"[Consider] forests as our last resort," said Member of Parliament (MP) for West Coast GRC, Rachel Ong.
Ong was responding to the parliamentary motion filed by the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment, which called for the government to step up efforts to fight climate change.
Retain forested areas, use golf courses for future redevelopment
Ong made a case for retaining forested areas while using golf courses for future redevelopment.
She made the following points:
- Although there are plans to plant more trees in Singapore to keep temperatures cool and absorb carbon, trees in existing forests have been proven to be more effective at doing this, compared to newly-planted trees.
- Further, Singapore can "both plant new trees, and retain the forested areas we have."
- When developing Singapore, we should first explore upgrading older estates and redeveloping land parcels, before "considering our forests as our last resort."
- Future generations can choose to rebuild golf course but forests will take decades to grow and the connected biodiversity that we lose now, may never return.
- Nature should be integrated as living infrastructure as an integral to our development as a sustainable city state
- Those who think that the value of forests and biodiversity is exaggerated need to learn how to appreciate nature, and the government should enhance education and access to green spaces to achieve this.
Ong's suggestion to retain existing forested areas & use golf courses for future development echoed an earlier proposal on Dover Forest, by the Nature Society Singapore.
Rezone Clementi and Dover Forests as nature reserves
Ong also called for the rezoning of Clementi and Dover Forests as nature reserves.
The two forests are currently slated for residential development.
While the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said that there were no immediate pans for residential development at Clementi Forest, Dover Forest is likely to be cleared for housing projects in the coming years.
According to Ong, Clementi forest covers 85 hectares of land, and Dover forest covers 33 hectares.
In contrast, she said, man-made golf courses occupy 1,500 hectares of land.
Ong said that it is only "ecologically responsible" of us to utilise portions of the 1,500 hectares across 17 golf courses before reaching our forest lands.
On this note, she is encouraged that 400 hectares of golf courses will be redeveloped by 2030.
Reducing carbon emissions
Ong's comments about retaining forested areas were part of a broader point about the need for Singapore to reduce its carbon emissions target.
Ong called for a revision of the existing target Singapore had set as a party to the Paris Climate Agreement — currently 65 million tonnes by 2030.
She said that the target reflected "an increase rather than a decrease of where we are currently", even if the population reached its unlikely projected size of 6.9 million by 2030.
Enhancing access to nature
Ong recalled how a young volunteer in her constituency said that "his first memory of close encounter with Singapore nature was the one during his NS days and that it was not too pleasant."
With this in mind, Ong said that "much more can still be done" to increase Singaporeans' "appreciation and wonder for nature".
She proposed two ways to do this:
- Active education in public schools, which should arrange "regular immersive experiences", not just occasional excursions to nature reserves, or classroom lessons on nature and biodiversity.
- Improve access to nature, particularly for the "less educated and less wealthy people in Singapore", who are less actively engaged with nature. Ong proposed "increased support in schools and community outreach programmes", particularly for children from lower-income families.
Ong also proposed that "Ecological Defence" be introduced as a seventh pillar of Total Defence in Singapore.
Ong's fellow MP Seah Kian Peng had also mooted a similar suggestion to have "Climate Defence" as a Total Defence Pillar.
"To safeguard Singapore’s long-term well-being in ways that even the deepest financial reserves cannot, we must act today," Ong said.
Top image via Rachel Ong on Facebook and Martin Magnemyr on unsplash