Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Govt outlines resource, environment goals in $1b blueprint

SINGAPORE'S policymakers have unveiled a sweeping blueprint, 15 months in the making, to help build a greener, more energy efficient and sustainable nation.

The $1 billion plan, to be implemented over the next five years, will change everything from the cityscape and landscape here, to the way Singaporeans live and the way businesses are run.

If successful, it will make energy usage here more efficient, reduce pollution and expand the nation's green spaces - even as the demand for resources rises along with economic growth.

The report of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development (IMCSD) - co-authored by five different ministries - also pledges to advance Singapore's ambition to be a clean technology and urban environmental solutions hub.

This sector is set to add an estimated $3.4 billion to economic output and create 18,000 'green collar' jobs by 2015.

Speaking at the launch of the 130-page report yesterday, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan acknowledged that the document comes amid Singapore's worst recession since independence.

'The temptation is to slow down our efforts in the area of sustainable development while we tackle the immediate economic challenges. However, the two are not mutually exclusive,' he said.
'If we want to face the challenges of the future, we really have to start now, today. It's going to take us a long time... but we're financially committed to it.'

The report outlines the findings and recommendations of the IMCSD, which was set up in January last year to look at ways to create a sustainable nation in the wake of increasing global awareness of the world's dwindling natural resources and climate change.

Over the past year, more than 700 people including members of the public, leaders of non-governmental organisations, businesses, grassroots organisations, academics, and media figures offered views through various focus group discussions.

Members of the public also submitted more than 1,300 suggestions in the process.

The feedback has resulted in some aggressive targets, including a 35 per cent improvement in energy efficiency from 2005 levels, as well as a recycling rate of 70 per cent, by 2030.

Singapore also wants to increase its proportion of environmentally friendly 'green' buildings from 1 per cent currently to at least 80 per cent by 2030.

Industry observers yesterday called the report 'comprehensive and impressive', but some also highlighted critical gaps.

Dr Geh Min, former president of the Nature Society, said the report was a 'a good reflection of extensive intra-governmental as well as community dialogue'.

She applauded the attention given to solar energy, alternative transport such as cycling, and biodiversity conservation.

Singapore Environment Council executive director Howard Shaw said the report was 'holistic in nature, capturing key areas'.

However, he said that it failed to include discussion of carbon emissions and 'cap-and-trade systems', a form of carbon trading where polluting industries have to buy carbon credits for the right to pollute.

The other IMCSD co-chair, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, said yesterday that Singapore, which lacks natural renewable sources such as wind and geothermal energy, cannot realistically take on such emission targets.

However, the nation is 'betting big' on solar energy and is investing heavily in the sector, and will not rule out mass adoption of solar power when it becomes cost-effective to do so, he added.

In any case, the report is an 'evolving document' which will be reviewed every five years, said Dr Yaacob.

Responding to the recommendations, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he was encouraged by the participation of so many Singaporeans in the report.

'This issue concerns not just one or two ministries, but the whole country. Hence we will tackle it using a whole-of-government approach,' he added.

Source: Straits Times, 28 April 2009

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