Sustainable if costs don’t tip the scales

Today Online 29 Jul 08;

IN A picture-perfect Singapore, environmentally speaking, people would
cycle not just to the nearest MRT station but between towns; all homes
would use energy-saving appliances; buildings would be "green" and solar
panels would power our lives.

But is such a scenario sustainable, even if it is green?

For example, even as other countries have taken the plunge with feed-in
tariffs to promote solar energy, the technology is still not price
competitive and involves high capital cost.

"We have to bear in mind that solar is still two to three times what we
pay for in grid power," said Senior Minister of State for Trade and
Industry S Iswaran. Subsidies would "distort" market signals and consumer

So, what kind of green initiatives would be worth going the distance for?

This is what the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development
wants Singaporeans to think about and give their views on, with its launch
of yesterday.

Formed in February, the committee is co-chaired by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim. Other members are Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Transport Minister Raymond Lim and Mr Iswaran.

With the population growing, said Mr Mah, there is a need to re-look the balance between growth and sustainability, while ensuring high-quality living.

Setting down the general path the Republic would take, Mr Shanmugaratnam promised that the measures “will be bold”. “We are not going to be puny in the way we go about this, but we’ll be pragmatic and we’ll weigh costs and benefits and make sensible judgements on how to prioritise and what to do, and so on.”

The Government is also mindful of inflationary pressures and does not want to “add to costs for either businesses or consumers”, he added. “Many of the things we do will have benefits in the long-term. Some of it wouldn’t show up as benefits in the short-term.”

And so that Singaporeans will take ownership of such measures, the Government has moved away from the traditional top-down approach in such matters and is seeking their suggestions.

from cycling to lightbulbs

One achievable goal, said Mr Lim, isre-looking the humble bicycle as something for everyone. To promote bicycles as a mode of transport between towns, more parking facilities could be added at MRT stations. “It’s a shift in the way we look at cycling,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Government will continue to address issues such as car emission levels, by looking at the costs and benefits involved.

Said Mr Shanmugaratnam: “For example, diesel cars: Should we phase in Euro IV and eventually Euro V, and accept that existing vehicles will continue to emit particulate matter at higher than desirable levels? Or do we go aggressive and require all existing stock be converted, which will cost a lot?”

“That’s the kind of issue we are looking at: At significant cost, are the benefits worth it or should we just phase things out and allow for a more graduated move towards reduced emissions?”

Another conundrum: Going “green” with buildings. As it is more expensive to retrofit than to build new buildings, there is the question of how much the Government should subsidise developers or building owners, since these parties will enjoy cost savings over time.

But even as the Housing and Development Board, for one, looks at how to design energy efficient flats and retrofit existing blocks, the public must play its part in cultivating a sustainable lifestyle.

Said Dr Yaacob: “Conserve water, switch off when you don’t use the air-con, switch to more energy efficient appliances ... If they (Singaporeans) choose to cycle and walk, it will help us. The Transport Ministry will provide the infrastructure, but we have to get Singaporeans onboard.”

And if the public and private sectors do not respond to public education, more aggressive measures can be adopted, suggested Singapore Environment Council president Howard Shaw. Referring to now-compulsory energy efficiency labels for certain appliances, he said: “It started out voluntary but the private sector didn’t take it up, so consumers did not recognise its significance. So we had to take a drastic measure.”

Energy resources critical in ensuring Singapore's sustained development
May Wong, Channel NewsAsia 28 Jul 08;

SINGAPORE: Energy is the most critical resource in Singapore, given high oil prices and the country's lack of alternative resources, said the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development.

The committee, which was set up in February this year, said on Monday that if Singapore expends the same effort on energy efficiency as it did for water management, the country will enjoy benefits in the long run.

That is why it is calling on members of the public to suggest ways on how to make Singapore a more eco-friendly city.

Professional show host, Samson Zee, makes it a point to save energy in every little way, such as adjusting the air-conditioner temperature from 18 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius.

He said: "You have to be responsible and also be conscious about the (amount of) energy that you're using. Start looking into changing the bulbs at home to compact fluorescent light, instead of the incandescent light.

"The next thing is to look out for equipment or home appliances that have energy-saving consumption system."

Aside from managing resources like energy and water, Singapore is also looking into pollution control and improving the physical environment so that the country can grow economically, while building a sustainable environment.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said: "Although our contribution to the global carbon emission reduction will be small because we are a small country, I think if we can demonstrate that a highly urbanised city can still have good growth and a good quality of life using the approaches and measures that we have taken, the demonstration effect on other cities around the world will be quite significant."

Mr Mah co-chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee with Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

The committee has suggested broad solutions such as making existing buildings more energy efficient and developing new technologies to optimise resources.

But it has declined to state concrete plans, saying it wants to get public feedback first through its website.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who also sits on the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development, said: "One of the things that we're very mindful of is that each of the initiatives that we can think of comes with costs as well as benefits.

"We'll be quite pragmatic in the way we go about this – avoid extremes. 'Extremes' meaning, either going green regardless of costs, or on the other hand, not doing anything simply because there are costs. So I think we have to find a pragmatic middle ground in this whole initiative."

The committee has emphasised that it may take about ten years for any initiative to produce results, so it intends to collate as much public feedback and solutions as possible by next February's Budget debate in Parliament.

- CNA/ls/so