in 2020. Two major types of waste — plastic and food — were singled out for their low recycling rates and a study on the feasibility of mandating the recycling of such waste was set out.

To get households to actively recycle their waste, more recycling facilities have been provided through a pilot of separate chutes for recyclables in housing estates. At the beginning of the year, it was announced that future public housing developments would have eco-friendly features such as centralised chutes for recyclable waste.

This followed the success of Singapore’s first eco-precinct Treelodge@Punggol, where centralised chutes for recyclables collected three times the amount of recyclables compared with other HDB blocks. Under a three-year initiative, public waste collectors also installed a blue recycling bin at every HDB block.

National recycling rates have been steadily climbing over the past few years. Singapore recycled 61 per cent of the 7.8 million tonnes of waste it generated last year, of which household recycling rate was about 20 per cent. However, household recycling rates have always lagged behind industrial recycling here and public education efforts seem to have little effect on changing public behaviour, said Dr Neo.


The authorities had also set out to have 80 per cent of the buildings here achieve Green Mark certification, an eco-friendly rating that is awarded by the Building and Construction Authority, by 2030. To date, more than 25 per cent of the buildings have been certified.

While the process of greening Singapore’s buildings has been slow, programme director (EcoCampus) at the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) Nilesh Jadhav noted that new developments, such as new lighting technology and more efficient air-conditioning systems, have quickened the pace.

To speed things up, Mr Nilesh said the authorities could consider making Green Mark certification for buildings that are seven- to 10-years-old a mandatory requirement.

As solar energy sets to be Singapore’s most promising source of renewable energy, the blueprint also cited plans to invest in solar technology test-bedding projects to prepare for a larger-scale adoption of this energy.

In March, the Government said it would raise the total installed solar capacity to 350 megawatts-peak (MWp) by 2020, or about 5 per cent of the annual electricity demand. At present, Singapore has a total installed capacity of about 19MWp.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the ERI@N, said he was confident Singapore will hit the 2020 target. “There is acceleration of implementation primarily by the public sector and (as) prices fall, there are clear signs that payback periods are in the five-to-eight-year range. And this will make it very attractive even for private companies to install solar (systems) on their rooftops,” he said.


Promoting greener modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport, was another key feature of the blueprint. Setting out to make public transport more accessible, the Government intended to double the rail network to 278km by 2020 and at the same time, invest in cycling networks and bicycle-parking facilities at key transport hubs.

Last year’s Land Transport Master Plan set an even more ambitious target of making eight in 10 homes within a 10-minute walk from an MRT train station with the expansion of the rail network to 360km by 2030.

The National Cycling Plan announced last month further outlined plans to develop a 700km-long cycling network by 2030, starting with 100km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok next year.

Noting that Singapore is on the right track, Dr Neo said investments in public transport will take time to materialise, but he is optimistic that the issues of over-congestion will improve over time.

However, he said convincing the public that cycling is a viable alternative option would be a challenge without adjustments and improvements to make the road system faster and safer for cyclists.

The blueprint also laid out plans to test a slew of greener transport technologies, including diesel hybrid and electric vehicles, given how transport is a major cause of air pollution.

And since 2011, the authorities have been studying the feasibility of electric vehicles on Singapore roads, where the Land Transport Authority concluded the first phase of an electric vehicle test-bed in December last year.


Despite measures in the 2009 blueprint to rally the public into making environmental sustainability part of everyday culture in Singapore, observers say more needs to be done to engage the community meaningfully before any change can be sparked.

And though there are plans to fund new initiatives and programmes by non-governmental organisations and the Community Development Councils, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council Liak Teng Lit said change must start with the individual. “It’s not about the plan only, it’s also about societal attitude and values, how we see our responsibility,” he said.

Citing examples of littering and cluttered HDB common corridors, he said Singaporeans have not learnt to take care of the environment beyond their front doors “I think we’re not quite there yet. The average person in Singapore does not internalise the message that they have a role to play.”

And with Singapore being one of the most consumerist societies in the world, Dr Neo said future plans to address sustainable living would have to target specific behaviours, such as reducing food waste or improving recycling, instead of a focus on using less.

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