Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 17

Tambja Tambja everywhere!
Hantu Blog

crows vs eagle @ SBWR - Feb 2017

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The Life Interview With Subaraj Rajathurai: Self-taught naturalist stumbled upon his calling

Self-taught naturalist Subaraj Rajathurai believes in education as the best way forward for the conservation cause and uses walking tours to expose people to Singapore's nature.
Venessa Lee Straits Times 20 Feb 17;

The nature guide and conservationist found his calling during a trek up Bukit Timah Hill at the age of 18

Wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai holds up the skin of a snake. He knows that it belongs to a black spitting cobra and that it was sloughed off about an hour ago as it is still soft and moist.

Retrieving the 1.5m-long skin from the undergrowth seems par for the course for Mr Subaraj, 53, who later washes his hands in a stream along the trail through the forested areas of Venus Loop near Upper Thomson Road.

The tour guide licensed by the Singapore Tourism Board has been conducting nature walks like this one since 1990.

He is a self-taught naturalist who has been studying wildlife for about 35 years and his experience shows.

During our walk, which takes more than two hours, he points out a female Malayan colugo, or flying lemur, gripping the top half of a tree trunk. He knows that the deep croaking that fills the air is the call of a four-ridged toad.

He gestures towards a towering species of wild pandan, a giant compared with the fragrant pandan used in cooking.

He also spots a Nibong palm and says it was used to build kelongs in the past, but only after its copious, ferocious-looking thorns were removed.

Wearing a purple bandana from his 100-piece collection to protect his head from sunburn and sporting hair past his shoulders, he rocks an avuncular, easy-going vibe.

White-bearded and burly, he looks a little like Santa Claus, one bearing gifts of knowledge of the wild.

Our trail is so close to houses in the Upper Thomson area that the smell of cooking wafts into the green space at one point - a microcosm of the relationship between Singapore's wilderness and built-up areas.

People live cheek by jowl with nature in land-scarce Singapore and he is aware that conservation has to fight for its place in the sun.

"There is a need for other aspects in Singapore like housing and recreation. It's all about balance," he says.

Animal encounters in urban spaces, for instance, have sparked calls for culls in recent years.

Mr Subaraj is rooting for nature - and has been doing so for a long time. The director and founder of Strix Wildlife Consultancy was one of the first few tour guides in Singapore who chose to focus on nature.

Now, there are at least 18 other such licensed tour guides, as well as a plethora of groups involved in conservation issues.

A decade ago, he founded his consultancy, which does research, wildlife surveys, educational outreach, eco-tours and other work in conservation.

A member of the Nature Society (Singapore) since the 1980s, he helped to work on a proposal to save bird haven Sungei Buloh, which had been slated for redevelopment. The proposal was submitted to the Government in 1987.

The wetland officially opened in 1993 as the Sungei Buloh Nature Park and was eventually gazetted as a nature reserve.

It was the first time a civil society group successfully lobbied the Government to change its plans.

The veteran conservationist is still active in the scene. He has worked on Environmental Impact Assessments and wildlife surveys, with fieldwork ranging from Lower Peirce Reservoir in the early 1990s to the Lentor and Mandai areas in recent years.

Although he has a modest formal education, Mr Subaraj, who comes from a family of teachers, including his late parents and some aunts and uncles, believes that education and public awareness are key to conservation.

He estimates that he has taken "thousands" of people on nature walks to share his knowledge and hopefully win some sympathisers, advocates or activists to the conservation cause.

"The more information we share, the better chance we have of saving nature through others having a better understanding and respect for it," he says.

Although Mr Subaraj says he was born with an interest in nature, it bloomed only in his teens.

As a child, he liked to make scrapbooks with animal pictures and was familiar with conservation icons. He read books by Gerald Durrell and watched documentaries by Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough.

He, his older brother and a younger sister were raised in a conservative household with little interest in nature apart from occasional excursions to the zoo. The broad expectation was that he would eventually be "a doctor, lawyer or engineer", he says.

He recalls "a kind of restlessness" in his childhood.

He did well in primary school, but "never quite found" his way in secondary school at Tanjong Katong Technical School. He managed to get his O-level certificate, but dropped out after a year at Stamford College, a private institution for qualification to university.

This put paid to his fledgling ambition of becoming a zoologist. But he was soon to discover his life's purpose.

At the age of 18, he trekked with schoolmates up Bukit Timah Hill, where he had an epiphany.

"Once I got there, it was like coming home. I was in a place where I belonged and I never looked back," he says. "I realised then that I wanted to work in nature, but I didn't know how."

He had to do his national service, but he started educating himself in earnest after that.

For about four years in his early 20s, he spent his days wandering in the wild areas of Singapore such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin, learning about flora and fauna. In the afternoons, he was at the library doing research.

Humming with facts on the wild

He went on regional field trips to places like Endau-Rompin National Park in Johor, learning from mentors such as reputed Malaysian naturalist Dennis Yong, and joined the Nature Society (Singapore) in 1985.

But family members who wanted him to get a job during those years gave him "a hard time", even though his parents supported him emotionally and financially, he says.

He did not apply for jobs at the zoo or bird park as he refused to work with captive animals.

Once, he caved in and tried an office job at the stock exchange. He lasted only a day.

Eventually, after taking some birdwatchers on walks, he decided to conduct nature walks as a professional and took a six-month course at the Singapore Tourism Board to get a tour guide's licence. He was finally employed at the age of 25 as a freelance nature guide.

"I followed the family tradition and became a teacher outdoors without having to do any marking," he says.

His wife, Ms Shamla Jeyarajah, 51, who works with him at his consultancy, explains his single-mindedness: "He is independent and solitary in some ways and he knew what he wanted and didn't let go."

Before they got married in 1994, he told her his priorities were God first (he is a Hindu), followed by nature, her, then their family.

"I'm No. 3. I accepted it immediately because I'm a very easy-going person," she says.

Their two sons, who have been out on nature walks with their father since they were infants, are named after birds.

Saker, who is named after a falcon, is a 16-year-old junior college student. Serin, named after a finch, is 21 and doing his national service.

Influenced and guided by his father, Serin already regards himself as having a "career" in nature, having joined his father on surveys and research programmes in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo. He plans to pursue a university degree in life sciences and is the co-founder of the Herpetological Society of Singapore, which focuses on the conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

Mr Richard Hale, a former chief executive officer at HSBC in Singapore, has known Mr Subaraj since they worked together as part of the group calling for Sungei Buloh's conservation.

The 79-year-old British retiree and avid birdwatcher recalls how, in the 1980s, he knew nature watchers who were keen on specific groups of animals such as birds or butterflies.

"In contrast, Subaraj was one of the first people I knew who realised that everything was interconnected. I've seen how his incredible knowledge can hum out of him," says Mr Hale, who is a Singapore permanent resident.

The pair took a walk in the Dairy Farm area recently and Mr Hale saw a Rufous Woodpecker tapping on a street lamp. He had never seen such behaviour before. Mr Subaraj, on the other hand, explained that to attract others, the woodpecker was using the metal to amplify its drumming.

Mr Hale also notes how his friend keeps a comparatively low profile even while being an effective advocate for nature. "He's not a great publicist. He just gets on with it. One of the great things about Subaraj is that he puts his point of view across in a sensible, non-confrontational way, quite firmly but gently. He's actually very persuasive."

For his part, Mr Subaraj is concerned that, while there has been an increasing awareness of conservation in recent times, some Singaporeans are "loving nature to death (by) flocking to nature reserves" in large numbers.

"Animals are being disturbed. A lot of Singaporeans don't realise the fragility and sensitivity of these habitats," he says.

As a nature warden with the National Parks Board for about 20 years, he has seen people jogging in vulnerable areas of nature reserves, potentially impacting the eco-systems there, even though they can use the more than 300 parks here to exercise instead.

He has also observed the large forest gecko and a bird, the Scarlet Minivet, vanish from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve since he started studying the reserve in the 1980s.

Mr Subaraj is reflective about the times when the authorities chose development over conservation.

"You pick your battles. In Singapore, you don't lobby - that's for other countries. If you start getting rowdy and protesting, in the end, nature is the loser," he says.

"Emotions don't work. You have to use facts. Dialogue is better for finding solutions. You have to keep working at it."

He will keep fighting on, he says.

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Chicken-culling issue ought to have been better managed: AVA

TOH EE MING Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — When it comes to managing Singapore’s animal population, culling will be done only as “a last resort”, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

He was responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh in relation to the culling of 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area, which had sparked a public outcry recently.

Dr Koh pointed out that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) had found that the free-roaming chicken population in the Sin Ming area had “more than doubled” in the past two years, from about 20 in 2014 to 50 last year.

Given that chickens are more susceptible to bird flu, compared to other birds such as pigeons, and can transmit the virus to humans, Dr Koh said the AVA decided to remove some of the chickens, and to keep their population close to the “baseline level”.

When asked by Mr Ng for the number of people who complained, rather than the number of complaints relating to the chickens in Sin Ming, Dr Koh disclosed there were three people who complained in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 people last year.

Countering suggestions that the chickens could have been easily relocated to the wild, such as in Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said this could create a situation of inter-breeding, thus adversely affecting the genetic stock of the endangered species of red junglefowl, which are found in Ubin and the Western Catchment area.

And while rehoming of chickens is a possible solution, it cannot be done in the same way it is done for cats and dogs, since the fowl cannot be housed in Housing and Development Board flats and they also carry the risk of transmitting avian influenza.

However, Dr Koh said that the AVA acknowledged that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on the Sin Ming chickens issue “ought to have been better managed”.

Adding that there is no “magic number” on what the threshold figure should be before the authorities decide to cull, and citing a lack of specific recommendations on when to cull free-roaming chickens when there is no bird flu infection, Dr Koh reiterated that the AVA takes a “calibrated and measured approach” to reduce the risks posed to public health.

To find the best way to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, the AVA is currently undertaking research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies, he added.

For instance, in January last year, the authority initiated a study with the National University of Singapore to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species, such as free-range chickens, in Singapore.

Separately, in response to another parliamentary question filed by Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Dr Koh said the AVA received about 21,000 cases of bird-related complaints in the last three years, mostly related to the feeding of pigeons by the public, and pigeon nuisance.

Beyond reducing cases of birds feeding on leftover food in hawker centres, Dr Koh cited other solutions to the problem, such as bird deterrent gels, oral contraceptives for pigeons, and fogging trees to deter mynahs.

However, in situations where the authorities perceive the risk is high or there is a higher incidence of bird flu around the region, for instance, they might have to step up measures “more aggressively”, such as culling these birds to reduce the risk.

“Clearly, there is no perfect answer. If you want a perfectly safe environment, then yes, we should go all out, guns blazing, to remove every single bird from the sky of Singapore.

“But that’s not a practical approach ... You can cull a thousand birds today and tomorrow, another thousand will fly in from somewhere else ... So, it’s something we have to take a practical view and escalate when necessary,” Dr Koh said.

Culling of free-ranging chickens will only be done as 'last resort': MND
Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will only cull free-ranging chickens and other animals as a "last resort", Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

AVA recently said it culled 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area after getting about 20 complaints from residents last year, largely about noise. This ignited public debate, after which AVA director-general Yap Him Hoo clarified that the culling was due to concerns over public health and safety and not the noise issue.

Responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh on Monday, Dr Koh said AVA found that the free-roaming chicken population near Sin Ming Avenue had more than doubled in the last two years from about 20 to more than 50 birds.

AVA received complaints about the fowl from three people in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 in 2016. The higher number of people complaining "clearly correlates" to the increased sighting of birds, Dr Koh said.

Noting that free-roaming chickens had a higher risk than other birds of being infected with and transmitting the bird flu virus to humans, Dr Koh reiterated that AVA's culling of the birds was not motivated solely by noise concerns.

"That said, AVA acknowledges that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on this issue ought to have been better managed," he said.

Dr Koh, who is also MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, urged the community to "act responsibly" by not feeding wildlife. Doing so would disturb the balance in the ecosystem and increase the risks of human-animal cross-transmission of diseases as well as conflicts due to human-wildlife contact, he explained.

Regarding suggestions that the chickens could be re-located to the wild, such as to Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said the free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming and most urban settings were "highly unlikely" to be of native stock.

The free-ranging chickens were brought in by humans, perhaps to be raised as pets, and would therefore be different from the endangered indigenous red junglefowl, the Minister of State said. Thus, they could threaten the genetic stock of the native species if there was inter-breeding.

Dr Koh also encouraged the public to refrain from abandoning pets. He said: "Not only is it cruel and against the law, but it will also cause an imbalance and an adverse impact on our native wildlife population."

However, Mr Ng said he had seen photos of the chickens at the Sin Ming area and at least some of them were red junglefowl.

In answer to this, Dr Koh acknowledged that AVA would need to conduct genetic studies to ascertain whether the chickens found in the area were red junglefowl or other breeds.

AVA is continuing to undertake research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies to find the best ways to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, according to Dr Koh.

The agency will involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions to the issue, he added.

- CNA/mz

Chickens had to be culled due to health risks: Dr Koh
Audrey Tan, The New Paper AsiaOne 21 Feb 17;

Culling of animals will only be done as a last resort, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon after a public outcry over the culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming last month.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Koh said the population of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming had doubled to 50, and studies have shown chicken are more susceptible to the bird flu virus, compared to other birds such as pigeons.

Citing a report by the World Health Organisation, Dr Koh added that there is scientific evidence that chickens can in turn transmit the disease to humans.

That is why the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) felt it had to take action to manage the chicken population there, he said, noting that complaints about noise was not the only reason behind the culling.

Also the chickens, though free-roaming, are not wild birds, he said in response to Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who asked about the episode, which generated a debate that lasted nearly 30 minutes, as MPs sought more clarity on the issue and AVA's approach to culling.


That is why they could not be relocated, as doing so adversely affects the genetic stock of the native red junglefowl - the endangered ancestor of the domestic chicken.

Dr Koh told Parliament that AVA is conducting scientific studies to enhance its animal management strategies.

He also urged people not to feed wildlife, as such a practice disturbs the balance in the ecosystem and will invariably increase human-wildlife contact, and lead to conflict.

On the Sin Ming birds, Dr Koh said AVA had initiated a study with the National University of Singapore in January last year to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species here, one of which is free-ranging chickens.

He said: "AVA will also involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions.

"Culling will only be done as a last resort. Ultimately, we want to thrive as a City in a Garden, living in harmony with nature, and enjoying the flora and fauna around us."

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Budget 2017: Enhancing vehicle incentive schemes for a cleaner environment

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The Government will adjust two vehicle incentive schemes in a bid to nudge car-buyers towards cleaner and more environmentally-friendly models, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget address on Monday (Feb 20).

Mr Heng said the current Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) will be replaced with a new scheme that would consider four other pollutants on top of carbon dioxide. The new Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) will include nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

The CEVS was implemented in 2013 to encourage car owners to purchase vehicles with low carbon emissions. After a revision in 2015, the scheme provided for rebates of between S$5,000 and S$30,000 if vehicles registered from Jul 1 of that year were assessed to have carbon emissions of less than or equal to 135g of carbon emissions per kilometre. The rebates were offset from the vehicle’s Additional Registration Fee (ARF).

By including four more pollutants, Mr Heng said the new scheme hopes to account more holistically for the health and environmental impact of vehicular emissions. According to earlier reports, any regulation on nitrogen oxides emissions, for example, could affect diesel vehicles more than those that run on petrol. Nitrogen oxide emission has been linked to health issues such as lung cancer.

The pollutant gained worldwide recognition after the Volkswagen scandal erupted in 2015, when the German car company admitted to cheating on emissions tests in the United States, and was in fact releasing nitrogen oxide pollutants that exceeded legal limits significantly.

Mr Heng said the new scheme will run for two years starting from January 2018. Meanwhile, the current CEVS will be extended until the end of 2017.

Mr Heng said another scheme for commercial diesel vehicles, the Early Turnover Scheme, will also be enhanced and extended. The scheme was introduced in 2013 to encourage owners of the older and more pollutive Euro II and III commercial vehicles to replace them for the cleaner Euro VI ones. Mr Heng said about 27,000 such vehicle owners have made use of this scheme since it was introduced.

He said the scheme, which was meant to expire in July this year, will be extended to Jul 31, 2019. More details on this will be shared by the Transport Ministry as well as the Environment and Water Resources Ministry during their Committee of Supply debates in March.

- CNA/mo

New vehicle emissions scheme to include four more pollutants
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — A new Vehicular Emissions Scheme, taking into account four more pollutants apart from carbon dioxide, will replace an existing one from Jan 1 next year, in a bid to get motorists to buy environment-friendly vehicle models.

The four pollutants to be introduced under the two-year scheme are nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.

Announcing the move in the Budget on Monday (Feb 20), Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the new scheme would replace the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS), which expires in June but will be extended until the year end.

Under the CEVS — last revised in 2015 — buyers who get vehicles with a low carbon footprint (135g of carbon emissions per km or less) qualify for rebates of between S$5,000 and S$30,000.

Conversely, those who buy carbon-intensive models that emit 186g of carbon per km or more will have to fork out a registration surcharge of between S$5,000 and S$30,000. Right now, emissions under the CEVS are measured only on the weight of carbon dioxide that a vehicle emits for every kilometre driven.

Mr Heng said that adding four more pollutants under the new scheme would “account more holistically for the health and environmental impact of vehicular emissions”. The new scheme will be reviewed before it expires in 2020.

At a focus-group discussion in January, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that Singapore was committed to delivering clean air, but the country was not meeting its air-quality targets.

Based on last year’s figures, Singapore is not expected to hit the 2020 targets for pollutants that include sulphur dioxide, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), particulate matter (PM10) and ozone.

The pollutants being added mirror those that are regulated in other regions, such as Europe.

Under Australian emission standards, vehicles that run on petrol, liquefied petroleum gas or natural gas must meet limits for the emission of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, while other vehicles, including those powered by diesel, must adhere to a limit for particulate-matter emissions.

Separately, Mr Heng also announced that a volume-based duty on automotive and industrial diesel, as well as biodiesel’s diesel component, kicked in on Monday, meaning some drivers will have to pay more at the pump. The S$0.10-a-litre duty aims to encourage users to cut diesel consumption, he said, adding that other cities from Athens to Paris have started taking action to reduce harmful diesel emissions.

But the impact from this will be offset for “the majority of drivers”, with a cut in an annual special tax on diesel vehicles regardless of the amount used. This special tax will be cut by S$850 for taxis and S$100 for cars.

“I strongly urge taxi companies to pass on the Special Tax reduction to taxi drivers,” added Mr Heng.

To help businesses adjust, owners of diesel buses and goods vehicles — except for omni-buses under the Government’s contracts for public bus services — will be granted a 100 per cent road-tax rebate for a year from August, which will be cut to 75 per cent in the second year and 25 per cent in the third.

In other announcements, the Early Turnover Scheme — introduced in 2013 to facilitate the early replacement of older and more pollutive commercial diesel vehicles through incentives — will be extended to July 2019 for vehicle owners to turn over their Euro 2 and 3 commercial diesel vehicles for Euro 6 ones.

Mr Heng revealed that 27,000 vehicles have been switched to cleaner models since the scheme’s roll-out.

Commenting on the new Vehicular Emissions Scheme, Mr Jeremy Soh, honorary secretary of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, is hopeful that it would nudge buyers towards getting more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The scheme would also prompt car distributors to relook their inventories to include more environment-friendly models, he added, because he does not see why consumers would buy a vehicle that does not draw more rebates.

Agreeing, Mr Neo Tiam Ting, president of the Automobile Importer & Exporter Association (Singapore), added that the motor industry would have time to prepare since the scheme kicks in only next year.

One suggestion from Mr Raymond Tang, first vice-president of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, is that instead of offsetting rebates from a vehicle’s Additional Registration Fee — as is with the existing CEVS — the new scheme should allow rebates to be channelled into consumers’ pockets, raising its effectiveness.

“The consumer (would then know) that the savings are there for him,” he said.

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Budget 2017: Singapore to impose carbon tax on large direct emitters

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The Government will introduce a carbon tax on large direct emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as power stations from 2019. The tax is expected to affect between 30 and 40 emitters currently operating in Singapore.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced this in his Budget speech in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20). He said that such a system is the “most economically efficient and fair way” to reduce GHG emissions, towards achieving Singapore's commitment to the Paris climate agreement, which it ratified in 2016.

As part of the agreement, Singapore has committed to reducing emissions intensity by 36 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. It also aims to stabilise its emissions, with the aim of peaking around 2030.

Mr Heng said the Government will consult stakeholders comprehensively and has already started industry consultation. It will start the public consultation process in March. As of now, he said the Government is looking at a tax rate of between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of GHG emissions.

“(The carbon tax) may also spur the creation of new opportunities in green growth industries such as clean energy,” Mr Heng said. “Revenue from the carbon tax will help to fund measures by industries to reduce emissions.”

Mr Heng said the impact of such a tax system would be “modest” on most businesses and households. In a statement, the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) said the proposed tax rate is equivalent to a rise in electricity prices of between 0.43 and 0.86 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). This could mean a between 2.1 and 4.3 per cent increase in electricity prices compared to current rates.

It said the average household in a four-room flat typically sees electricity bills of S72 per month. A carbon tax imposed on power stations could result in an increase in electricity prices for that household of between S$1.70 and S$3.30 per month. As a point of comparison, NCCS said electricity prices have fluctuated by up to 10 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

On large GHG emitters, NCCS said a price signal would incentivise them to factor in the cost of their emissions in their business decisions. The tax will be imposed on large emitters of six GHGs, including carbon dioxide, methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

NCCS said that based on current data, there are between 30 and 40 of such large emitters operating in Singapore, which emit gases equivalent of 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This translates to emissions produced by the electricity consumption of 12,500 four-room households each year.

According to the World Bank, about 40 countries and 20 cities, states and provinces have implemented some form of carbon pricing, while many others have plans to introduce such systems in future.

- CNA/mo

Carbon tax to be imposed from 2019 to cut greenhouse gas emissions
SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — From 2019, emitters of greenhouse gases will be taxed for every tonne of gas they release into the air, sending a price signal to power stations and large emitters to reduce their carbon footprint, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Feb 20).

Mr Heng said the Government is looking at setting a carbon tax rate of between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, which is within the range of what other jurisdictions have implemented. The move will make Singapore the first country in South-east Asia to implement such a tax.

“There are different ways to reduce emissions … But the most economically efficient and fair way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to set a carbon tax, so that the emitters will take the necessary actions,” he added.

It will also create a price signal to incentivise industries to reduce their emissions and complement the regulatory measures the authorities are also introducing, he said.

Six greenhouse gases will be covered under the carbon tax: Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.

The carbon tax will generally be applied to large direct emitters such as power stations, rather than electricity users, said Mr Heng. Currently, there are around 30 to 40 of such large direct emitters, such as those from the petrochemical, refinery and semiconductor sectors.

For stationary greenhouse gas emissions by this group, the Government is looking at a proposed annual threshold equivalent to 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This would be equivalent to the emissions produced from the electricity consumption of 12,500 four-room HDB households each year.

The revenue from the carbon tax will help to fund measures by the industries to reduce emissions, while new opportunities in green growth industries, such as clean energy, could be created, said Mr Heng.

For businesses, the increase in operating cost from the proposed carbon tax rate represents a 6.4 to 12.7 per cent increase from current oil prices. In comparison, historical quarterly oil price fluctuations have ranged from minus 29 to 35 per cent from 2011 to 2016.

For households, the tax rate would be equivalent to an increase in electricity prices of 0.43 to 0.86 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is a 2.1 to 4.3 per cent increase from current electricity tariffs, compared with quarterly electricity prices that have fluctuated up to 10 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

Carbon taxes imposed by countries around the world range from about S$4 (Japan) to S$187 (Sweden) per tonne.

Singapore ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change last September, formalising its pledge to reduce emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. In 2009, Singapore pledged to reduce emissions by 16 per cent from Business-as-Usual levels by 2020 and is on track to meet this target.

Mr Heng said on Monday that consultations with industry players have begun. Public consultations will start next month and further studies will be made before finalising the tax rate and implementation schedule. “We will take into consideration the lessons from other countries and prevailing economic conditions in Singapore in implementation. We will also provide appropriate measures to ease the transition.”.

Singapore first declared its intention to implement some form of carbon pricing in the 2010 Singapore International Energy Week, if other countries also pledged to curb their carbon emissions.

Several European countries, such as Finland and Sweden, implemented carbon pricing as early as the 1990s. Closer to home, Japan and South Korea did the same in 2010 and 2015. Four years after the introduction of the Tokyo Cap-and-Trade programme for instance, the city achieved a 23 per cent reduction below baseline emissions in 2013 while their GDP grew around 7.4 per cent.

Likewise, China started pricing carbon through emissions trading pilots since 2013. The world’s largest emitter has also announced plans to introduce a national emissions trading scheme later this year.

Carbon tax regime timely, could boost Singapore's economy: Stakeholders
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Reactions to the announcement of an upcoming carbon tax system for Singapore have been generally positive, with stakeholders and observers calling the move timely and one that will transform Singapore’s economy for the better.

The system, when implemented from 2019, will target direct large emitters of greenhouse gases, rather than individual electricity users such as households. While the Government said it has started industry consultation and will also reach out to the public, it is looking at a tax rate of between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of emissions.

Speaking after the Budget address in Parliament, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair told Channel NewsAsia that the best way of solving environmental problems is to link them to economic incentives.

He said when companies consider maintaining their profitability in future, they would have to take into account measures to reduce emissions. "(With carbon tax,) there will be a cost imposed to companies’ polluting in line with their emissions, which will mean that the cost of pollution goes up so it becomes a cost they have to take into account,” Mr Nair said.

In his Budget address, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said the implementation of the scheme may spur the creation of new opportunities in the clean energy sector for example.

The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) echoed this point, saying a carbon tax regime could boost Singapore’s economy. “Singapore should aspire to be a global leader in the research and development of renewable technologies as this will boost our economy by creating jobs and attracting investments,” said Ms Isabella Loh, chairman of SEC.

Executive director for the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, Kavita Gandhi, said the timeline for imposing the scheme from 2019 is “sustainable”. “The large emitters are already on the path due to the Energy Conservation Act and other initiatives to stimulate efficiencies. (The carbon tax scheme) will further enhance such measures being undertaken,” she added.

According to the National Climate Change Secretariat, there are between 30 and 40 large direct emitters of greenhouse gases.


In a statement, Shell Singapore said it has long supported a “strong and stable Government-led carbon price”. “Properly implemented, a Government-led carbon pricing mechanism stimulates technologies for the part of the economy that can decarbonise quickly; while providing time for other sectors that will take longer.”

ExxonMobil Asia Pacific said that while a uniform price of carbon applied consistently across the economy is a sensible approach to reducing emissions, a carbon tax regime that is added to the refining and petrochemical industry in Singapore would impact Singapore’s competitiveness as an export manufacturing centre.

Still, it said it is committed to working with the Government in subsequent consultations, and in finding a balance between providing affordable energy, addressing the risks posed by greenhouse gases while ensuring Singapore’s long-term competitiveness.

Chief sustainability officer of City Developments Limited (CDL), Esther An, said the introduction of the new carbon pricing system is "timely as the world steps up towards a low-carbon economy".

The property developer said it included a carbon pricing system into its strategic sustainability plan from as early as 2015. “CDL recognises the importance of future-proofing our business and continues to proactively manage climate-related risks, which comprise both physical risks to buildings and potential financial risks such as carbon pricing and taxation."

- CNA/mo

Carbon tax could hit companies hard
SIAU MING EN Today Online 21 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — A carbon tax will put a dent in companies’ bottom lines, but experts say such a measure to reduce the carbon footprint is preferable to other forms of carbon pricing, as there would be minimal price fluctuations for businesses and a smaller chance of these costs being passed on to consumers.

Nonetheless, the possibility that costs will be passed on to households and businesses remains, while one of the largest power-generating companies here was quick to point out that companies would not be able to absorb the cost of the carbon tax.

Hours after the decision to put a price tag on greenhouse gas emissions was announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech, Tuas Power told TODAY that it has been running its power plants using the most energy-efficient technology currently available.

“Most of the generating companies have invested in the highly efficient Combined Cycle Plants to replace the less efficient oil-fired steam plants, and have thus reduced carbon footprint by half,” said its president and chief executive officer Lim Kong Puay.

The companies are already suffering losses due to overcapacity in the market, and cannot absorb the “significant increase” in cost from the tax, which he estimates to be about S$60 million to S$80 million annually.

Carbon pricing can come in the form of a carbon tax — where the government sets the price for each unit of greenhouse gas emissions — or a cap-and-trade model. For the latter, the government sets a cap on the total greenhouse gas emissions allowed by issuing an equivalent number of permits. The prices of these permits are determined by the market.

Director of environmental sustainability consultancy Green Future Solutions Eugene Tay said that a carbon tax is a “more straightforward” method that ensures price certainty, which will favour the businesses. “Businesses will know that there is this price, so they can adjust their business policies accordingly,” he said.

In turn, tax revenue can be used to subsidise the affected firms, which reduces the chances of this cost being passed on to other companies and consumers, said Mr Tay. But he also noted that this form of pricing carbon does not ensure that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions targets will be met if companies think that the carbon tax is cheap, and choose to pay instead of reducing emissions.

Professor Euston Quah, Nanyang Technological University’s economics department head, said that a carbon tax can lead to more energy efficient solutions within Singapore’s context.

He added that Singapore’s overall competitiveness should not be affected given the “small carbon tax” and also since other jurisdictions are also applying a form of carbon pricing for theirs.

Chairman of the Singapore Environment Council Isabella Loh said a clear carbon tax regime will lead to a surge in investments in renewable technologies in Singapore. “A carbon tax could act effectively as a catalyst for innovations in the development of clean energy sources, as well as in other industry sectors like transport and building. We urge the Government to consider channelling the revenue raised by the carbon tax into promoting this innovation,” she added.

Affected firms acknowledged the need to promote greater energy efficiency. Mr Lee Soon Kiat, executive committee member of the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association, said semiconductor firms will have to invest in new technologies to reduce emissions, which increases their immediate operating costs. Power stations may also pass the cost on to these firms in the form of higher electricity bills, he added.

Shell said the company has “long supported a strong and stable government-led carbon price because it is essential to tackle climate change”, while ExxonMobil added that the carbon tax is a “sensible approach to emissions reduction”.

Commentary: Budget 2017 and the carbon tax lays the groundwork for climate leadership
The move to introduce a carbon tax highlights the leadership role that Singapore can play in addressing climate change.
By Jaime Ho, Chief Editor Channel NewsAsia 21 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: It was a bold move.

Apart from announcements aimed at further nudging the Singapore economy along the route of transformation, one that stood out was Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s signal that from 2019, Singapore will join the ranks of many other jurisdictions around the world with a carbon tax.

The main target of the tax: Some 30 to 40 large, upstream “direct emitters” which will include power stations, but naturally also other mega-emitters in the manufacturing sector, especially refining and petrochemicals.

At a time of lingering global and domestic economic uncertainty, it was a move that stood in contrast with the slew of initiatives that came with greater Government spending. In its boldness, it can set the stage for Singapore to now more confidently take a leading role at the forefront of the international fight against climate change.


Just why was it so significant?

Singapore is what we have called ourselves “alternative energy disadvantaged”. Put simply, we import just about all of our energy needs and have little option in non-fossil fuel alternatives. To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this resource-limited city state has simply had to use what it needs as efficiently as it can; in other words, it has to be energy efficient.

This is precisely why in its international commitment enshrined in the Paris Agreement, Singapore’s efforts were primarily spelt out as a function of efficiency in reducing our emissions intensity, or GHG emissions per dollar GDP. By 2030, Singapore has committed to reducing emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels.

Simply improving on energy efficiency, however, was never going to be enough. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as much in 2010: “… You must price the carbon. That is a fact you cannot run away from. And the energy prices when you tax the carbon will take into account not just the price of extracting and producing the fuel or the electricity, but also the social cost of the carbon emissions.”

It has taken seven years, but as the next step in ensuring that we use energy and reduce GHG emissions even more effectively, the carbon tax has at last landed.

For a country that depends as much as we do on energy-intensive industries, this is no small matter. Context is important.

First, Singapore has already done much in power generation, initially switching from fuel oil to natural gas, to the situation now where some 80 per cent of our electricity is generated from the far cleaner fossil fuel.

Second, another large emitting sector is in chemicals and refining, and let’s not forget that it contributes to about 25 per cent of Singapore’s manufacturing output by value. The economy depends on it.

Third, since being enacted in 2012, indications are that the Government is already looking into amending the Energy Conservation Act to further drive efficiency in industrial energy use among the biggest emitters.

The signs are clear. Singapore is ready and able to do more.


The carbon tax will therefore have an important signalling effect to global and domestic audiences, of our seriousness in tackling climate change. But there are many other reasons why Singapore can be even more confident as we look ahead, in taking a stronger climate leadership position.

First, many of the big oil companies are already generally supportive of a carbon price. And many of them are here in Singapore. Many of the other major emitters are also going to be at the forefront of technology. For those which are not, moves such as the strengthening of the Energy Conservation Act will be crucial.

The key will now be in working even more closely with all major emitters, to ensure that both sides work on new research, new technology and new systems that discourage old high-emitting habits, and ultimately seed and embed ground-breaking green technologies in Singapore.

Second, the Smart Nation initiative provides a ready-made opportunity for Singapore to take a quantum leap ahead in green technology. A Smart Nation is a green nation, and many of the yet-to-be-found digital advances in urban management will lie in areas of energy efficiency and even emissions reduction.

Third, Singapore has already been driven to act not only in mitigating the effects of climate change, but in adapting to it. We are at the forefront of technology. Changi Airport’s new Terminal 5 will already be built about 5.5 metres above average sea level and more is being done to protect our shorelines. It's no joke, but talk of floating roads, bridges and cities is already part of the international discussion in adaptation. There is no other country that has the capacity and the need to act in equal measure. Singapore can take a leading position here.

Fourth, cities and urban policy are where the action will be at when it comes to climate action. Cities are where emissions may originate, from consumption to transport and buildings. But they are also where technology, Government and innovation lie. Yes, Singapore has the disadvantage of being a city-state without the hinterland of other larger countries on which to site more carbon-intensive activities. But Singapore is also a country with the dexterity of a city, and a city with the resources and long-term imperatives of a country.

As it stands, the international environment is crying out for climate leadership. Long-held as the front-runners in environmental policy, Europe is likely to be preoccupied and distracted. The United States as well, is in the throes of a worrying climate-sceptic funk. Ironically, what’s left is for China to take up the mantle. There is no reason why Singapore cannot also do so in specific areas like energy efficiency and green buildings.


Besides the move on a carbon tax, Budget 2017 was also one that saw bold moves from the Government in announcing a 30 per cent hike in water prices, and a new volume-based duty of $0.10 per litre on more pollutive diesel. Seen in totality, there is no doubt that the Budget was one meant to stake a strong position on sustainability.

There will be push-back. There will be fears that the costs of being green may be passed on to consumers. This will have to be continually monitored and addressed.

There will be fears that higher costs may erode Singapore’s economic competitiveness. Here, the key is in ensuring that our economy is one that takes full advantage of the many opportunities that have been outlined above.

Green growth may be a cliché, but it is one that is fully aligned with our future economy.

Jaime Ho is Chief Editor of Digital News at Channel NewsAsia.

- CNA/db

Singapore carbon tax would hit refiners, help renewables

Jessica Jaganathan and Henning Gloystein Reuters 21 Feb 17;

Singapore's proposed plan to tax greenhouse gas emissions would probably hit oil refiners hard, ramping up costs in an industry that has been central to the city-state's rapid development over the last half-century.

Monday's announcement that a carbon tax on direct emitters is to be introduced from 2019 shows that Singapore, Asia's main oil trading hub, could be moving towards a longer-term future dominated by cleaner technology and resources.

"It is the first time in the history of Singapore that a budget has placed such a high emphasis on green initiatives linked to tax revenues," said Isabella Loh, chairman of the Singapore Environment Council, an independent non-profit body.

"The announcement clearly underpins the priority of a future-ready and greener economy."

Countries around the world have been under increasing pressure to crack down on carbon emissions, with Singapore part of the historic Paris climate accord that went into force late last year.

In parts of Europe and countries such as Australia, the introduction of carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes has often driven a decline in established refining industries and a parallel surge in investment in clean energy technology.

"The proposed carbon tax on emitters would prove a significant drag on industry profit-margins," said Peter Lee, oil and gas analyst at BMI Research in Singapore.

The government said the carbon tax would probably cover 30 to 40 "large direct emitters" including power stations, petrochemical facilities and semiconductor makers.

But it is Singapore's three refineries, run by ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Singapore Refining Company, that would probably need to brace for the hardest blow.

The tax proposal comes as those refineries, with a combined fuel generation capacity of around 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd), grapple with rising competition from China, India and the Middle East.

Shell said in a statement it supported a strong and stable government-led carbon price, but that any policy "must ensure companies can compete effectively with others in the region who are not subject to the same levels of carbon dioxide costs".

Exxon said "effective policies are those that promote global participation (and) let market prices drive the selection of solutions".

Singapore Refining Company could not be reached for comment.

Looking at a carbon tax rate of S$10 to $20 ($7 to $14) per tonne, the government estimated that would add around $3.50 to $7 to the cost of processing a barrel of crude into fuels like diesel or gasoline.

Benchmark crude prices stood around $56 per barrel on Tuesday, translating to a daily surplus cost of $4.8 million to $9.7 million for the three Singapore refineries.

On the flip side, the tax would help fire growth in Singapore's nascent renewable energy industries.

"Existing green projects, such as solar, will enjoy the much needed premium (as they are not taxed)," said Andrew Koscharsky, energy director at RCMA Group, which trades wholesale power and retail electricity in Singapore.

It would be important to adopt the law swiftly to encourage immediate investment in renewables, he added.

Singapore's government will next month invite feedback on its proposals from industry and the public.

(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan and Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford and Clarence Fernandez)

Idea of carbon tax to change mindsets, hit large energy users hard: Experts
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 22 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: While power stations may be the hardest hit by the introduction of a carbon tax in Singapore, the idea is not for them to absorb the cost, but pass it down to large energy guzzlers. Energy experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with said this days after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that a carbon tax would be implemented from 2019, affecting between 30 and 40 large direct emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) said those emitting gases equivalent of 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year would be affected. This translates to emissions produced by the electricity consumption of 12,500 four-room households each year.


According to data from NCCS, Singapore’s GHG emissions in 2012 was equivalent of 49 million tonnes (MT) of carbon dioxide.

Power generators made up 43 per cent of all emissions, and they could be the ones seeing a dent in their bottom lines. While the Government has yet to work out the details, it said it’s looking at charging between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on market share in electricity production alone, Senoko Energy could end up paying between S$47 million and S$94 million annually, while Tuas Power could cough up anywhere between S$45 million and S$90 million.


Adjunct Research Associate Professor Ho Juay Choy from the National University of Singapore’s Energy Studies Institute (ESI) said power generation companies are already operating pretty efficiently. The idea is for power generators to pass on the cost of the carbon tax.

“Close to 95 per cent of electricity is generated from natural gas, which is the cleanest form of fuel. But there are other industries which are very energy intensive and their energy bills would increase with the tax. So if you are an energy intensive industry that uses a lot of energy, the imposition of an extra cost through the carbon tax would hopefully be an encouragement to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions,“ he said.

Prof Ho said there are still many areas of improvements for such large users of energy, such as through improving their compressed air systems, boilers and other process heat systems. At the same time, he said the government has said it would use the revenue from the carbon tax to provide companies with greater support on energy efficiency improvements.

Head of Nanyang Technological University’s Economics Department, Prof Euston Quah agreed, saying the carbon tax would stimulate action among businesses. “(Firms and businesses) will compare paying the tax against the cost of cutting down emissions using their own technologies. If the cost of cutting emissions by their own technologies is cheaper than paying for the tax, they will then do so,” he said.


Singapore’s carbon tax of between S$10 and S$20 per tonne of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) is in the range of what other jurisdictions have implemented. Research Associate at ESI, Gautam Jindal cited a report that highlighted that three quarters of emissions with a carbon price, are below the suggested tax level of S$10 per tonne of CO2. But countries like Sweden have imposed taxes of more than S$100 tCO2e, although its power companies do not pay this tax and industries pay half of what is imposed.

Still, Prof Quah said a carbon tax should typically be priced high enough to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. But in the case of Singapore, the price needs to balance effectiveness and competitiveness. “(Our carbon tax) is at the lower end not the higher end (of the scale) compared to countries like Sweden,” he said.

“But that could be a reflection of their society and their mission of moving very fast to a low carbon economy. In our case since we are relying a lot on natural gas, we don’t want to unusually burden the businesses and hurt our competitive position of the economy.”

Prof Quah said many countries are already moving towards carbon pricing, and for Singapore to get into the game early would allow it to fine tune the system, while being able to promote research and development activities and innovation on energy efficient technologies.


The Government has said the impact of a carbon tax on households would be modest, something which experts like Prof Quah, Prof Ho and Mr Jindal agree on. The idea of the carbon tax is to change mindsets; that everyone’s action contributes towards the emission of harmful greenhouse gases, and for them to make informed decisions about how they consume energy. Prof Quah added the carbon tax as it stands is “good as a starting point”, but eventually, it would have to reflect realities, with prices becoming higher over time.

- CNA/mo

Carbon tax may be passed on to consumers, but impact modest: Experts
SIAU MING EN Today Online 22 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Hit with a new carbon tax for every tonne of greenhouse gas they produce, power stations and other large emitter of such gases will likely pass on at least some of their costs to consumers, but the impact appears to be modest for now, said experts.

But the implementation of such a tax could throw up hiccups down the road, as the experiences of some other countries have shown — such as the tax having a regressive impact and hitting low-income end users harder, or the tax being politically unpopular.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced during the Budget speech on Monday that the Government is looking at imposing a carbon tax rate of S$10 to S$20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.

For households, the tax rate would be equivalent to an increase in electricity prices of 0.43 to 0.86 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is a 2.1 to 4.3 per cent increase from current electricity tariffs. For businesses, the increase in operating cost from the proposed tax rate represents a 6.4 to 12.7 per cent increase from current oil prices.

Speaking to TODAY, SIM University economist Walter Theseira noted that as with any tax, the costs tend to be shared with both sides of the market, in this case, between the emitters and the end-users. “The costs of energy generation will go up with the tax and power generators have the ability to pass through those costs to consumers – just like power generators pass through the costs when fuel prices go up,” he said.

He added: “For your consumer, I do not expect that these few percentage points increase in the electricity portion of the bill will cause most consumers to even turn down the air-conditioning (for instance), they are probably not going to notice it.”

Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at National University of Singapore (NUS), said the objective of the carbon tax is to have people undertake informed decisions about how they consume energy.

As such, it is important that the carbon tax is reflected in the electricity tariffs, even though she noted that the impact will be minimal here.

But Assistant Professor Yang Nan from NUS Business School warned against the carbon tax becoming regressive, and affect lower-income consumers to a larger extent and widening the inequality gap, he added.

In Ireland for instance, a 2008 study found that carbon tax was regressive and affected the poorer households.

But a modest increase in welfare payments would offset these negative impacts of a carbon tax in the lower half of the income distribution, noted the study.

Based on the experiences of other countries, Dr Theseira said the carbon tax here has to cover the right activities to reduce the carbon footprint, and minimise “harmful avoidance behaviour”, such as importing carbon-intensive products from countries that do not impose similar taxes.

The carbon tax will also have to be politically sustainable. Australia for instance, repealed their carbon tax in 2014 two years after it was implemented. This was amid claims that such a form of tax penalised legitimate businesses, cost jobs and drove up energy prices.

“If the public does not support the broader objective of environmental sustainability, it will be difficult to continue with the tax,” added Dr Theseira.

In response to queries, the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) noted that Singapore remains open to linking the carbon tax framework to external carbon markets where feasible.

Among other things, Singapore is discussing the development of international carbon market rules at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The use of international carbon credits is one of the issues being studied. Discussions are only at a preliminary stage, and it is too early to speculate on how international carbon markets will evolve. We will be monitoring international developments for now,” added the NCCS spokesperson.

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Budget 2017: Water prices to rise by 30% over 2 years

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Water prices will increase by 30 per cent in two phases over the next two years, starting from Jul 1 this year. This is the first time in almost 20 years that the Government is revising water prices.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced this in his Budget address on Monday (Feb 20), almost two weeks after Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli indicated the Government’s intention to do so.

In his speech, Mr Heng said prices need to reflect the rising costs associated with supplying water. He said the cost of producing water has increased with the Government building more desalination and NEWater plants, as well as laying deeper pipes amid an urbanised environment.

Mr Heng said that such costs are necessary investments. “Water sufficiency is a matter of national survival,” he said. “Imported water and local catchment water currently meet more than half of our water demand, but both sources depend heavily on weather conditions.”

Earlier this year, there was a fear that Singapore’s supply of water from the Johor River could be significantly affected if 2017 turned out to be a dry year. The Linggiu Reservoir, which is a critical factor in Singapore being able to abstract water from the Johor River, saw historically low water levels in 2016.

Mr Heng said the increase in water prices will be seen through the restructuring of the Sanitary Appliance Fee (SAF) and the Waterborne Fee (WBF) into a single volume-based fee. Providing more details, national water agency PUB said these two fees currently go towards meeting the cost of treating used water and maintaining the used water network. The single volume-based fee is a better reflection of the volume of used water discharged, it said.


PUB said the WBF fee will increase to 92 cents per cubic metre for households that consume 40 cubic metres of water or less each month, from July 2018. A second tier of the fee will be introduced at a rate of S$1.18 per cubic metre for households which use more than 40 cubic metres. PUB said this is to discourage households from using excessive amounts of water.

The potable water tariff and the water conservation tax will also be adjusted. For example, the tariff for households that consume more than 40 cubic metres of water a month will eventually increase to S$1.52 from July 2018, up from the current S$1.40. Water conservation tax, which is based on the water tariff, will go up to 65 per cent from July 2018, up from the current 45 per cent, for households that consume more than 40 cubic metres of water each month.

The above changes will see the price of water going up by 30 per cent, PUB said.

Mr Heng, however, said that for 75 per cent of households, the increase in monthly water bills will be less than S$18 from July 2018. For three-quarters of businesses, the increase will be less than S$25 a month.

The Finance Minister added that the Government will introduce measures to help lower- and middle-class income households offset the increase.

These include an increase in the GST voucher - Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebate to offset utilities bills; a one-off GST Voucher - Cash Special Payment of up to S$200 for eligible recipients; an extension of the rebate for service and conservancy charges (S&CC) and a personal income tax rebate of 20 per cent, capped at S$500.


Water prices for the non-domestic sector, which makes up 55 per cent of total demand, will also be revised. PUB said that from July 2018, the water tariff for such consumers using potable water will be increased to S$1.21 per cubic metre, up from the current S$1.17. The water conservation tax will increase to 50 per cent of the water tariff, up from the current 30 per cent. PUB said the adjustments will take place in phases over two years.

Mr Heng said a water conservation tax on the sector’s use of NEWater will also be introduced. This will be at 10 per cent of the increased NEWater tariff, starting from July this year.

- CNA/mo

Water prices to go up by 30% by July 2018
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — Turning on the tap will be more costly from July, when the first of two rounds of water price hikes takes effect. Water prices will go up a total of 30 per cent by July next year, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Budget speech on Monday (Feb 20).

For the average household living in a public flat, this will mean forking out roughly S$9 to S$15 more a month before the Government’s additional U-Save vouchers.

After the additional U-Save rebates, one- to two-room flat households would see their water bill go down by S$1, while an executive flat household would see a smaller increase of about S$11 in its water bill.

Three- to five-room flats will likely fork out S$2 to S$8 more a month. Currently, Housing and Development Board households pay about S$26 to S$49 a month for water.

Earlier this month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli had declared water prices would go up after remaining unchanged for 17 years. The scarce resource has been underpriced and the increases are due to higher operational costs and greater investments in water infrastructure.

Singapore’s water comes from four “national taps”. About half is imported from Malaysia, and the rest is from local catchment areas, NEWater (treated used water) and desalination. But Singapore has had dry weather and Johor has experienced water supply issues in recent years.

Water sufficiency is a matter of national survival, said Mr Heng. “We have priced water to reflect the higher costs of desalination and NEWater production because every additional drop of water has to come from these two sources,” he said. “The cost of water production and transmission has increased as we build more desalination and NEWater plants, and lay deeper pipes through an urbanised environment… We need to update our water prices to reflect the latest costs of water supply.”

The increase consists of higher water tariffs and water conservation tax, as well as restructured waterborne and sanitary appliance fees for used water. The sanitary appliance fee — presently S$2.80 per fitting — will be combined into the waterborne fee, which goes towards treating used water. From July, the waterborne fee will be 78 cents per cubic metre for households that use less water, and the fee will go up to 92 cents from July next year. The waterborne fee will be over S$1 per cubic metre for larger domestic consumers who use more than 40 cubic metres per month.

The increase in prices is in line with what water policy experts like Professor Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada have proposed in recent years. In their latest commentary on Monday, they said water should be priced to provide a sustainable financial model, while targeted subsidies should be given to poorer households.

Consumers like Serene Choo, 33, said the increase would add to household expenditure. “I think the price increase is inevitable and is linked to economic and environmental factors,” said the mother of two. Her water bill, at around S$17 per month, is already below the national average for a four-room household and Mrs Choo said cutting down would be tough as daily activities such as cooking, washing and bathing still need to carry on.

For non-domestic users such as building owners and industry, water prices will increase by 27 per cent. From S$2.15 per cubic metre, the price will hit S$2.74 per cubic metre from July next year — the same price as smaller domestic users. Those that use NEWater will have a new water conservation tax imposed, comprising 10 per cent of NEWater tariffs.

Mr Lee Soon Kiat, executive committee member of the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association, hoped the government could provide more one-time grants for companies to explore water recycling and conservation. Wafer fabrication, semiconductor and electronics firms make up 13 per cent of non-domestic water demand and while the industry understands why the Government is making water more costly, it is also concerned about losing competitiveness to other countries, he said.

Property firm CDL’s chief sustainability officer Esther An said the tariff hikes are expected to increase operating costs of the properties it manages, which will give “additional impetus” to water conservation efforts. CDL will step up its engagements of tenants in this regard, she said.

About 25 per cent of water usage at its buildings is currently NEWater, which has helped the company to achieve savings as NEWater is cheaper than potable water. Its measures to save water include water-efficient fittings and rainwater harvesting systems at its developments and the deployment of grey water membrane filtration plants at worksites to recycle construction water for cleaning and desilting, added Ms An.

Singapore consumes about 430 million gallons of water per day, with homes consuming 45 per cent and the non-domestic sector taking up the rest. By 2060, total water demand could double, with the non-domestic sector accounting for about 70 per cent. By then, NEWater and desalination will meet up to 85 per cent of Singapore’s future water demand.

The average person uses about 151 litres of water a day and PUB aims to cut consumption to 140 litres per day by 2030. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

Need to 'bite the bullet' in raising water prices: Indranee Rajah
Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 21 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Increasing water prices is a necessary measure to ensure future supplies, and Budget 2017 was the appropriate time for the rise, said Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah on Tuesday (Feb 21).

Speaking on 938LIVE radio’s Talkback call-in show, Ms Indranee was responding to questions about the increase, including whether it could have been held off for a while until the economy improves.

“You can put it off this year. But then next year you don’t know what the economy will be like,” she said. “You sometimes just have to bite the bullet and say, this is a critical resource, you’ve got to ensure future supply, so the time to do it is now.”

In this year’s Budget statement, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that water prices will increase by 30 per cent in two phases over the next two years. This is the first time in 17 years that the Government is revising water prices.

But Ms Indranee emphasised the importance of helping those who might have problems coping with the increase. “That is why you’ve got measures like the GST U-Save, GST special cash payment … these are measures which are targeted at those who are having some difficulty in managing the increase in cost.”

The increase in water prices was a hot topic for listeners. One point raised a number of times was why the increase was not done gradually over the last 17 years. To that, Ms Indranee reiterated that there is never actually “a good time” to raise water prices.

“We’ve looked at this, and this is the appropriate time going forward, because we’re planning for the future and the levels at the Linggiu Dam were a good reminder of this.”

Another listener pointed out a possible knock-on effect the price increase could have on goods and services, particularly for food and drinks at coffee shops.

In response, Ms Indranee said that it all comes back to how people can increase their incomes, and how the revenue that comes into the household can be increased so “all the other things” can be managed.

“The key to that lies in the economy,” she said. “That’s why you see the first part of the Budget is really targeted at growing businesses, helping them stay afloat in this economy, helping them to access new opportunities, and making sure that our workers are able to get training.”


Other topics brought up during the show included help for businesses and the middle class.

While the measures in the Budget are about looking for the long-term, host Bharati Jagdish pointed out that some chambers of commerce are saying that help is needed with immediate business costs like rentals. “So while some of these measures take into account long-term benefits, what about the here and now?” she asked.

In response, Ms Indranee gave some examples of ongoing direct help for businesses like the Wage Credit Scheme and the SME Working Capital Loan. She said the Government understands the difficulties and challenges that businesses are going through, but raised the question of what the right way to assist would be.

“Is the way to assist giving direct grants? If you give direct grants, where is that money coming from? It comes from taxes. Who’s paying the taxes? It’s businesses and individuals,” she said.

“If you don’t generate growth, then you don’t have the taxes,” she added. “So it all comes back again to trying to make sure that you generate an economy that grows, so that everyone can benefit.”

She also pointed out the need to change mindsets in order to increase productivity. For schemes to be effective, she said people and businesses need to “really take this on board” and with “the right mindset.”

“It’s always difficult to restructure…and there is obviously some pain involved in the restructuring, but we’ve got to move towards that step by step,” she said, explaining how the aim in this year’s Budget is to help businesses by helping them to get productive.

“The strategy is really not to be ‘here is a direct angpao’, but the strategy has to be ‘here are the ways in which you can get more productive, become more innovative, and scale up so you can grow your business’.”

Businesses say they will take water price hike in their stride
NEO CHAI CHIN and JEONG HONGBIN Today Online 22 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — When Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Monday (Feb 20) that water prices would go up by 30 per cent, the news did not give laundromat chain founder Tan Tiong Peng a “heart attack” — thanks to his decision to invest in water-efficient machines when he started the business in 2010.

Like other businesses interviewed on Tuesday, Mr Tan felt the quantum of increase was “big” and would add to the cost of operations. But despite higher water prices, the businesses said workers’ salaries, electricity and rental costs form a much greater bulk of their costs.

If they do pass on the costs to customers, water prices would not be the sole factor, some said.

“It would be to defray escalating costs of rental, workers’ salaries, gas and water,” said Mr Tan, whose Wonder Wash and SQ Laundromat brands have close to 70 self-service outlets including franchises.

Water-efficient washing machines use up to 40 per cent less water than ordinary machines, and Mr Tan said water currently amounts to about 2.5 per cent of his company’s revenue. In contrast, rentals amount to 40 to 50 per cent of revenue.

“It didn’t give me a heart attack when the minister announced it. If it was for rentals, I might have (had one),” quipped Mr Tan.

He added that he “fully understood the rationale”. In his Budget statement, Mr Heng had said water sufficiency is a matter of national survival and prices have to reflect the fact that Singapore is deriving more of its supply from NEWater and desalinated water.

Water prices will go up by 30 per cent for domestic users by July next year, and a partial increase will take effect on July 1 this year. From S$2.10 per cubic metre, domestic users will pay S$2.39 from July 1, and S$2.74 a year later. Households that use more than 40 cubic metres per month will pay more.

The average Housing and Development Board household will pay about S$1 less to S$11 more per month after additional U-Save rebates.

For non-domestic users, prices will go up by 27 per cent, from S$2.15 per cubic metre to S$2.74 next July.

For Laundry Loft director Kevin Soh, water makes up about 10 per cent of operating costs but he has no plans at the moment to pass the increase on to customers.

The shop opened last March at Big Box in Jurong East and Mr Soh said he began exploring ways to optimise the use of gas for the water heater late last year, after realising it was boiling water unnecessarily at times. He has identified a solution and will be modifying the system soon. “We hope to cut gas costs by 20 to 30 per cent,” said Mr Soh.

Other businesses are hoping for enough rain and pressing on with efforts to save water.

A spokesperson from Island Landscape and Nursery said it collects rainwater in a pond, which it uses to water the plants. Water is needed for daily use but forms a smaller part of its costs than labour and electricity, she said.

Royal Plaza on Scotts encourages guests to re-use towels and linen if they are staying at the hotel for more than a night. It signed up last year for a water efficiency management plan by national water agency PUB. Sub-meters have been installed in various areas to monitor water usage and checks are done to ensure there is no leakage.

The hotel cut water usage by 13 per cent last year compared to 2015, said general manager Patrick Fiat. The 390 cubic metres of water consumed daily includes potable water for guests and NEWater for its plantroom.

“The higher cost of operations may lead to a price adjustment. However, the impact will not be immediate as price positioning is dependent on a variety of factors such as the market environment and economy,” said Mr Fiat.

Hawkers told TODAY they would try to cut usage by not leaving taps running and by reusing water to clean dirty floors, but some felt it was not possible.

“We don’t think we’ll be able to save a lot of water,” said Adam Road food centre Western food stall worker Lim Siew Leng. “Everything we need to wash…so we would have to raise the price if necessary.”

Domestic users also said they would try to save water. Manager Betty Lim, 34, whose household consists of eight adults and three children, said she would encourage the children not to take long showers, and might switch to more water-efficient taps and washing machine.

Mother-of-two Wyoen Yin, 37, said she would use water from the washing machine to clean the toilet or to wash the car.

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Debating the real cost of drinking water


Singapore’s decision to raise water prices after 17 years is to be applauded. Studies show that pricing can affect behaviour, and there is strong evidence to suggest that under-priced or free water leads to very inefficient uses of water, including increased wastage.

Take the case of Doha, the capital of Qatar, where water is free. The average daily water consumption of residents is 1,200 litres.

In Singapore, domestic water consumption per capita is 151 litres, which is still relatively on the high side. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, humans need a minimum of two litres of drinking water per day to survive.

Water should be priced accordingly to provide a sustainable financial model for the proper operation, maintenance, updating and construction of new facilities for water and wastewater treatment systems.

Concurrently, poor families should receive targeted subsidies so they have access to reliable water supply and wastewater treatment services. The subsidies could start, for example, when the water bill of a household exceeds 2 per cent of its income.

Later this month, the Pope will take part in a discussion with some of the world’s leading water experts, theologians and development specialists from different religions to discuss water as a human right.


In 2015, the Pontiff issued a papal letter to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church on the environment and human ecology, addressed to “every person living on this planet with the expectation of entering into dialogue about our common home”.

In this historic document, the Pope asserted that “access to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights”.

“Caring for ecosystems demands farsightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than economic benefits to be obtained,” he added. This is a fresh and candid view that contrasts with the obfuscations of the international community during the last four decades.

In 1977, United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations International Children’s Fund, as well as multilateral development banks, coined the term “improved sources of water”.

The main problem with this description is that it has absolutely no relation to the actual quality of water.

The interchangeable use of the phrase “improved sources”, with the words “clean” and “safe”, obscures the real objective, which is to provide the world’s population with clean water safe to drink straight from the tap.

Thus, in 2010 the United Nations declared that between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people gained access to “improved drinking water sources”, and 2.1 billion gained access to improved sanitation.

In addition, more than 320 million people living in slums had gained access to “improved water sources” and improved sanitation facilities, to achieve — five years ahead of target — one of the Millennium Development Goals, namely, to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Ironically, the same international organisations currently claim that “only” 663 million people do not have access to safe water.

The reality, however, is very different. At the very least, some 3.5 billion people in the world do not have access to water that is safe to drink, a figure that is more than five times higher than what is purported to be the case today.

Take South Asia, with a population of nearly 1.7 billion people, where not a single city, town or village can claim that its population has access to safe drinking water.

Over the past 20 years, socio-economic development has resulted in two unusual phenomena that shape the way we view water as a drinking source.


First, developed countries, from Western Europe to the United States, and Japan to Singapore, are turning to bottled water. Increasingly, people are not drinking water from the tap for various reasons, including aspirational ideals when households want something “better” to suit their lifestyles. The use of bottled water in developed economies has skyrocketed, even though it often costs 1,000 times more than tap water, and both are safe to drink.

More and more, people in the developed world are also using expensive point-of-use treatment systems, such as water filters, to process tap water that is safe to start with.

In cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, where tap water is safe to drink, many households still prefer to boil or filter tap water before drinking it. In a recent survey by the Institute of Water Policy, which sampled over 200 households, up to four in five households said they boil tap water before drinking it.

When asked for the reasons they do not drink water straight from the tap, three in four said they are not sure about the quality of the water, and roughly one in four said they either did not like the taste or the smell of tap water.

Interestingly, the majority of respondents — 84 per cent — had never had their tap water tested. Additional research is needed to understand why perceptions and attitudes to drinking tap water are not commensurate with the quality of the water.

Second, developing countries have experienced a deterioration in the quality of their water supply, especially in urban cities.

Whereas cities like New Delhi used to rely on simple water treatment systems such as filters, governments are now using more complex and expensive systems and technology such as reverse osmosis, which was developed for sea water desalination purposes. The problem with such systems, such as reverse osmosis, is that up to 80 per cent of the water treated is wasted, and its quality leaves much to be desired.

Hence, the cost of treating water to make it safe to drink has shot up. Governments, however, struggle to factor in the real cost of providing safe drinking water to residents. This is partly because of the misguided notion that water, as an essential commodity, should be provided free of charge or at highly subsidised rates by governments.

Other critical services, such as the provision of healthcare and food, also fall in the same category.

As the world grapples with the dual problem of climate change and shrinking water sources, policymakers are beginning to realise that there has to be a real debate not only on what the rights of consumers are when water is accepted as a human right, but also their responsibilities.

As the poet W H Auden said: “Thousands have lived without love, but no one without water.”


Asit K. Biswas is the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Cecilia Tortajada is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

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Indonesia: BOS Foundation saves orangutan from extinction

Otniel Tamindael Antara 19 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation is keen to release as many Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) as possible into their natural habitat in its efforts to save this protected species from extinction.

In cooperation with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), the BOS Foundation has again released 12 orangutans into the Bukit Baka National Park in Katingan District.

BOS Foundation Chief Executive Officer Jamartin Sihite remarked in Palangkaraya of Friday that the 12 Bornean orangutans, eight females and four males, were transported by a team overland from the Nyaru Menteng conservation center to the Bukit Baka National Park.

The trip from the conservation center to the national park took about 10 hours, with the team making a stop every two hours the check the physical condition of the orangutans.

Bornean orangutans live only on the island of Borneo, where their populations have declined by 60 percent since 1950, and new projections anticipate their numbers will fall another 22 percent by the year 2025.

"We have a great desire to release as many orangutans as possible, and in 2017 we plan to set free some 100 of them into their natural habitat," Jamartin remarked.

The BOS Foundation CEO added that the recent release of 12 orangutans into their natural habitat in the Bukit Baka National Park was the fourth of its kind since 2016.

In July 2016 the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially announced the Bornean orangutans were critically endangered with their population in sharp decline due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting.

It was the first time in many decades that the IUCN has a clear understanding of Bornean orangutan population trends, and as they were hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species were enormous and would be extremely difficult to revers.

Over the past 40 years, a total of 17.7 million hectares of forest have been destroyed in Kalimantan, mainly due to make way for oil palm plantations.

Half of these forests used to be prime orangutan habitat, but deforestation is accelerating and it is predicted that a further 15 million hectares of forests will be cleared and converted to plantations by 2025.

However, this is not the only threat this incredible species is facing; it is being hunted for its meat and to stop crops from being raided.

Two major strategies to save orangutans from extinction are protecting the individuals or protecting their forest habitat.

These strategies are both complex, but the the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said it could contribute to make a difference.

In October 2016, the BOS Foundation in East Kalimantan released four orangutans into the Kehje Sewen Forest, to mark 25 years of dedicated work in the field of orangutan conservation.

The orangutan release was carried out by the BOS Foundation, together with the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency.

Covering an area of 86,450 hectares, the Kehje Sewen Forest in East Kalimantan is managed as an Ecosystem Restoration Concession area by PT Restorasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia.

The BOS Foundation purchased this Ecosystem Restoration Concession in 2010, specifically to be used as a release area for rehabilitated orangutans.

Head of the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency Sunandar Trigunajasa said, "We are all aware of the fact that the responsibility of species and habitat conservation rests on all of our shoulders, be it the government, the community, the private sector or public organizations."

Therefore, Sunandar said it was necessary for the Natural Resources Conservation Agency to fully support the BOS Foundations orangutan release effort.

Realizing that the wild orangutan population is going to sharply decrease in the coming years, Jamartin Sihite, the BOS Foundation CEO said the foundation is forced to immediately find suitable forest areas for releasing orangutans from its rehabilitation centers.

The BOS Foundation desperately needs support and commitment from both central and regional governments, not only to provide suitable areas, but also to strengthen law enforcement in case of crimes related to habitat destruction.

Jamartin stated that the release of orangutans by the BOS Foundation into their natural habitat has only been possible through the cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Agency, the provincial government, and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry is making every effort to intensify its biological diversity conservation, particularly to protect the endangered Sumatran orangutans (Pongo Abelii) and Bornean orangutans, as their natural habitats are shrinking.

The ministry has a target to increase the population of 25 endangered fauna, including orangutans, in the 2015 to 2019 mid-term development plan.

In this regard, all heads of the Natural Resources Conservation Offices and the National Park Offices have been informed to intensify their biodiversity conservation efforts.

The ministry also plays an active role in increasing the population of the endangered animal and addressing human-animal conflicts.

Public education on the importance of conserving orangutans and other endangered animals must be stepped up, and here, the role of NGOs including the Nature Conservancy (TNC) is crucial.

According to TNC Program Manager Niel Makinuddin, the biggest threat to the endangered orangutan population is the conversion of forests into plantation and mining areas.

The rate of habitat loss and degradation in Sumatra is 1.5 percent annually and two percent annually in Kalimantan.

Forest fires and poaching also threaten the survival of these orangutans, he added.

In order to save the orangutans, the TNC has recommended improvement in the government policy on regional land spatial planning, including licensing in human resources and corridor connectivity.(*)

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