Masagos: River clean-up shows S'pore's efforts for environment

Singapore's approach to sustainable development is exemplified by the Singapore River, which was turned from an "open sewer" in the 1970s into a clean and beautiful waterway, a place for recreation and a source of drinking water, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told a United Nations meeting yesterday.

Addressing the third session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr Masagos said: "As part of a long-term plan to meet burgeoning water needs, we worked hard over a decade to clean up the catchment area of the Singapore River, resettling thousands of farms, factories and street hawkers. The support and involvement of the people of Singapore were crucial."

Mr Masagos said that since the early days of Singapore's independence, the principles of sound policymaking, long-term thinking and the mobilisation of broad support have anchored its approach to sustainable development and pollution management. These remain relevant today, he said.

For example, for air pollution, Singapore uses incentives to encourage owners of more pollutive commercial vehicles to replace them early with newer, greener models.

Mr Masagos noted that these principles also apply to how countries work together on enviromental issues, such as Aseanmembers cooperating to prevent, monitor and mitigate haze. The ratification and implementation of an agreement on transboundary haze pollution will go towards achieving a haze-free Asean by 2020, he added.

Besides government efforts, Mr Masagos said, the support of citizens and businesses is needed, as they will have to make the near-term adjustments to support environmental policies that bring long-term benefits.

He also acknowledged ground-up efforts of civil society groups, and initiatives by businesses to reduce pollution and carbon emission.

The high-level UNEA meeting, held from Monday till today, is being attended by more than 100 environment ministers and is a platform to discuss current and emerging environmental issues.

While all UN member states can participate in the UNEA, only accredited members can become part of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the key body that shapes the agenda and decisions of the UNEA. Singapore was accredited in February last year.

Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Masagos: River clean-up shows S'pore's efforts for environment'. Print Edition | Subscribe