No need for new law on environmental assessments

Ms Natalia Huang has called for stronger engagement with scientists in shaping the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, and argued in favour of an EIA law or a fully transparent EIA framework (EIAs: Enigmas in Action?; Sept 2).

Singapore is already under some legal obligation to undertake EIAs.

In the famous case concerning pulp mills on the Uruguay River, the International Court of Justice ruled in 2010 that all countries are legally obliged to undertake an EIA before projects like this are authorised.

The Court left it to individual countries to determine the details of conducting an EIA.

It is not inevitable that Singapore must embrace "hard" laws in the form of a statute.

Codes of conduct can be developed after consultations between public and private stakeholders. An example of this is the Building and Construction Authority's Code of Accessibility in the Built Environment.

A "soft" law approach in strengthening EIA processes has its benefits.

While the code of conduct need not be legally binding, it can be useful in urging private stakeholders to employ some of the best international practices of EIAs.

There are already laws here which govern the actions of private stakeholders. These can be adjusted to encourage buy-in, such as making compliance with the laws a condition for permit renewals.

Ultimately, the Government must retain its legal flexibility to make decisions that advance our collective interests.

Daniel Seah Chin Aun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'No need for new law on environmental assessments'. Print Edition | Subscribe