Singapore is getting greener

Arti Mulchand, Straits Times 25 Jun 08;

'The battle to protect biodiversity - and life on earth - will be won or lost in cities. But it is not just species in danger - the jobs of three million people are at risk, for example, if marine life is lost" Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity

CLEAN and green Singapore is getting greener.

The area of the island covered by greenery has gone up from 36 per cent in 1986 to 47 per cent last year, despite the country's population shooting up from 2.7 million to 4.6 million during this period.

This was among the findings of a study by the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (Crisp), the National University of Singapore and the National Parks Board (NParks).

One reason: 10 per cent of the land here is set aside for nature reserves and parks, allowing for biodiversity in habitats including lowland rainforests, freshwater swamp forests and coastal forests to be conserved, said NParks chief executive Ng Lang.

Over the years, a network of park connectors, streetscape and waterfront greenery has also added to the shades of green.

This means Singapore's rich biodiversity has been able to flourish as well - the island is now home to over 2,900 species of plants, 360 species of birds and 270 species of butterflies, with more species of flora and fauna yet to be identified.

It means that despite rapid population growth, Singapore has been able to recover from the loss of species to an extent that there is a balance, Mr Ng added.

Singapore's greening even got the nod from Dr Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity, who gave a presentation on cities and biodiversity at the World Cities Summit yesterday,

'Unsound urban management is not the unavoidable destiny of cities. Sound urbanisation and ecologically managed cities can exist. Singapore, the garden in the city, is indeed living testimony of this reality,' he said.

The country is also taking a step forward in the global protection of biodiversity.

Early next year, a panel of experts and policymakers will meet in Singapore to craft a 'Cities Biodiversity Index', so cities can better manage biodiversity and integrate it into urban planning.

The idea for it came from Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan at the Bonn Diversity Summit in Germany last month, to assist cities in benchmarking their biodiversity conservation efforts.

Commenting on it, Mr Ng said: 'You can't manage what you can't measure. So it will create a more scientific approach to helping countries know where they stand relative to others.'

The index will be ready before the next UN biodiversity conference, to be held in Nagoya, Japan in 2010. Countries will then assess their progress in achieving previously set biodiversity targets.

Their progress is crucial, said Dr Djoghlaf, who added that the rapid urbanisation of the world has led to an unprecedented loss of biodiversity, and that as the population of city dwellers balloons, the level of urgency escalates.

'The battle to protect biodiversity - and life on earth - will be won or lost in cities,' he said.

But it is not just species in danger - the jobs of three million people are at risk, for example, if marine life is lost, he added.

'We need to re-engineer our approach to development...People must realise that the loss of biodiversity will also have an economic impact and threaten livelihoods. We are conserving the economy of tomorrow,' he said.

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