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As one of the Four Tigers of Asia, Singapore has been widely acclaimed for its rare economic phenomenon that caused its rapid growth and promotion to the status of a developed country. However, what truly sets Singapore apart from the rest is that amid the fast paced industrial development and rapid urbanization, Singapore was able to at achieve a high level of environmental standards that allowed it to be renowned in the region as a “Garden City”.

Therefore, it is of great interest that we discuss the key factors to Singapore’s success in achieving a clean and green physical environment and the extent of its achievement. Through comparison with other Asian countries, we will also aim to identify the difference between these attempts.

“Brown” Policy

Upon independence in 1965, Singapore was faced with a number of critical environmental issues such as removal of waste, lack of clean water supply, land pollution etc. While at the same time, the nation also had to tackle economic and social issues, which further complicates the efforts in environmental planning.

In other Asian countries that experienced similar rapid economic growth, most of these countries adopted the “Grow First, Clean Up Later” policy and thus have the tendency to neglect the environmental issues and concentrate more on economic and development growth. (T.Rock, 2002) For instance, the larger cities in South East Asia such as Bangkok contributes to half of Thailand’s economic growth, however it still faces numerous environmental problems such as air and water pollution that are still not given due attention. (Refer to Excerpt 1.1) Therefore, we can see that the importance attached by the government to environmental issue is a key factor to the success of its environmental management programme. (Chia, 1987)

(Source: Extracted from Tapvong, C., and Kruavan, J., Water quality improvements: A contingent valuation study of the Chao Phraya River, EEPSEA Research Report, 1999.)

Unlike its counterparts, the Singapore government adopted the “Brown” Policy which gives priority to developmental goals such as urban expansion and economic growth while at the same time ensuring that pollution issues that arise be addressed appropriately. (Teo, Yeoh, Lai, & Ooi, 2004) Through this policy, economic growth and environmental management becomes partners in national development rather than nemesis.

For example, while Singapore government greatly promoted industrialization in the 1970s, legislations such as the Clean Air Standard Regulations (CASR) and Trade Effluent Regulations (TER) were introduced that requires industries to follow stringent standards in effluents and air pollution control. Relocation efforts of the population to public housing estates were also packaged with environmental management plans such as the establishment of sewage and sanitation system and solid waste collection and disposal facilities. (Teo, Yeoh, Lai, & Ooi, 2004)

Government Support

Noting the importance of governmental support, Singapore became among the earliest countries in the world to introduce a Ministry solely focused on environmental issues. The seriousness of environmental management efforts differentiated Singapore from the rest of the NIEs in the region in the 1970s. (Teo, Yeoh, Lai, & Ooi, 2004)The creation of Anti Pollution Unit in 1970 under the Prime Minister Office and Ministry of Environment in 1972 signaled to polluters the government’s commitment to environmental issues. (T.Rock, 2002)

(Source: Adapted from Chia, L.S. (Ed) (1987), Fig 2, pg 117, Environmental Management in Southeast Asia.)

The Ministry of Environment formed in 1972 changed its name to become Ministry of Environment and Water Resources in 2004. Under the Ministry are 2 statutory boards, namely the National Environmental Agency and Public Utilities Board. The trio forms the main institution group in charge of environmental issues and sustainability. (Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, 2008)

With the establishment of Ministry of Environment, environmental policies were translated into legal framework with cooperation from other governmental agencies. Adequate legal support thus provided the support necessary for enforcement. The extensive organization structure of the Ministry of Environment also allowed for an encompassing approach towards environmental issues.

(Source: Adapted from Chia, L.S. (Ed) (1987) Fig 3, pg 119, Environmental Management in Southeast Asia.)

To keep up with the complexity and changing nature of environmental issues, legislation passed by the Ministry were also amended frequently. One such example will be on the control of air quality and traffic congestion. To aid in solving the air pollution problem, the Singapore government passed legislation in 1st May 1990, which instituted a system of limiting the growth of motor vehicles by requiring all citizens to bid for a Certificate of Entitlement before gaining the right to own a car. (Didier Millet and the National Heritage Board, 2010) After observing that this does not effectively decrease the traffic congestion problem in CBD areas, the government was quick to implement the Electronic Road Pricing system with rates that will be adjusted where necessary to minimize congestion on the roads.

Implementation and Enforcement

To ensure effective implementation and enforcement, the Ministry of Environment was also vested with the direct authority to enforce the environmental legislation it introduced. This distinguishes Singapore from other countries that have well-defined environmental legal framework but lack the effective enforcement. A unified environmental authority responsible for policy formulation, implementation of environmental programme and coordination of other agencies backed with substantial monitoring, enforcement and inspection capabilities no doubt contributed to the success of environmental management in Singapore. (Chia, 1987)

The National Environmental Agency (NEA), formed in 1st July 2002, becomes the main institution empowered by National Environment Agency Act to effectively check on industries and to enforced and implement the environments standards as per required by the respective environmental legislations passed by Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. (Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, 2008)

(Source: Adapted from Chia, L.S. (Ed) (1987), Appendix 1, pg 161, Environmental Management in Southeast Asia)

In contrast, countries in the region such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia without an unified umbrella environmental institution faces the fragmentation of environmental responsibility among their governmental agencies, which often impedes progress in environmental planning. (Chia, 1987) For instance, Indonesia’s environmental impact management agency, the BAPEDAL under the State Ministry of Population and Environment (SMPE) lacks legal authority to inspect and enforce the standards they have implemented. For example, only the Ministry of Industries (MOI) and the local police had the authority to enter factories to take emissions samples and they rarely did so, thus it becomes extremely difficult for BAEPAL to monitor and enforce industrial emission. Moreover, the court refused to grant legal standing to the emission standards or to the result of monitoring by BAEPAL, which effectively made it virtually impossible for prosecution of polluters. (T.Rock, 2002)

Extent of Singapore’s Success

As a result of the above factors, Singapore can be said as the most successful country in ASEAN to meet the environmental standards set by the World Health Organization and US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

In Figure 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3, we can observe that Singapore has achieved the most remarkable result in Ambient Air and Water Quality as compared to other East Asian Newly Industrializing Economies.

(Source: Extracted from T.Rock, M. (2002). Table 1-2, pg 4, Pollution Control in East Asia, Lessons from the Newly Industrializing Economy. )

(Source: Extracted from T.Rock, M. (2002). Figure 7-1, pg 144, Pollution Control in East Asia, Lessons from the Newly Industrializing Economy.)

(Source: Extracted from T.Rock, M. (2002). Figure 7-2, pg 145, Pollution Control in East Asia, Lessons from the Newly Industrializing Economy.)

As compared to 1980s, Singapore’s has also improved greatly in its air pollution control, with its air quality performing way below the standards set by USEPA in 2008. For example, the Sulphur Dioxide level in 1978-1989 fluctuates around the range of 30-40 μg/m3 , while between 2006-2008, the Sulphur Dioxide level is controlled around the range of 11-12 μg/m3 .

(Source: Extracted from Sani, S. (1993). Overall Pollution in Singapore, Pg 90, Urban Environment in ASEAN: Changing Regional Concerns and Approaches. In M. Seda, Environmental Management in