NUS Prof Sivasothi calls for policy on replacing green cover lost to development as a measure against climate change

Organised by the Singapore Climate Rally to coincide with the global climate change youth movement started by Swedish teen environment activist Greta Thunberg, Singapore’s first climate rally saw over 2,000 participants on Saturday, 21 September.

Despite the haze, youths turned up to make their voices heard on the issue of climate change and call for mitigating actions by the government. There were six speakers from at the event drawing attention to the issue including Professor Sivasothi, senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Biological Science.

In his speech, Prof Sivasothi explained how crucial it is that Singapore’s remaining forests be protected and called for the implementation of policies that would require equal replacement of green cover following development projects.

Prof Sivasothi highlighted that he is part of the Boom generation who grew up learning that the planet supports people and provides important resources like food, medicine and air. However, Singapore has grown a lot in the past few because and is now a booming city, and so Prof Sivasothi said: “we owe a lot to everyone who is protecting the forest ecosystems around the world”.

The same needs to be done in Singapore, he emphasised. Prof Sivasothi noted how Singapore has about 45 % natural green cover, which is “pretty good” but it is slowly disappearing.

“The forest fragments that are left are not going to survive without our help,” he lamented, adding that each new development should endeavour to leave as much forest behind as possible.

“Do not have a scorched-earth policy, plant buildings, and then import landscape to do some gardening.”

The professor then went on to say, “We cannot behave as if we are in a post-independence world”. Instead, he says we have to think about connectivity, specifically how to connect green patches in a city of concrete, glass and steel. He said that Singapore’s forest patches are “too small” and will not survive if left unconnected. As such, the government should be more aware of what they are building in their small patches of land and should be considerate of global factors like the environment and climate change.

Finally, he talked about replacing the green cover that has been lost to development. He said, “We should make it a prerequisite that for the loss I incur, and the loss to land cover today, I must be required to provide compensatory planting,” using ‘we’ to refer to developers.

These three measures, Prof Sivasothi said, would help Singapore preserve what little natural greenery it has while compensating for the loss it has already suffered so far. He noted that currently, development plans aren’t made with the environment in mind right at the beginning. Instead, negotiations are entered into at the eleventh hour as environmentalists wrestle to have mitigation measures be inserted into plans that are already 90% ready.

“This is not the hallmark of excellence,” chided the professor.

This is reminiscent of the recent Cross Island Line (CRL) issue where environmental groups were opposed to the LTA cutting under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) to build a 4km tunnel for the line. Though the first environmental impact assessment (EIA) report said that the impact of the project would be “mainly moderate” if mitigation measures were adopted, environmental advocates were sceptical.

As debates continued, the LTA went ahead with soil investigation works to inform the second phase of the EIA which explored two route options: the first is a direct route tunnelling underneath the CCNR and the other, more expensive and longer route option would skirt around the CCNR.

In a statement, the LTA said that the second report found that environmental impact of both proposed routes is “feasible” and that with the “comprehensive” mitigation and monitoring plants, the residual impacts can be “adequately managed”. A decision has yet to be made.

In his speech, Prof Sivasothi also pointed out the lack of senior ecologists included in development teams and pointed out that junior ecologists who have just graduated will have a tough time chipping in during meetings with heavyweights of the development industry.

The same is seen in the management of current reserves, said Prof Sivasothi. There is a lack of manpower in managing large areas.

“These are clear indications of whether we are serious about the resilience of our forests in order to survive this climate crisis that’s upon us,” he pointed out.

Concluding his speech, Prof Sivasothi agreed that Singapore has to try harder and that the development can and should do better right now. On that note, he added that the public isn’t simply handing over the problem to the government but are instead eager to work together with the administration to do better.