What does the Cross Island Line conversation mean for businesses?

Talk of the town - environmental conversations in Singapore
Angela Foulsham CSR Asia 16 Mar 16;

There has been one thing dominating the environmental conversation in Singapore recently, and that is the Phase 1 Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, for the Cross-Island Line that was gazetted by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) on 5 February 2016. The assessment of environmental impacts relates to the site investigation works needed for a proposed alignment of a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line that would run beneath part of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and the MacRitchie Reservoir.

The dialogue around the impact of these works, the suitability of mitigation measures available, and the alternatives for alignment are ongoing, with NGOs such as the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) taking a leading role in the discussion. This is fairly predictable for an EIA of such a prominent project, especially one with potential to impact sensitive areas such as the CCNR, but the surprise in this story is that for the first time this report was made accessible to everyone.

Typically in the city-state of Singapore, when an EIA report is gazetted there is a public notice issued and the report itself is made available for viewing by appointment only. Interested stakeholders such as NGOs, academics, environmental professionals or members of the public can then book a time to read the report in full. In the case of the Cross-Island Line Phase 1 EIA, five hard copies of the 1,000 plus page report were made available at the LTA offices, and for the first two weeks of the disclosure period appointments were made and the report reviewed.

But on 19 February this changed when LTA published all four volumes of the EIA report on their website, along with the Executive Summary. On their Facebook page LTA said the move was in response to feedback received, and the report was put online for interested parties who are unable to come to LTA to view the documents.

Public interest in this study seems to be growing, with coverage by the media including the Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia documenting the opinions of prominent voices in the discussion, the various events being held linked to this development, and the milestones in the process such as the unexpected accessibility of the report. Interest in such EIAs isn’t new, but now we are seeing greater involvement and wider conversations not only involving the NGOs and environmental community, but reaching a wider audience.

So what does this mean for businesses? Aside from the discussion reflecting a greater public awareness and participation in environmental issues, such reports that document assessment and decision processes being made widely available is a new step in the disclosure and transparency of information. Increasing consumer, stakeholder, and shareholder awareness of environmental issues and the resulting need for disclosures is a trend that has been widely recognised in the private sector. Perhaps this news-worthy and accessible EIA disclosure is a new marker of the evolution of this trend in Singapore. This new conversation could bring a new dimension to the landscape, pushing beyond mandatory disclosures around issues such as energy management, and sparking a wider debate around the environmental interests for our small island.

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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