The next SG50: Singapore Green 50

Ensuring that the little Red Dot remains Green for generations to come requires the unified effort of all Singaporeans

As we commemorate 50 years of blissful independence, it is timely that we take a moment to reminisce about our environmental journey over the last decades. It all started with the bold vision of our first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, envisioning and pioneering a garden city which once used to have two thirds of its population dwelling in squatter settlements.

We have come a long way since the tree-planting campaign in 1963 and the Keep Singapore Clean campaign in 1968. Today, we stand tall among the Asian tigers as a hallmark of environmental excellence and a role model for sustainable development. We have overcome our lack of natural water resources by establishing a robust and diversified water supply.

Our need for a resilient and sustained power source has witnessed the building of liquefied natural gas terminals which will contribute up to 95.5 per cent of fuel for electricity generation in the near future.

Singapore's environmental successes have been lauded and recognised on many fronts, both regionally and internationally. However, the environmental challenges confronting us in the next few decades are significant and daunting. With the national population slated to rise to as high as 6.9 million by 2030, it is all the more important that our resources are utilised effectively. The need for more dense urban housing precincts would mean that we need to forge ahead with the fine balancing act of complementing our cityscapes with lush greenery and conserving what's left of our primary rainforest.

Solar energy has become a commercially feasible source of clean and sustainable energy for Singapore, especially for large-scale installations which enjoy economies of scale.
Solar energy has become a commercially feasible source of clean and sustainable energy for Singapore, especially for large-scale installations which enjoy economies of scale. ST FILE PHOTO

With an increased population comes the issue of greater waste generation. With landfill space slated to run out in Pulau Semakau by 2035, we need to boost our current recycling rates to meet our national recycling target of 70 per cent by 2030. Of particular concern would be the low recycling rates for common types of waste disposed of - such as plastic and food, which accounted for recycling rates of only 9 per cent and 13 per cent respectively last year.

Private cars contribute the largest share of emissions by the transport sector at 35 per cent. Under the Land Transport Masterplan, Singapore aims to encourage 70 per cent of commuters to take public transport by 2020. With the recently revised Carbon Emissions-based Vehicles scheme a possible deterrent to potential car buyers, plans to increase the length of cycling paths from the current 230km to 700km by 2030 should give impetus to alternative forms of low-emission modes of transportation. Coupled with car-sharing schemes and the potential licensing of electric vehicles, Singapore should be on course to meet its intended targets of reducing its emissions intensity by 36 per cent (from 2005 levels) by 2030, and stabilise emissions to peak around 2030.

Singapore's small physical size and its high population density and geographical location make its approach to adopting alternative energy forms complex. Prospects for geothermal energy are low and the lack of major river systems prevents us from harnessing hydroelectric power. Surrounding calm waters are insufficient for tidal power generation while wind speeds render the potential of wind energy negligible.

While we have come thus far together as a nation, we need to continually be receptive to new ideas and adopt best practices from around the world. Let us continue to work on our perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

That leaves us with solar energy. Earlier this year, the Housing Board (HDB) called the first solar leasing tender consolidating demand across multiple government agencies for installation of solar panels. This tender is the largest to date in the public and private sectorsand will see solar photovoltaic systems installed at eight government sites involving an estimated 900 HDB blocks.

With high levels of urban shading and the presence of high cloud cover across Singapore, intermittency and intensity of solar energy generated have always posed concerns. Nonetheless, on the whole, with the aid of research and development, solar energy has established itself as a commercially feasible source of clean and sustainable energy for Singapore, especially for large-scale installations which enjoy economies of scale.

While we have come thus far together as a nation, we need to continually be receptive to new ideas and adopt best practices from around the world. Let us continue to work on our perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths. On a national level, we need to earnestly explore the possibility of transiting to a circular economy backed with sustainable procurement policies. We must continue to diversify our pool of resources to meet greater challenges ahead and remain prudent in their use.

As we feel the slight effects of climate change rearing its head, with temperatures forecast to increase if greenhouse gas emissions are not abated, a unified effort is required by all Singaporeans to ensure that the little Red Dot remains Green for generations to come.

  • The writer is Head (Eco-Certifications) and Lead Environmental Engineer at Singapore Environment Council.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'The next SG50: Singapore Green 50'. Print Edition | Subscribe