SINGAPORE - Singapore's approach to sustainable development is exemplified by the Singapore River, which was transformed from an "open sewer" in the 1970s to a clean and beautiful waterway, a place for recreation and a source of drinking water.
Addressing a high-level United Nations (UN) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on Tuesday (Dec 5), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli 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."
Singapore, he affirmed, is addressing climate change and pollution on its own shores and rallying support from its citizens. It will also work with other countries to tackle environmental issues.
In a national statement at the third session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), Mr Masagos highlighted several of the Republic's plans, such as the introduction of a carbon tax in 2019, investing in research and development to manage waste, and designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action to rally Singaporeans to do their part.
The UNEA meeting, held from Dec 4 to 6, is being attended by more than a hundred environment ministers and is a platform to discuss current and emerging environmental issues.
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, to tackle air pollution, Singapore uses incentives to encourage owners of more pollutive commercial vehicles to replace them early with newer and greener models.
Mr Masagos noted that these same principles also apply to how countries work together to tackle environmental problems, such as Asean members 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 the ground-up efforts of civil society groups, and initiatives by businesses to reduce pollution and carbon emission.
As he concluded his speech, Mr Masagos referred to the restoration of the Singapore River as "testament that with vision, determination and unity, we can take concrete steps towards a pollution-free planet".
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.