Singapore Green Landscape 2014 now out!

Each year, Eugene Tay of Green Future Solutions puts out the Singapore Green Landscape – a concise and extremely useful guide to green NGOs, groups, government agencies, business associations, institutes and centres, website resources, and key news reports from the previous year in Singapore.

This is the quintessential guide to the environmental industry in Singapore and key for anyone who is keen to collaborate with others within the environmental industry. You can get your copy by signing up to their newsletter here.

Great work as always, Eugene!

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Channel NewsAsia: S’pore to consider setting up electricity futures market

SINGAPORE: Singapore is exploring ways to foster more competition in the electricity market.

One of the initiatives to consider is the setting up of an electricity futures market.

The government is also seeking feedback on the use of Demand Response — a system that allow consumers to respond to price signals and curtail demand if there is any spike in price.

An electricity futures trading market will allow electricity to be bought, sold and traded like a commodity.

This means that both power companies and heavy users of electricity like the petrochemical industry may be able to hedge their bills.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, S Iswaran, said: “There are quite a range of industrial players who are interested in these sorts of initiatives and we want to make sure we hear the different perspectives before we go ahead to look how we can structure these arrangements.”

Currently, Singapore’s electricity supply comes from five power generating companies — Tuas Power, Senoko Power, Sembcorp, Keppel Energy and YTL PowerSeraya.

Electricity futures trading is already well-established in countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Tilak K Doshi, head of energy economics division at Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said: “The key thing about the futures market is to have good infrastructure for those contracts and as many players as possible, then it will be very beneficial for the market and price discovery.”

Experts said such market may also attract more players, thus making energy pricing and supply more efficient.

Mr Ravi Krishnaswamy, vice-president for energy and power systems (Asia Pacific) at Frost and Sullivan, said: “The electricity futures market is probably a natural progression of the liberalisation that the government is embarking in the respective electricity sector.

“Once you have a wholesale market, it is quite obvious that you need to have a futures trading at some point of time, so that you get in more types of players.”

Apart from hedging their power bills, an electricity futures market also provides power companies and heavy users greater transparency.

With more information, heavy users can then consider their options for more efficient use of electricity.

Singapore Management University’s International Trading Centre academic director, Professor Annie Koh, added: “As they look at the pricing, they become more aware that they need to move towards a change of behaviour in terms of clean-tech, in terms of savings electricity at downtime, so that may be good because transparency may lead to a change of behaviour.”

The government has also launched a public consultation to look at how to allow consumers to make more informed decisions on energy use.

News story originally published on Channel NewsAsia

Image from fabio9petroni

The Biology of Food in Singapore

In this contributed post, Madison Jones writes about how genetically modified foods are imported in large quantities by Singapore, but that the lack of consistent labelling of these foods is often overlooked or completely ignored by consumers. 

Over the past decade genetically-modified foods—often known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs—have been making a splash in markets around the world. Singapore does not produce any GMOs, at least not yet. It often imports them from other countries, however, which has led to much debate and political posturing when it comes to safety and consumer choice. The country’s stance is generally liberal, as government officials tend to view GMOs as just as safe as their naturally-grown counterparts. Imports must go through a somewhat rigorous screening process to enter the marketplace, but once there, there are virtually no restrictions.

Nearly any food can be genetically modified, though scientists typically only cultivate “altered” foods for a specific purpose. Rice, corn, and soybeans are three of the more commonly experimented-with foods, all three of which are in high demand in Singapore. Most of the GMOs the country imports in these categories come from the United States, where farmers and researchers have long been looking for ways to make crops more resistant to things like disease and certain pesticides. Resistant crops often cost less to grow and harvest, which results in a lower end-price to the consumer.

The Singaporean government is generally receptive to GMO imports, though the process is not without its checks. Anyone wishing to introduce modified imports into the marketplace must first submit a detailed proposal describing the food and its history to a special “subcommittee on the release of agriculture-related GMOs.” The subcommittee scrutinizes every application under a principle of “substantial equivalence.” This principle assumes that if a modified item is “substantially equivalent” to one that exists naturally, the two can be treated as equals when it comes to safety.

This reasoning follows the teachings of the World Health Organization, which maintains that the majority of GMO foods are safe for consumption. Not all consumers agree, however. While some in Singapore continue to debate the country’s relatively lax import standards, much of the debate centers around labeling.

Singapore currently has no labeling restrictions for GMO foods, which means that consumers have little way of distinguishing a product that has been helped out by science from one that has been allowed to grow naturally. “GM food labeling is a complex issue,” Singapore’s Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) has said. “The local authorities will work to ensure that GM foods commercially available in Singapore are safe for consumption, and will also continue to monitor international developments closely to ensure that Singapore’s labeling requirements are up to date.”

Up-to-date rules may be important for safety, but have little impact on consumer choice. “The lack of clear labeling standards for GM foods in Singapore, and in many parts of Asia is worrying,” Bhavani Prakash, an environmental activist, said in an editorial on the Eco Walk the Talk website. “Nearly 90 percent of US soya and 75 percent of US corn are genetically modified. Singapore definitely needs better labeling of GM foods so that consumers can decide what is best for them,” she wrote.

 The debate about GMOs, whether in Singapore or elsewhere in the world, is unlikely to let up anytime soon. There are significant concerns on both sides of the aisle, and a lot of different interests are at stake. Though GMOs are likely to remain a facet of the international market for some time, the on-going debate about safety, choice, and clear identification means that the coming years should bring consumers better information about what exactly it is they are eating and buying.

Madison Jones is a writer for a biology education website where she talks about how biology colleges in the U.S. are preparing students to deal with such issues, in addition to providing statistics and interviews from expert biologists where education in this realm is headed today. 

The Straits Times: Singapore government seeks feedback on population issue

The Straits Times has reported on the launch of a paper by the National Population and Talent Division documenting Singapore’s demographic challenges and dilemmas, as well as a website to collect feedback from the public. This public input via the web will go towards formulating policies for the future of Singapore.

Singapore government seeks feedback on population issue

It lays out demographic challenges in paper, launches site to collect views

THE Government is ramping up its drive to engage the public on population, a current hot-button issue that it says has far-reaching implications for Singaporeans’ opportunities and quality of life.

Yesterday, it released a comprehensive paper laying out Singapore’s demographic challenges and dilemmas, and launched a website to collect feedback.

Among the questions posed by the paper are: how to raise birth rates, what immigration to have, and how to ensure a good living environment.

At the heart of the debate is the need to manage population growth, immigration and integration while trying to raise productivity to keep the economy going.

The ultimate aim, said the paper, is to come up with a policy that ‘strengthens our social cohesion, provides a good living environment for our people, and maintains our economic vitality’.

The Government is expected to release a White Paper on population by the end of the year which is expected to incorporate the feedback collected.

The population puzzle has become a complex issue, going beyond birth rates to the topic of how many immigrants and foreign workers should be taken in.

The National Population and Talent Division’s paper – titled Our Population, Our Future – follows a flurry of research papers in recent months and is the first document to set out Singapore’s demographic challenges in full.

In particular, policymakers are concerned about the potential impact of low birth rates, a shrinking working population and a drop in the old-age support ratio.

The paper notes that while immigration can help supplement the shortfall in births, ‘we recognise that we cannot grow our foreigner population indefinitely’.

‘The issues we have to deal with are closely inter-related and complex, with long-term implications for Singapore and far-reaching effects,’ it adds.

The paper was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night on Facebook. Responding to calls for him to address the issue at the National Day Rally, he said the population issue was ‘an important and difficult problem’.

The chairman of the Government’s feedback arm, Dr Amy Khor, said she hoped engagement would ‘bring about greater appreciation of Singapore’s complex demographic challenges’.

The Behavioural Sciences Institute director David Chan said the move will give the Government a chance to understand citizens’ concerns, but added that it should take the feedback seriously.

‘There should also be a genuine discussion on the validity and implications of the various basic assumptions underlying the economic and population models that frame the issues,’ he said.

Some Singaporeans were keen to respond. Human resource consultant Martin Gabriel, 45, said he would send ideas on parenthood, adding: ‘There must also be some system that can bring people together so they can exchange their experiences. Singles and married people can learn from each other about family life, not just read from a paper or the Internet.’

Views on birth rates, foreign inflows sought

SINGAPOREANS’ opinions are being sought on various aspects of the population puzzle, with the Government looking to tap the public’s ideas as it works on coming up with a policy for the future.

Over the next three months, they are being invited to send their thoughts on issues from raising birth rates and strengthening cohesion to managing foreign worker inflows and getting more Singaporeans into the workforce.

In a paper titled Our Population, Our Future released yesterday, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) sets out Singapore’s demographic challenges, and proceeds to ask the public to submit input on some 15 questions.

Taken together, they reveal the dilemmas that policymakers face when addressing different aspects of the population puzzle.

For example, one notes that the Government has cut the inflow of immigrants since 2009, and asks: ‘Should we reduce the inflow further even if it means that our citizen population will age and shrink, and foreign spouses may find it more difficult to become permanent residents or Singapore citizens?’

Another asks: ‘If the foreign worker inflow is to be tightened, which group should be targeted – construction workers, maids, professionals, Singaporeans’ foreign spouses, or others?’

The feedback will go towards a government White Paper on population expected to be ready at the end of the year, said the NPTD.

Members of the public have until Oct 31 to send in their views at http://www.population.sg

The division has met close to 200 people including students and those from the community sector, businesses and unions to get their input, and will continue to do this through dialogues.

Political observers say the latest move to collect feedback is a sign that the Government understands the importance of population issues to Singaporeans – especially with immigration being a hot-button topic.

Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon said: ‘The Government could consolidate key suggestions and constructive criticisms and publish them on the website, as well as the Government’s responses to these feedback.’

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who has already circulated the call for feedback on her Facebook page, believes that Singaporeans would welcome being asked for their views.

‘Once the Government has decided which ideas it is going to adopt, it should acknowledge them so that residents feel good about participating and don’t think they’re writing into a black hole,’ she said.

Agreeing, student Murugiah Komala, 24, said: ‘It gets people interested and as people talk, more ideas are bound to get bounced around.’

Image from utnapistim

 

 

 

TODAY: Public housing to be built at Bukit Brown

Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin has announced that the government will be building housing and the 8 lane highway through Bukit Brown. We find this unfortunate, and are working as part of a consortium of groups, to engage government authorities on this matter.

TODAY reports.

Public housing to be built at Bukit Brown

SINGAPORE – The southern part of Bukit Brown, where the Old Police Academy stands, will be developed for public housing as an extension of Toa Payoh, revealed Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Mr Tan told the House “this is a difficult decision but it’s a decision we need to make”, as he addressed concerns raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) Charles Chong and Irene Ng as well as Nominated MPs Faizah Jamal and Janice Koh at the Ministry of National Development (MND) Committee of Supply debate.

The MPs were worried about losing a piece of heritage.

Mr Tan reiterated that the road across the cemetery will replace Lornie Road as one of the key links of the 21km Outer Ring Road System that will enable motorists to bypass the city.

The dual four-lane road will connect the existing Thomson Road near Caldecott Hill and will cut through parts of the existing Bukit Brown Cemetery before joining Adam Road near the slip roads leading onto the Pan-Island Expressway.

“There is already a traffic jam at Lornie Road during peak hours, and the new road is urgently needed as more housing is built in the north-east and northern part of Singapore,” he said.

Other options such as tunnelling and the widening of Lornie Road were studied but such moves would cause more damage to the cemetery or would entail land acquisition, he said.

“The proposed road was hence decided upon because it had the least impact,” he added.

Other than the MND, other government agencies have been involved in the planning process, said Mr Tan.

The PUB and the National Parks Board studied the drainage requirements and its impact on the environment before the plan was approved. The Land Transport Authority is also carrying out a biodiversity study to address specific concerns arising from the roadworks.

Efforts are also being made to preserve the history and tradition that the graves represent, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority funding the documentation of around 5,000 graves which may be potentially affected by the new road.

The Straits Times: Emissions-based car taxes in the works

The Straits Times has reported of the government’s plans to implement a new scheme to benefit fuel efficient cars.

Emissions-based car taxes in the works

Fuel-efficient vehicles will get bigger rebates under new system, say sources

The Government will soon announce a new emissions-based vehicle tax system.

It is expected to replace the decade-old green vehicle rebate scheme, which expires at the end of the year.

But more than just handing out tax rebates to buyers of environmentally friendlier cars, the new scheme will take a carrot-and-stick approach.

Buyers of fuel-efficient new cars stand to enjoy rebates of up to $15,000, which they can use to offset their vehicles’ Additional Registration Fee (ARF), the main car tax here. Those who go for more pollutive models may have to pay up to $15,000 in extra taxes.

The scheme follows closely the practice in the European Union, where cars are categorised by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) they produce, and taxed accordingly.

According to sources, a new car that produces less than 150g of CO2 per km will be eligible for a tax break of up to $15,000, while a model that produces more than 200g will be penalised by up to the same amount.

The majority of cars sold here today fall within the so-called neutral range of 150g-200g/km, which attracts neither incentive nor penalty.

Big luxury cars or sports cars – such as the BMW 760Li, Mercedes-Benz S600L, Porsche 911, Ferrari 458 and Lamborghini Gallardo – are expected to attract higher penalties under the new scheme.

And cars such as the Toyota Prius (a petrol-electric hatchback) and the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion 1.2 (a turbodiesel hatchback) are likely to get the biggest incentives.

Buyers of other diesel models which produce less than 150g/km could also enjoy the tax break, as long as their cars meet the stringent Euro V emissions standard.

This is to ensure that these cars produce relatively low levels of nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons – two pollutants which are hazardous to health, and which diesel cars tend to emit more than petrol cars.

Diesel cars which enjoy the rebate will still be liable for the annual special diesel tax, which is $1.25 per cubic cm of engine displacement for cars that meet Euro IV standards or higher.

While the Land Transport Authority (LTA) – which will launch and enforce the new taxation scheme – is still in consultation with various stakeholders such as motor traders regarding finer details, The Straits Times understands that the general form of the proposed system has already been decided.

An announcement is expected within the next few weeks, and the scheme could kick in as soon as the green vehicle rebate runs out in December.

The green vehicle rebate was first introduced in 2001 to encourage the use of greener vehicles. But it has been criticised for its technology-dependent criteria. For instance, as long as a new car is electric, a petrol-electric hybrid or runs on compressed natural gas, it qualifies for a rebate equivalent to 40 per cent off its ARF. It does not matter how much C02 it releases from its tailpipe.

And because the rebate is a percentage of a car’s ARF, buyers of costlier models such as the Porsche Panamera Hybrid and Lexus LS600h – both limousines – save the most in absolute terms.

The emissions-based format is seen to be a more equitable solution, and has been lobbied for by various quarters.

In 2010, German car manufacturers, through the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, submitted a ‘green paper’ to the Singapore Government proposing a carbon-based tax system.

A possible switch to an emissions-based system was first reported by The Straits Times in December.

Motor industry players said the new regime will make consumers more aware of the fuel efficiency of cars – and consequently the CO2 they emit – but is unlikely to fuel a big change in buying habits.

‘The neutral range is too wide,’ said one motor trader. ‘So, buyers of most cars today are not affected.’

Nor would the scheme make diesel cars significantly more attractive than now, as the punitive special annual tax is unlikely to be fully offset by the one-off rebate at the point of purchase.

Mr Raymond Tang, secretary of the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association, said: ‘A road tax reduction on top of an upfront rebate will be more meaningful, as the one-time rebate benefits only the first owner.’

Mr Tang said the association may also propose other practices in place in several European cities, such as restricting or banning the use of more pollutive vehicles in the city centre at certain times of the day.

The LTA would only say that a review of measures to encourage green vehicle usage has been in the works since last year. ‘Details will be released in due course,’ a spokesman said.

Image taken from acagamic

The Straits Times: Development of Bukit Brown Cemetery will proceed as planned

The Straits Times published this news story on Friday, about the government’s decision to go ahead with the 8-lane highway through Bukit Brown Cemetery. We are terribly disappointed about their choice of building a highway over conserving a space rich in heritage and biodiversity.

Development of Bukit Brown Cemetery will proceed as planned

The Government will go through with the building of a controversial road across Bukit Brown Cemetery, suggested Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin in a Facebook post on Friday.

An exercise to document some 5,000 graves there that could be affected by the new road is almost complete, he shared, adding: ‘The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will also use the findings from the documentation exercise to fine-tune the road alignment so as to reduce the impact on the graves.’

The dual four-lane carriageway, plans for which were announced last September, is meant to ease congestion on Lornie Road. Construction of the road will begin next year.

The Bukit Brown site as a whole is slated for redevelopment, though heritage and environment civic groups are pushing for its conservation.

In his blog post, Mr Tan noted that it can potentially house 15,000 homes for around 50,000 residents, or 40 per cent of the homes in Toa Payoh town.

‘These are homes for many many Singaporeans,’ he said.

He implied, too, that development plans would also go ahead, adding: ‘Let’s see how we can develop Bukit Brown in the interim, to make it more accessible to visitors, even as we maintain its rustic charm.’