Face up to the green fact

Straits Times Forum 24 May 10;

IN A recent response by government officials to the study that ranks countries for their environmental impact ("Green study disregards Singapore's circumstances"; last Wednesday), the defence given for our environmental record was the increase in green cover and our high diversity of flora and fauna.

However, almost half of this green cover (56 per cent of Singapore's total land area) consists of golf courses, lawns, landscaped parks and streetscapes (27.5 per cent of the land area). Ecologically, these are a far cry from forest cover, exhibiting impoverished biodiversity.

The rest of the green cover is under old-growth forest, which houses most of our native biodiversity, and this makes up only 3 per cent of the land area.

It is also important to note that of the "more than 2,000 native plant species" mentioned by the letter, more than 600 are already extinct in Singapore. Of the remaining native species, close to 1,200 are endangered and restricted to the fragments of old-growth forests remaining in the nature reserves, and are highly vulnerable to unpredictable effects such as climate change.

As for the bird species, about half of the 350 are non-residents, while of the resident species about 20 per cent is conservatively estimated to be extinct. Taken in context, the occasional rediscoveries of supposedly extinct species have a negligible significance, and only highlights our incomplete knowledge.

Therefore, we should face up to the fact that our rapid economic development has come at an environmental price. Only then can we become wiser and pursue economic growth sustainably, and if possible, undo past damage.

We share the hope of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and Ministry of National Development that the City Biodiversity Index will be a fairer measure to gauge urban sustainable development. If so, this will be more fruitful than dwelling on the current state of affairs.

Chong Kwek Yan

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