‘Kampung living’ in the sky

THE corridors of some homes in Singapore’s heartland will soon be powered by solar panels, and outside walls will be covered with cooling plants to reduce the need for air-conditioning.

These pioneering features in the Housing and Development Board are part of Singapore’s reinforced environmental trend that has become evident since last year.

Seven blocks of Singapore’s first eco-friendly apartments will be built in Punggol, due for completion in 2011, which will have a garbage chute for recyclable materials on every floor.

Integrated washbasins will channel used water into the toilet cistern for the next flush.

An “eco-deck” garden in the estate centre will act as a green lung, absorbing heat and providing shade. Officials say that will reduce the temperature by 4°C.

The total reduction of energy consumption in these areas is expected to be about 80%.

Motion sensors in the carpark will provide lighting when required.

The estate will have a rainwater collection system designed to provide more than half a million litres, or 130,000 gallons, of water a year for cleaning the corridors and common areas.

It could be a prelude of things to come in Singapore’s HDB heartland, where 85% of Singaporeans live. The unit price could become 5% -10% higher.

Short of natural resources, Singapore is pursuing energy conservation and a reduction of global warming as though its survival depends on it.

Southeast Asia’s murderous tsunami was a compelling reason.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew believes Singapore is extremely vulnerable to the rising sea levels that scientists predict global warming will cause.

Most of the business end of Singapore – its airport, its business and financial districts and, of course, its busy container ports – lie less than 2m above sea level, he told an interviewer recently.

With Dutch help, the government plans to build a high seawall to protect it from the raging tides that may one day engulf much of what it has.

It has drafted a plan to address climate change, including commissioning a two-year study on its possible impact on Singapore. The republic signed the Kyoto Protocol last year.

Some S$350mil (RM812mil) has been set aside to develop alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels.

There’s another reason for the new preoccupation. Like all rich nations, Singapore is a relative transgressor in global emissions.

With 0.1% of the world’s population, Singapore accounts for 0.2% of carbon dioxide emissions, or an average of 12.3 tonnes per person, according to the Human Development Index.

(If all countries in the world were to emit CO2 at levels similar to Singapore’s, it would exceed the world’s sustainable carbon budget by approximately 453%, a report said).

Eco-HDB is just one of several recent environment-friendly measures being adopted; others include:

> Singapore’s first “zero-energy” building that produces as much energy as it consumes; now under planning;

> An eco-friendly mall with urinals that use no water and sensors, which monitor carbon monoxide levels in the air;

> A S$610mil (RM1.4bil) island (measuring 3.5 sq km) off southern Singapore built from rubbish from the country’s four incineration plants, and which was recently opened to the public.

> A whole new street fronting Raffles Hotel at Beach Road (due to finish in 2012) will have a host of eco-features – sky gardens, sunken courtyards, slant-sided towers and a large environmental canopy.

Since independence, the republic has taken a healthy environment as an economic necessity to lure investment and foreign talent.

It has half a dozen or so major projects scattered all over the island, aimed at attracting tourists – but with a heavy bent towards nature and greenery.

Take the two casino resorts.

In three years’ time, visitors to Sentosa Island will see “a wonderland of glossy vegetation,” according to an Australian journalist.

“It will be like staying in a botanic garden, and make that a tropical estate thriving with fan-shaped travellers and palmyra palms, fruit trees, spiky strelitzia, black bamboo and boldly flowering vines.”

At the other resort at Marina Bay, three designed parks – Gardens by the Bay - will form Singapore’s new 94ha waterfront landmark from where the Sands casino will sprout.

At Mandai, a 30ha area next to the Singapore zoo and Night Safari will be turned into one of Asia’s top nature spots, with luxurious tropical space.

These efforts, however, will add up to just so many small parts. Being an air and sea hub and a centre of foreign trade, Singapore is unlikely to achieve any significant breakthrough.

Some academicians say the city-state has done very well in controlling pollution and building a green environment, but does poorly in addressing major environmental concerns.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the country would do its utmost but has to protect its economic growth. The city-state is totally dependent on fossil fuels, with no feasible alternative, he said.

“Every year we have 25 million containers shipped through Singapore, (and) ships taking bunker fuels in Singapore,” he noted. “These are not Singapore’s consumption, they are international but happen to upload in Singapore and we have to account for this fairly.”

Minister for Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam describes Singapore’s role as realistic and pragmatic. “Singapore is tiny. What we do cannot make a significant difference to global warming or the ozone layer.”

If it forged ahead to cut back on CO2 emissions, while big countries like the US, China and India did not, “it will increase our costs and affect our competitiveness.”

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