Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Committee of Supply 2020 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 3 March 2020)

Importance of preserving and building carbon sinks in Singapore – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

In 2019, it was reported that land in Singapore changed from being a net absorber of carbon in 2012 to a net emitter in 2014. According to NParks, this is due largely to land conversion from forests and other vegetated areas to settlements.

This is particularly concerning as over the past few years, we have seen the prioritisation of development projects over the benefits afforded by sensitive ecosystems due to such projects as the Cross Island Line, the Tengah HDB project and the Mandai Project.

Will the Government commit to securing the inviolability of our nature reserves and greater protection of the little that is left of our more natural, green ecosystems in the future? Apart from the forests’ significant heritage and ecological value, they provide Singapore with carbon sinks, important in our urban environment and helps mitigate the Urban Island Heat effect.

I understand that Singapore uses satellite images covering all land-use classes and the five carbon pools as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and have established permanent sampling plots across the nation for the tracking of carbon in relevant land-use classes. I would like to ask the Minister how have or how can such efforts help Singapore improve tree biomass growth rates so as to preserve and build more carbon sinks? Will the Forest Restoration Action Plan as announced by NParks in January 2019 help in converting land in Singapore back to a net absorber of carbon?


Reducing Emissions from Our Oil Refining Industries – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Singapore’s energy and chemicals industry sector contributes to about 60% of Singapore’s total emissions. Around three-quarters of this industry sector’s emissions come from the oil refining and petrochemicals sector.  The Government has set a carbon tax of $5 per tCO2e for five years, and plans to review it by 2023, with the intention of raising the carbon tax to between S$10 to S$15 per tCO2e by 2030.

Industrial energy efficiency, particularly for large emitters, is currently being addressed by the Energy Conservation Act (ECA). Large emitters are required under the ECA to submit annual energy efficiency improvement plans.

From 2021, these emitters must also establish facility-wide energy management systems and conduct energy efficiency opportunities assessments, which must be submitted to the NEA.

I would like to ask the Minister how successful has the ECA been in improving industrial energy efficiency for our energy and chemicals industry, and more specifically, for our oil refining industries in the past 5 years.

Can the public have access to aggregated information on the improvements?

Minister Masagos said in his PQ reply to me last month that the Government works closely with the oil refining industry to ensure that they achieve high standards of energy efficiency and adopt sustainable practices and that all three oil refineries in Singapore have set up co-generation plants which can significantly improve the energy efficiency of the refineries.

Has the Government set any projection or targets for emissions reduction for our refining industry in the next 5 years and if so, what are these? And if not, will the Government consider doing so?


Carbon Auditing – Daniel Goh Pei Siong

Chairman Sir, it has been one year since the carbon tax has come into effect and last Friday, Senior Minister Teo announced the goal of capping Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, halving it by 2050, and eventually achieving net-zero emissions. I support this goal. What we need now is the commitment by government and businesses to actually reduce emissions and track it. In Australia, carbon neutral certification under the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard is an example of how the government supports businesses as they account for and reduce carbon emissions. The Energy Conservation Act currently requires large energy users in the industry and transport sectors to monitor and report energy usage and conduct energy efficiency assessments. A similar framework can be applied to carbon emissions. We should, in the journey to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, require all government bodies and large companies to conduct annual carbon auditing.

There are a variety of carbon management services available in the market today. With carbon auditing, organizations can understand their greenhouse inventory, isolate each emission source, and hence, determine and model emission reduction strategies, their payback and viability. To help ease organizations into this, the government could implement carbon auditing subsidies for the next ten years. If companies successfully reduce their carbon emissions year-on-year, incremental subsidies can incentivize them to continue to do so. Other ways to encourage a greener report card could be doubling on handouts for low-carbon initiatives, and progressive carbon tax relief. In 2019, the UK set a new target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with ambitious policies and generous funding to support this. More has to be done and decisively so, or the climate emergency will continue to worsen.


Dengue – Sylvia Lim

While COVID-19 takes our immediate attention, dengue continues to be a persistent challenge that also deserves significant attention. Indeed, dengue case numbers for the beginning of this year have spiked against the same period last year, and there are several live clusters in certain estates in Aljunied GRC.  Residents remain concerned, even as they appreciate the diligence of NEA teams in the area.  The warmer weather in the coming months could lead to an even higher mosquito population.

In an update in January, NEA has noted the threat from the DENV-3 serotype, a strain of dengue not dominant in more than thirty years.  Dengue strains have in the past switched between DENV-1 and DENV-2, but NEA has noted a recent increase in DENV-3 cases in three large dengue clusters in Singapore.  While NEA has stated that it was still too early to say there had been a switch of dominant dengue virus type, low herd immunity towards the new strain will leave Singaporeans vulnerable to a large outbreak.

In terms of anti-dengue strategy, there was previous discussion about the prospects of a dengue vaccine. However, recent experience from other countries who have tried using a vaccine have cast doubts about its efficacy and highlighted potential health risks.

Controlling the mosquito population may have better and more immediate prospects.   Project Wolbachia is a promising technology for vector control, where infected mosquitoes are deployed for sterile breeding.  The Project has been expanded in Singapore but it is still under study and is not deployed in existing dengue clusters.

Long-term, with climate change and global warming, mosquitoes are poised to breed faster, and the virus replication may also be accelerated.

In the light of these developments, has the government adjusted its dengue containment strategies both short-term and long-term? Also, how has the NEA coped with the manpower challenges of such outbreaks and leveraged technology to augment its manpower?


Review of Year Towards Zero Waste – Chen Show Mao

Zero Waste is an effort that members of the public as consumers can be engaged in to great effect — all of us can take action to reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse waste.  2019 was designated as the Year Towards Zero Waste to rally Singaporeans to care for our environment and treasure our resources.

May I ask for a review of its results and lessons, in view of the goals enumerated in the Zero Waste Masterplan, and for an update of the Ministry’s efforts in the area.


Community Recycling – Daniel Goh Pei Siong

Chairman Sir, I think I have mentioned this many times now, but we are a failure when it comes to domestic recycling, which is stuck at a dismal 21 to 22% rate. Singaporeans are not recycling. We have an attitude of convenience and we depend on the government to do everything.

Sir, the government has done what it can to encourage domestic recycling. There is a conspicuous blue bin with simplified images showing what should be recycled at every HDB block and specially marked recycling trucks picking up the recycled thrash regularly. I think it is time we change strategy to turn the National Recycling Programme into community-led recycling.

Experience in Germany, South Korea and Taiwan, which have the highest rates of municipal recycling, show that when urban communities are mobilised to take ownership of recycling programmes, cultures and norms of recycling become entrenched. In Taiwan, waste collection is not an individual throwaway chore but a community ritual and recycling party where piped music from waste collection trucks bring out local residents with bags of recyclables and mixed waste, and community volunteers help residents sort out the thrash properly.

In Singapore, we have an urban set up conducive for community recycling efforts. With blue bins located at each HDB block, local grassroots organisations can take ownership of the bins to monitor the recycling trend of each block, diagnose problems such as low rate of recycling or indiscriminate dumping of thrash, and organise targeted events or campaigns to educate the residents of the block.


Use of Styrofoam Crockery and Products – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Despite the move towards a greener, zero-waste nation, suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and eggs as well as hawkers and cooked food sellers continue to use lots of styrofoam and plastic packaging. Of the 1.6 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed of in 2018, one-third is made up of packaging. More than half of this packaging is made of plastic, but only 4% of plastic waste is recycled.

In COS 2018, citing Taiwan’s ban in single use plastics including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030, I had asked about the Ministry’s plans to reduce the use of plastic disposables in Singapore involving either the restriction or the banning of single use plastic carrier bags, straws and disposable cups, containers and utensils.

In 2016, the Government also said that it will not ban styrofoam products for food crockery and packaging but will seek to discourage hawkers from using disposable ware.

We still see much styrofoam food crockery and packaging being used at hawker centres, coffeeshops and other food outlets.

I would like to ask for an update of the rate of use of styrofoam products in food crockery and packaging vis-à-vis other materials since 2016.

Given their harmful effects on the environment, I would also like to ask whether the Government will conduct a review of the use of styrofoam products for food crockery and packaging uses, and whether it will set any target to ban such products or if not, what measures it will take to either reduce or to disincentivise such uses in the next 5 years.

I will also like to ask whether the Government will be looking into encouraging alternative single-use products usage, such as bamboo products.


Socially-Conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Sir, in the last quarter of 2018, there were media reports on hawkers’ feedback pertaining to some challenges they faced in operating their food or drink stall under the SEHC scheme. Among the feedback were, having to apply for leave in advance if they choose not to open their stalls, not having the freedom to adjust food prices, having to pay “penalty” fees for terminating their tenancy and high rentals and auxiliary costs that the hawkers have to bear.

The matter was addressed at length in Parliament in November 2018 with the Ministry sharing details, measures and giving assurances to members of this house that the ministry will manage or resolve the matter.

Sir, it has been about a year and four months since then, hence, I would like to seek updates on the current situation of the SEHC scheme.

I would like to ask whether the ministry received any feedback from stall operators against any SEHC operators in 2019. If yes, what is the number of feedback received and what are among the most common ones?

Additionally, I would like to seek updates on the number of SEHC island-wide at present moment. I also would like to know whether the ministry has conducted any recent survey or study in finding out the level of satisfaction of stall-owners operating under this scheme. If there is, can the ministry share the findings.