Best of our wild blogs: 8 Nov 14

A rare look at East Semakau
from wild shores of singapore

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Sustainable development: Much progress made, much more to be done

Second edition of Republic’s Sustainable Blueprint due today

SINGAPORE — Five years after the first Singapore Sustainable Blueprint (SSB) setting out the Republic’s goals on sustainable development was published in 2009, progress has been made and, in some instances, even achieved ahead of projected timelines.

But while the Government has added significantly to Singapore’s green spaces, expanded the use of renewable energy and stayed on track in meeting emission targets, experts and observers say much remains to be done — in particular, improving public attitudes towards environmental conservation and sustainable living.

The SSB 2009, the first of its kind on sustainable development, covered four broad areas. The first was to green Singapore’s urban environment by setting aside more land for parks and creating more skyrise greenery or rooftop gardens. Second, Singapore would look at making better use of resources, through initiatives such as exploring renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, improving recycling and waste management.

Third, Singapore would aim to become a lead example in green technology, as a test-bed for new technologies, such as solar energy and “green” buildings.

Fostering community action on leading environmentally-friendly lifestyles through greater outreach comprised the fourth area of focus.

The second edition of the SSB is due today, following a review that began last year.


The 2009 blueprint had set a target to reach 4,200ha of parkland by 2020 and 0.8ha of parkland per 1,000 people by 2030, by opening new parks such as Gardens by the Bay and Coney Island Park. On track to reach this target, Singapore’s current park space measured 4,040ha as of last year.

Significant headway has also been made in expanding green spaces upwards through rooftop gardens on blocks of newer flats and on the top decks of Housing and Development Board (HDB) multi-storey carparks. Originally set at 50ha by 2030 in the blueprint, figures from the Ministry of National Development show Singapore already exceeded this target with 61ha last year.

Despite this visible progress, Nature Trekker founder and wildlife guide Ben Lee said increasing park space and skyrise greenery has little impact on preserving Singapore’s biodiversity, which requires large spaces with more vegetation to thrive.

Assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Geography Harvey Neo also pointed out that the 2009 blueprint had made no mention of increasing the number of nature reserves or expanding the size of existing ones.


In the 2009 blueprint, the goal was to raise national recycling standards from 56 per cent in 2008 to 65 per cent in 2020. Two major types of waste — plastic and food — were singled out for their low recycling rates and a study on the feasibility of mandating the recycling of such waste was set out.

To get households to actively recycle their waste, more recycling facilities have been provided through a pilot of separate chutes for recyclables in housing estates. At the beginning of the year, it was announced that future public housing developments would have eco-friendly features such as centralised chutes for recyclable waste.

This followed the success of Singapore’s first eco-precinct Treelodge@Punggol, where centralised chutes for recyclables collected three times the amount of recyclables compared with other HDB blocks. Under a three-year initiative, public waste collectors also installed a blue recycling bin at every HDB block.

National recycling rates have been steadily climbing over the past few years. Singapore recycled 61 per cent of the 7.8 million tonnes of waste it generated last year, of which household recycling rate was about 20 per cent. However, household recycling rates have always lagged behind industrial recycling here and public education efforts seem to have little effect on changing public behaviour, said Dr Neo.


The authorities had also set out to have 80 per cent of the buildings here achieve Green Mark certification, an eco-friendly rating that is awarded by the Building and Construction Authority, by 2030. To date, more than 25 per cent of the buildings have been certified.

While the process of greening Singapore’s buildings has been slow, programme director (EcoCampus) at the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) Nilesh Jadhav noted that new developments, such as new lighting technology and more efficient air-conditioning systems, have quickened the pace.

To speed things up, Mr Nilesh said the authorities could consider making Green Mark certification for buildings that are seven- to 10-years-old a mandatory requirement.

As solar energy sets to be Singapore’s most promising source of renewable energy, the blueprint also cited plans to invest in solar technology test-bedding projects to prepare for a larger-scale adoption of this energy.

In March, the Government said it would raise the total installed solar capacity to 350 megawatts-peak (MWp) by 2020, or about 5 per cent of the annual electricity demand. At present, Singapore has a total installed capacity of about 19MWp.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the ERI@N, said he was confident Singapore will hit the 2020 target. “There is acceleration of implementation primarily by the public sector and (as) prices fall, there are clear signs that payback periods are in the five-to-eight-year range. And this will make it very attractive even for private companies to install solar (systems) on their rooftops,” he said.


Promoting greener modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport, was another key feature of the blueprint. Setting out to make public transport more accessible, the Government intended to double the rail network to 278km by 2020 and at the same time, invest in cycling networks and bicycle-parking facilities at key transport hubs.

Last year’s Land Transport Master Plan set an even more ambitious target of making eight in 10 homes within a 10-minute walk from an MRT train station with the expansion of the rail network to 360km by 2030.

The National Cycling Plan announced last month further outlined plans to develop a 700km-long cycling network by 2030, starting with 100km of intra-town cycling paths in Yishun, Punggol and Bedok next year.

Noting that Singapore is on the right track, Dr Neo said investments in public transport will take time to materialise, but he is optimistic that the issues of over-congestion will improve over time.

However, he said convincing the public that cycling is a viable alternative option would be a challenge without adjustments and improvements to make the road system faster and safer for cyclists.

The blueprint also laid out plans to test a slew of greener transport technologies, including diesel hybrid and electric vehicles, given how transport is a major cause of air pollution.

And since 2011, the authorities have been studying the feasibility of electric vehicles on Singapore roads, where the Land Transport Authority concluded the first phase of an electric vehicle test-bed in December last year.


Despite measures in the 2009 blueprint to rally the public into making environmental sustainability part of everyday culture in Singapore, observers say more needs to be done to engage the community meaningfully before any change can be sparked.

And though there are plans to fund new initiatives and programmes by non-governmental organisations and the Community Development Councils, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council Liak Teng Lit said change must start with the individual. “It’s not about the plan only, it’s also about societal attitude and values, how we see our responsibility,” he said.

Citing examples of littering and cluttered HDB common corridors, he said Singaporeans have not learnt to take care of the environment beyond their front doors “I think we’re not quite there yet. The average person in Singapore does not internalise the message that they have a role to play.”

And with Singapore being one of the most consumerist societies in the world, Dr Neo said future plans to address sustainable living would have to target specific behaviours, such as reducing food waste or improving recycling, instead of a focus on using less.

Recycling on the rise, but there is room for improvement
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The updated Sustainable Singapore Blueprint will be unveiled on Saturday (Nov 8) at the Clean & Green Singapore campaign launch. It will lay out the Government's vision for sustainable development and recycling is expected to be one of the focus areas. The blueprint was first released in 2009.

A recycling bin at every HDB block - that is one of the features of the National Recycling Programme, which aims to make it easier for people to recycle.

Under the programme, Public Waste Collectors are required to provide recycling bins and recycling collection services to all households in HDB and private landed property estates.

The number of recycling bins in HDB estates has increased from around 1,600 in 2007 to about 9,100 bins now. Usage has gone up too - over the past two years, the amount of recyclables collected per bin has increased by about 50 per cent.

Common recyclables are paper, plastic, glass and metal. Electronic waste such as irons and computers are recyclable and can also be dropped into the bins.

Despite the increased usage, waste management companies said challenges remain. One is the shortage of volume, said SembWaste's senior vice president, Lim Chin Khuang. “We need to have sufficient volume to have the economies of scale to be able to process the recyclables at a lower per unit cost,” he explained. “Secondly, the high contamination rate found in the recyclables actually results in double handling. This increases the cost of operations, as well as the cost of disposal."

Mr Lim estimates that around 50 per cent of items collected by SembWaste were not able to be recycled. For example, paper products that have come into contact with food waste are considered contaminated and cannot be recycled.

He suggested that one way to address this would be through public education. To that, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is working with organisations to raise awareness of recycling issues. It does so through community and school events, such as educational visits to recycling facilities and incineration plants. NEA hopes such efforts will encourage people to recycle more and contribute to the overall recycling rate.

In 2013, the recycling rate was 61 per cent. Under the current Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, the target is 70 per cent by 2030.

- CNA/xy

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Learn about transboundary haze at VivoCity exhibition

Nadia Jansen Channel NewsAsia 7 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: "The best way to solve a problem is to first understand the root causes," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Friday (Nov 7), at an interactive haze exhibition.

The exhibition, launched on Friday by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), aims to improve public awareness on the haze issue.

The exhibition at VivoCity has a range of things for visitors to interact with, including a container of peat to touch. From this exhibit, the visitor would be able to learn that fires starting on peatland contribute to 80 per cent of transboundary haze.

"It is really a deep-rooted problem,” said Simon Tay, chairman of SIIA. “It is in the land, it is in the fires, it is in the industry habits. So we are trying to educate people where these products come from, why they link to fires and what they can do in their daily habits to change the patterns of demand."

Other displays range from explaining the different Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels, to ways that one can help improve the situation.

Ian Wevell, a firefighter who works in Indonesia, will also be taking part in the exhibition, which runs till Sunday.

"We focus on making sure the fires get out of our plantations and stay out of our estates, because the haze not only affects us. It affects the community around us," said Mr Wevell, who is also the ground operations manager at April Group.

- CNA/ek

Exhibition gives insight into haze issue
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 9 Nov 14;

The haze might be caused by the clearing of land in Indonesia and Malaysia, but Singaporeans can still play a role in helping to thin the murky veil that shrouds the Republic every year.

Consumers can do their part in various ways, for instance, by purchasing timber products sourced only from sustainable forests, or by investing in companies that do not burn land.

This is the call to action made by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which has organised a first-of-its-kind haze exhibition here.

"Singaporeans can make an impact," said SIIA deputy director and fellow for ASEAN business and sustainable development Chua Chin Wei. He noted that "rewarding companies that do not burn land" would help motivate the agroforestry industry to be more responsible and sustainable.

Visitors to the exhibition at VivoCity can gain fresh insights into these issues, including the importance of checking for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) eco-label when buying furniture, paper or other wood products. The label shows the product can be traced to a sustainably managed forest.

The event, which will run from today until Sunday, has brought together 10 agroforestry companies, including Wilmar and paper firm Asia Pacific Resources International, and 20 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to address questions from the public.

Mr Kim Stengert, the director for communications at the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore (WWF-Singapore), one of the participating NGOs, said: "WWF wants to drive home the message to consumers to put pressure on companies to carry the FSC or Certified Sustainable Palm Oil eco-labels, to ensure their products that use paper, pulp or palm oil do not contribute to unsustainable forest practices."

The causes that have brought about the haze and the actions that can be taken to combat the perennial problem are being highlighted as well during the three-day event.

Visitors can check out text and multimedia displays, as well as the peat soil exhibit, which highlights the problem of peat fires. Such fires - which can burn for months or even years, and emit high levels of carbon dioxide - are largely behind the choking haze that is dogging the region.

National University of Singapore undergraduate Joys Tan says she knows about what causes haze but wants to know more about "how the individual can help to reduce it".

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Malaysia: Flash floods hit Bertam Valley again


CAMERON HIGHLANDS: A SECOND wave of flash floods hit Kampung Baru Ringlet here yesterday afternoon.

The incident occurred less than 48 hours after the mud floods on Wednesday evening and it sent residents scrambling for safety.

A downpour that began at 1.45pm yesterday caused dozens of houses to be inundated in calf-deep mud water.

In the lower-lying areas, the water rose as high as the residents’ necks. Some were trapped inside their houses.

However, the floodwaters subsided not long after that.

At the height of the flash floods and with water running fast from the nearby Ringlet River, the authorities ordered the residents to vacate their houses.

R. Marryalen, 32, who is attached with the Civil Defence Department here, said everything happened so fast.

“It was raining heavily and within five minutes, the floodwaters rose to my neck level. I made my way out of the house and onto higher ground.

“I could only watch helplessly as my belongings were swept away. Everything was damaged,” she said, adding that something needed to be done by the authorities to remedy the situation.

Echoing her sentiments was Randy Chok, 75, who has been staying in the area for more than 50 years.

“I haven’t even finished cleaning my house after Wednesday’s mud floods and it’s filthy again. How can this be? We cannot live in fear, day in day out. Enough is enough.”

The remedy, according to Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, may not be too far away.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had agreed to fast-track a proposal to be submitted by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) on remedial works to be done on the river as a short-term measure to end floods in the highlands area.

Palanivel, who is also Cameron Highlands member of parliament, said DID was working on the proposal, to be completed and submitted “as soon as possible”.

Meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would chair the Cabinet Committee on Natural Disasters meeting on Monday.

“Cameron Highlands is like a ticking time bomb for disaster, waiting to explode at any time,” he said during a visit to the control centre in Bertam Valley here yesterday, specifically set up following Wednesday’s mudslides and flash floods in various areas.

Shahidan vowed stern action against illegal farm operators, along with their illegal foreign workers.

He said he took a ride on a helicopter and discovered a new site being cleared illegally, adding that the authorities had not issued any temporary occupation licence for farming for the past 10 years.

Deputy Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid concurred, saying that illegal clearing and the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish had contributed to the floods.

He said three tonnes of rubbish had been collected from the Ringlet River on Wednesday night alone.

Mahdzir said illegal farming had also eaten into the 20m river reserve upstream and downstream, causing the river to overflow every time it rained heavily.

Yesterday, the remains of an Indonesian couple, identified as Suwalis and Yunita, aged 40 and 41, respectively, were found in the kongsi house they lived in along Sungai Kabok in Bertam Valley. They were reported missing on Wednesday night.

Yunita’s body was found at 11.05am and her husband’s five minutes later. They were still lying under their blanket, buried under less than 1m of earth.

The discovery of their bodies brings the death toll of Wednesday’s floods to five.

Meanwhile, residents affected by the flash floods said they did not mind being relocated.

“It is not necessary (for us to be given) a house. We would be happy if we are given a plot of land to build a new house,” said Kampung Baru Ringlet resident Jamil Abdullah, 56.

Jamil, who was staying in Bertam Valley when the area was hit by last year’s mud floods that claimed four lives, said his house was badly affected by the mud floods then, which prompted the authorities to move them to Kampung Baru Ringlet while awaiting a new site.

“We were told then that a new site will be ready within six months.

“It’s been a year and nothing is materialising. Don’t talk about a new house as our temporary house has been damaged now. Where are we going to stay?”

Ganeshan Adidevan, 54, who lost RM80,000 in last year’s mud floods, expressed disappointment that such an incident had recurred.

“Our farm and house were destroyed last year. This year, the same happened again. I don’t know where my wife and three children will be staying now.”

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Indonesia: Merging environment and forestry ministries: Quo vadis?

Daniel Murdiyarso, Bogor Jakarta Post 7 Nov 14;

New President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo surprised some observers recently when he announced to his Cabinet the combining of the ministries of environment and forestry into one ministry, to be led by Siti Nurbaya, a politician with ample experience with regional and central governments.

The decision sent ripples throughout the Indonesian environmental and policy community — and could signal that a broad and cross-sectoral environmental agenda would be weakened and simplified. At the same time, it could strengthen jurisdiction over forested lands, which will be consolidated under one ministry. While the President repeatedly reminded Indonesians that we have been forgetting marine affairs, one can only hope that he does remember that there are numerous unresolved conflicts over land and land ownership in our backyard.

In any case, it was a bold move: The political ramifications of combining ministries can be unwieldy. Merging two distinct bureaucracies — with their own strengths, weaknesses and different capacities — is a challenge in any country, in any context. It could be some time before the new ministry is operating at full speed. Needless to say, the President’s justification to strike a balance between professionals and politicians in his Cabinet remains under public scrutiny.

But beyond bureaucracy and politics, what does this mean for Indonesia’s environment — and for its forests? Indonesia’s high deforestation and forest degradation rates are causing serious local, national and global environmental problems, raising the stakes for the significance of this merger.

Many opportunities could arise from the creation of this new ministry.

For one, it could help to consolidate the management of issues that used to be under the partial jurisdiction of both ministries. Land and forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan, for example, should no longer be a finger-pointing exercise at the national level. Instead, a single ministry could take real, collective action to address the underlying causes of fires, so that fire prevention is more effective than firefighting.

Second, the strengths and weaknesses of the two old ministries could complement each other, especially in terms of financial and human resources. Strong environmental laws are weakened when there are insufficient resources to carry them out; merging two ministries can help to fill in any gaps in expertise or resources necessary to take on the huge tasks ahead.

Third, one single ministry could be more politically powerful than two smaller ministries — provided that the available resources are optimized and/or mobilized to meet the new and common goals. After duties and responsibilities are sorted within the new ministry, the continuous enhancement of the capacity of staff will be crucial.

However, there are also challenges presented by this move. One plus one does not equal two.

For one thing, with no single ministry focused only on forests, will Indonesia’s forests become overshadowed by other priorities? For example, would the use of forestland be handled by the equally new establishment of the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry?

Second, will the new ministry be able to overcome “turf wars” to successfully merge into one? Much will depend on the final structure of the new ministry. For example, the six large directorate generals in the old forestry ministry will not be easily harmonized with the other six large units under six deputies in the former environment ministry into one large, functional system. This is a big challenge that may put some high-ranking officials out of their jobs.

Orchestrating numerous legal instruments, let alone Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry and Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, is not an easy task. It will require strong leadership from a sensible conductor to synchronize the tunes formerly performed on different stages in front of different audiences. Winning the confidence of the new ministry’s stakeholders will require proof of concept in a timely manner; likewise, stakeholders should not let the “new kid” stumble out of the blocks or go astray unguided. It is the responsibility of Indonesian society to assist them in remaining focused.

This merger is a potentially pivotal moment for the future of Indonesia’s forests. It is hoped that the new ministry will not only keep Indonesia’s forested landscapes at the top of the agenda, but will provide the resources and clout to balance the high value of economic goods derived from the forests, while safeguarding these lands and the invaluable services they provide.

This new ministry could have profound implications not just for the country, but for the world.

The writer is a professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and a former deputy environment minister.

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