Singapore is scaling up on sustainable development. This year, there is a golden opportunity to set new targets on biodiversity to better protect our natural environment for all people and the planet.
In recent weeks, the Singapore Government has sent a stark reminder that as we continue to tackle the global health crisis, we cannot afford to put both the worsening climate and nature crises on the back burner. In a landmark move, the Singapore Parliament declared that climate change is a global emergency and subsequently announced a whole-of-nation sustainability agenda called the Singapore Green Plan 2030. The issue was further highlighted in Tuesday’s Budget, where DPM Heng Swee Keat announced a range of measures that the government will take to build a sustainable Singapore for all generations.
As Singapore ramps up its efforts to address the wide ranging impacts of climate change and its impact on biodiversity and ecosystems, there is one significant opportunity to capitalise on: the upcoming fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be held in Kunming, China in September 2021. COP 15 represents a once-in-a-decade opportunity for world leaders to secure a new global agreement with ambitious biodiversity targets, similar to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
We fully welcome the Singapore Green Plan 2030’s targets. At the same time, WWF believes that the world needs to take bolder actions to mitigate the impact of climate change and reverse the loss of biodiversity as highlighted in WWF’s recently launched Kunming Plan. This document outlines possible goals countries could adopt, such as delivering stronger conservation efforts and transforming our production and consumption patterns by 2030.
We propose two recommendations to strengthen Singapore’s position as a City in Nature and to ensure a sustainable home for generations to come.
PROTECT NATURAL AREAS FROM FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS
All cities critically depend on healthy interconnected ecosystems within and around them. Protecting natural areas and their ecosystems from future development goes a long way in conserving our existing biodiversity and ensures that we continue to enjoy the benefits that they bring.
Singapore has undergone rapid transformation due to land reclamation for urban and industrial development. It is all the more crucial that we protect and nurture our remaining ecosystems as they provide refuge for endemic wildlife and endangered species, enhance human well-being and provide natural solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation.
For example, forests in areas like Thomson Nature Park help to slow stormwater runoff, reducing the impact of flooding. Simultaneously, they provide opportunities for recreational activities like hiking and nature bathing, which is good for physical and mental health. Further, to ensure a balance between nature and development, Singapore has made the commitment to plant One Million Trees over the next 10 years. The trees will act as carbon sinks, helping to sequester an additional 78,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Other supporting initiatives are the establishing of 1,000 hectares of green spaces and the species recovery plans for 130 animal and plant species.
Whilst these initiatives showcase Singapore’s determination to enhance ecosystem services, we can do more. For example, we can look at increasing legal protection of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems as well as upscale the protection afforded to existing sites. In fact, it has been pointed out that conserving existing forests today would be more effective in capturing carbon than the planting of new trees.
Furthermore, stricter legal safeguards are required in the process of land development. The codifying into law and stricter penalties for not complying with recent changes to the existing environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework will help avoid incidents like the recent unauthorised clearing of large swathes of the Kranji woodland.
MAKE SUSTAINABLE FOOD SUPPLY CHAINS A PRIORITY
Meanwhile, we cannot stop at local conservation measures. As highlighted in the Kunming Plan, these measures must be supplemented with actions that address the drivers of biodiversity loss. One such driver is our food systems. We urgently need to halve the footprint of production and consumption and to transform food systems by 2030.
Rapid urbanisation has modified Singaporean’s consumption and production patterns. Today, Singapore imports about 90% of its food from over 150 countries worldwide. Recent research has found a worrying amount of locally sold seafood are of species that face extinction. This underscores the vulnerabilities in our global food supply chains, a gap that we have to remedy as soon as possible.
Establishing a sustainable food supply chain is paramount to strengthen our food security while simultaneously reducing the intensity of biodiversity loss. The news of a $60 million Agri Food Cluster Transformation Fund designed to boost local production through technology could not have come at a better time.
As Singapore continues to transform its food industry, there is an opportunity to become a sustainable food innovation hub. This could be achieved by channeling the new Agri-Food Fund towards promoting food supplies from sustainable production systems as well as enhancing transparency in food labelling to promote sustainable consumption.
Singapore should continue to take large strides in the right direction towards addressing climate change and nature loss.
Singapore has successfully promoted cross-governmental coordination and solidarity for addressing the issue of climate change and biodiversity. The best examples for this are the establishment of the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) and the whole-of-nation movement to develop the Singapore Green Plan.
This echoes WWF’s recommendations as it calls for countries participating in the upcoming COP 15 to adopt similar approaches involving the whole of society and the whole of government to spur all sectors of society and government into urgent and transformative action.
Given Singapore’s reliance on local and global ecosystem services for its thriving society and economy, it can also play a leading part to encourage more ambition at an international level to tackle nature loss. As seen by agreements such as the Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, transboundary cooperation efforts produce environmental benefits that go beyond national borders.
A successful outcome at the CBD COP15 will not only open up a real chance to protect and enhance the vital life-supporting and life-enhancing benefits nature provides to us all; but also boost Singapore’s position as a global leading City in Nature and its stature as a true green spark in this region.
If you like reading this, also read the smarter way to reboot economies in Asia, the low down on Singapore’s amped up climate targets, and why we should stop saying the solution to climate change is education.