Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Committee Of Supply Debate 2021 – Joint Segment On Sustainability
Mar 4, 2021
A City in Nature, a Greener Urban Environment
Madam Chairman, SM Teo has just laid out the nature of the climate challenge facing Singapore, while Minister Grace Fu has set out the impetus for the Green Plan and outlined its 5 key pillars. I will now describe our plans to make our urban environment more green and sustainable, under the City in Nature and Energy Reset pillars of the Green Plan.
As an island city vulnerable to climate change, the development of climate-resilient buildings is crucial to our survival. Beyond climate adaptation, we must also reduce carbon emissions from our urban environment. And we must continue greening Singapore. Given our tight land constraints, we must find innovative ways to weave nature into our urban fabric more intensively. And even as we face developmental pressures, we must strive to protect our most ecologically important areas.
Members have also asked about our plans to achieve these goals. We will make a big push on three fronts: First, transforming Singapore into a City in Nature; Second, making our buildings, HDB towns, and districts even more sustainable; and finally, driving research and development (R&D) in urban sustainability.
Transforming Singapore into a City in Nature
Let me first start with our City in Nature push. Last year, we set out our goal to transform Singapore into a City in Nature.
Ms Nadia Samdin asked for an update on our efforts. I will give a fuller update at the MND COS Debate later today, but I will set out our plans for the future now.
First, we are greening our urban areas more intensively. Under URA’s Master Plan 2019, we will be adding another 1,000 hectares of green spaces over the next 10 to 15 years. As part of these efforts, we will add over 130 hectares of new parks over the next six years. At the same time, we will also enhance about 170 hectares of existing parks. These parks will feature more lush vegetation and natural landscapes.
Altogether, Singaporeans can look forward to over 300 ha of such parks by end-2026 – almost four times the size of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Now as part of our plans, we are also expanding our nature park network, by setting aside 50% more land for nature parks. This will provide 200 hectares of new nature parks by 2030. Singaporeans can immerse themselves in the nature parks’ lush forests and enjoy nature-based recreational activities. Our new nature parks also act as buffers to protect our nature reserves against urbanisation, and provide more habitats for native flora and fauna to thrive.
Ms Nadia Samdin and Prof Koh Lian Pin also asked about how we can continue to improve connectivity between our natural spaces. This is important. It is a key strategy of our City in Nature vision, not just to conserve specific pockets of greenery and nature, but to look at Singapore and our map from an ecological connectivity point of view.
Habitats that are ecologically connected increase the chances of survival for flora and fauna in our city. This is why we have been strengthening Singapore’s ecological connectivity. We are doing so by studying faunal movement patterns and flora dispersal mechanisms and pathways, both on land and in the water. This understanding of the connections between our natural spaces has, in turn, enabled us to conserve key habitats that are important for ecological connectivity.
For example, we recognised that the forests at the future Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park are important stepping stones between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and the future Tengah Forest Corridor. That is why we dedicated these nature parks as part of the Bukit Batok Nature Corridor – they will be kept lushly forested, so that they can strengthen not just the area’s green network, but also ecological connectivity between the Nature Reserve and Tengah.
We also designated Sisters’ Island as a Marine Park, because modelling studies indicate that it is a key source of coral larvae, which are widely dispersed and enrich other areas in the Southern Islands. And we will do more. For example, as I shared with the House last week, we are developing a more comprehensive picture of our island-wide ecosystem and connectivity of green and blue spaces, so that we can better consider how specific sites connect to our nature cores, buffers, and corridors.
And we are creating ecological corridors on the ground by doing physical planting, to better connect our green spaces. For example, we are planting native trees and shrubs more intensively to re-create forest-like structures along our roads known as Nature Ways, to augment our network of ecological corridors between key habitats.
At the same time, we are expanding our Park Connector Network, so that we will have 500 km of Park Connectors by 2030. I am glad to share that we will develop new recreational routes across our island, in the next phase of expansion of our Park Connector Network. We will provide more details on these new routes at MND’s COS Debate later today.
Together, these moves will not only strengthen ecological connectivity, but also provide Singaporeans with greater access to green spaces close to home. By 2030, every household will be within a 10-minute walk from a park.
Our urban areas will also be naturalised and greened even further. By incorporating natural designs and plantings into our parks and streetscapes, they can serve as nature-based solutions to help provide shade, cool the environment, improve air quality, enhance flood resilience, and beautify our city.
These are just some of the benefits and outcomes that we hope to see from our City in Nature efforts, which Prof Koh Lian Pin had asked about yesterday.
And one example of this can be seen at Jurong Lake Gardens, our third national garden. We converted a concrete canal into a series of meandering streams with vegetated wetlands, that play host to charismatic wildlife such as otters and herons. Such naturalised waterways can help slow down water runoff from surrounding areas, reducing the risk of flash floods. We will naturalise more waterways and waterbodies in parks and gardens in this manner as part of our City in Nature efforts.
We are conserving our rich biodiversity too, through habitat restoration and species recovery programmes. For example, as part of our Marine Conservation Action Plan, we placed purpose-built intertidal pools along a barren stretch of seawall, to provide a habitat during low tide for coastal and marine biodiversity to thrive.
We are also working with the community to improve how we co-exist with nature and wildlife, by taking a science-based approach towards wildlife management, and harnessing both ecological and social tools to minimise human-wildlife conflict.
The active support of the community is crucial to making our City in Nature vision a reality. That is why we are working with the community across many areas – from continuing to support community gardening, to the OneMillionTrees movement. Through this movement, we are doubling our annual tree planting rate and planting one million additional trees across Singapore between 2020 and 2030, to underpin our City in Nature efforts.
Madam Chairman, some Members of this House have asked why there is a need for the OneMillionTrees movement, when we could instead forgo clearance of vegetated land and conserve all existing greenery. We appreciate that many Singaporeans have a strong sense of affinity for our existing green spaces. That is a good sign of the maturity of our City in Nature.
However, the OneMillionTrees movement is not merely a quantitative effort to increase our island’s tree numbers, or to engage in ornamental planting. Instead, it underpins our qualitative transformation into a City in Nature – not just nature, but a city as well. Indeed, even if we were to hypothetically forgo some of our people’s needs and halt all new development on vegetated land, we would still need to plant more trees at an accelerated rate in light of our climate challenges.
The trees we are planting offer us many benefits. I mentioned some of them just now – mitigating urban heat to increase our climate resilience, providing more habitats for local biodiversity in our existing green spaces, and strengthening our ecosystems’ resilience by creating ecological corridors.
Indeed, even in the heart of our core forests, we are doing tree planting and forest restoration, as part of our OneMillionTrees movement. At the same time, we are also proactively removing invasive species, like Albizia trees, Dioscorea, and oil palms, to allow our native rainforests to regenerate.
This is because we need to actively manage our forests to make them stronger. By doing so, we are assisting our early secondary forests to transition into more mature and diverse rainforests over time, and improving habitats for native biodiversity. These efforts strengthen the resilience of our forest landscapes to climate change.
This is painstaking, long-term work, and we are deeply appreciative of our community of volunteers who have rolled up their sleeves and have been working alongside us to make our native ecosystems healthier and more resilient.
But even as we continue greening Singapore, we must also continue to meet our people’s needs. This balancing act between conservation and development will become even more challenging given our tight land constraints.
Prof Koh Lian Pin also spoke about our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework, and public consultation on preserving green spaces. As I shared last week, we are reviewing whether it would be better to centralise the management of EIA consultants, instead of having individual developers manage their own. I thank Prof Koh for his views on how the EIA framework as a whole can be improved and strengthened, and we will take them into consideration as we continue our study.
And, as I mentioned earlier, NParks will continue to study and model our biodiversity’s movement patterns, to inform our understanding of ecological connectivity across Singapore, and how to strengthen it. So, studying ecological connectivity, in a city and urban environment, to infuse City in Nature all through our urban landscape.
Given Singapore’s land constraints, we will not be able to keep every vacant land undeveloped. As a city-state, we must cater for everything that a country needs within just our city limits. We need space to continue meeting our people’s needs, ranging from industry and food production, to more public housing for Singapore families. However, we adopt a range of strategies to make good use of existing land as good stewards ought, and in so doing enable us to retain more green spaces of significant biodiversity.
We are also committed to engaging stakeholders, including members of the public and nature community, further upstream in our planning process and will work with them at suitable platforms to identify these areas of interest. My colleague Minister Indranee Rajah will share more about our plans to discuss these issues with Singaporeans as part of our national conversations on long-term land use planning, at MND’s COS debate.
Energy Reset: Making our buildings, HDB towns, and districts more sustainable
Madam, I now move from City in Nature, to Energy Reset. Buildings account for over 20% of our emissions, so we need to push hard to make our city more sustainable. To achieve this, we will use cleaner energy and increase our energy efficiency.
Ms Cheryl Chan asked for an update on the Singapore Green Building Masterplan. Over the past year, BCA and the Singapore Green Building Council have worked together to develop the next edition of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan together with industry stakeholders and the community. The Masterplan captures our collective commitment to pursue more ambitious sustainability standards in our city.
We have set ourselves three targets – I call them “80-80-80 in 2030”. First, we will green 80% of our buildings by Gross Floor Area by 2030. This is an existing target, to ensure that the majority of buildings that we use in our everyday lives will be sustainable and energy efficient. To date, we have made good progress by greening over 43% of our buildings, but we have more to do.
Beyond that, we must push more owners of buildings to pursue best-in-class standards, and become Super Low Energy buildings, or SLE buildings. Super Low Energy buildings, which achieve at least 60% improvement in energy efficiency compared to 2005 levels, represent the next wave of our green building movement. They are key to our transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon Built Environment.
Hence, our second target is for 80% of new buildings to be Super Low Energy buildings from 2030. The Government will take the lead in Super Low Energy buildings. In so doing, we will build industry capability to develop Super Low Energy buildings and provide more use cases for the private sector to take reference from.
Our third target is for our best-in-class green buildings to see an 80% improvement in energy efficiency compared to 2005 levels by 2030, pushing the boundary further. We will ramp up research and innovation efforts to push the boundaries of energy efficiency, and accelerate deployment of cost-effective green technologies.
Since 2014, our Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC) programme has supported the research, prototyping and demonstration of green building technologies, and helped to bring these solutions to market. We are seeing how we can further enhance funding support for GBIC to help us achieve this ambitious third target.
Sustainability has always been integral to our transformation plans for the Built Environment. And we should build on the green movement to drive transformation across the entire value chain, and create more opportunities for our firms and our local workforce. Minister of State Tan Kiat How and I will elaborate on how we plan to do so at MND’s COS debate later.
Beyond individual buildings, we also want our towns and our districts to be more sustainable.
Our new HDB towns will be greener and more sustainable. For example, Tengah will have centralised cooling systems, electric vehicle charging points, and extensive deployment of solar panels. HDB is also incorporating technology into the design of towns to improve ventilation and reduce heat gain. Within their homes, residents will be able to use technology and apps to monitor and optimise the use of their home appliances and equipment, enabling them to conserve electricity and save money, and participate in our sustainability efforts too.
Members also asked about our plans to make existing towns more sustainable. MND and MSE are working together to turn every town into an Eco Town, by encouraging residents to live more sustainably. To achieve this, we will make use of infrastructure solutions under the HDB Green Towns Programme to help our existing towns reduce their energy consumption by 15% by 2030, from the levels in 2020.
We will achieve this through both technology and design. For example, we are using smart LED lights to reduce energy use, doubling total solar capacity on HDB rooftops, and converting the top decks of suitable multi-storey carparks into urban farms, community gardens, and green landscapes.
Since we announced the Green Towns Programme last year, we have made good progress. So far, HDB has called or awarded tenders to implement solar panels on more than 5,700 HDB blocks. Installation of these solar panels is in progress and will be completed in the next two to three years, achieving more than 50% of our 2030 solar capacity target of 540 megawatt-peak.
HDB and SFA have also awarded tenders for urban farming at nine multi-storey carparks, and will be working closely to do more. In addition, residents or organisations with interesting ideas to promote sustainability can tap on MSE’s Eco Fund for their initiatives. And if these prove workable, MND and MSE will work together to see if these can be scaled to more HDB estates under the Green Towns Programme.
We will share more about our efforts to enhance liveability and strengthen predictive maintenance in housing estates at MND’s COS.
We are also developing eco-friendly districts as demonstration projects to show how it can be done. For example, Jurong Lake District will be developed as a model sustainable mixed-use district. Future developments in the District will seek to meet higher sustainability targets that are above our national goals, where possible.
We envision the District to be a model for how innovative solutions and technology can enable a more liveable, sustainable, and healthier urban environment. It can also serve as a testing ground for such innovative urban solutions.
Driving Research & Development in Urban Sustainability
Indeed, innovation enables us to keep moving forward on the journey of sustainable development. That is why R&D is part of our long-term strategy for urban sustainability.
Since its launch in 2017, our Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme has supported research and development that helps to address urban sustainability challenges. For example, HDB and NUS are exploring urban designs that harness solar heat to create temperature differences that enhance air movement through a building. This can help create natural drafts to cool the environment, thereby minimising residents’ air-conditioning needs.
We will build on the good progress of Cities of Tomorrow, and extend it for another 5 years. Ms Cheryl Chan and Nadia Samdin asked how we will support R&D into nature-based solutions. Under Cities of Tomorrow, R&D that supports our efforts to become a City in Nature will be a key research area that we will significantly invest in. For example, we will support research and development of technology that seeks to enhance biodiversity, explore nature-based solutions for climate adaptation, and more.
Madam, transforming Singapore into a City in Nature, making our buildings, towns, and districts more sustainable through an Energy Reset, and driving sustainability-related R&D all have one thing in common: they require all hands on deck.
Transforming our urban environment to be greener and more sustainable will always be an ongoing task, which requires the Government, the private sector, academia, and our communities to come together, each playing our part but working together.
Sustainability is a marathon which we cannot run alone. And we must be in it for the long haul – to be responsible stewards not just for our children, but their children after them. In that spirit, let us come together: to push ahead in the next bound of our sustainability journey, to make the Green Plan a reality, and to build a Singapore that we can be even prouder of.