At the Committee of Supply 2021, National Development Minister Desmond Lee delivered a speech outlining the government’s plan to make urban environment more green and sustainable.
We reproduce an excerpt of his speech.
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 five 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.
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.
Now as part of our plans, we are also expanding our nature park network, by setting aside 50 per cent 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.
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.
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.
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.
Cover photo credit: NParks Facebook page