If every city is as green as S'pore, that would go long way in mitigating climate change: Jane Goodall

Goodall said that bringing nature into the city is a "step very much in the right direction".

Ashley Tan | November 18, 2021, 02:48 PM

Singapore is taking the right steps when it comes to incorporating nature in a city, renowned conservationist and primate expert Jane Goodall said at an online conservation event organised by the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) (JGIS) on Nov. 15.

The dialogue session, which centered around the topic of "living in harmony with wildlife in a city of nature", was attended by Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and moderated by Nature Society Singapore's president Shawn Lum.

Over 700 people tuned in to listen to Lee and Goodall, the latter of whom was speaking from her home in the UK.

An ecosystem is like a tapestry

Touching on a variety of topics ranging from climate change to nature, Goodall reflected on how the Covid-19 pandemic had altered humans' relationship with nature.

"[We] realise we need a new relationship. And we need a more sustainable, greener economy, based less on acquiring more wealth and more power, and more on being able to live a good life and equitable life where we don't have this huge divide between the wealthy on the one hand, and the very poor on the other."

Instead, what humanity depends on are healthy ecosystems, Goodall opined.

Describing an ecosystem as a complex tapestry, she said that every time a species goes extinct, a thread is frayed or tugged off, and should this continue, the tapestry will eventually be destroyed and the ecosystem will collapse.

"That's why it's so desperately important today to protect the environment," she said.

One way to preserve this tapestry is to develop a healthy relationship with wildlife, which Goodall believes Singapore has managed to achieve through its efforts to become a City in Nature.

Goodall added that climate change could be mitigated if other countries emulated Singapore's example.

"If every city in the world was as green as the city in Singapore, if every little nation had as much protected forest as Singapore, that would go a long way to slowing down the effects of climate change."

She urged those who feel hopeless and are experiencing eco-anxiety in the face of the climate crisis to not lose hope, and to start taking small actions, such as buying sustainable products.

"It makes you feel better and feeling better, you want to do more. And as you do more, you inspire other people. And this is how we move into a more hopeful frame of mind."

Singapore's unique approach to conservation

Meanwhile, Lee shared about Singapore's approach to nature conservation, which greatly differs from other countries due to the country's unique circumstances as an island-state.

Larger countries have the benefit of preserving large tracts of nature far away from cities. In their case, managing urban sprawl to prevent it from encroaching into nature areas would be the main concern.

Singapore, on the other hand, has nature within the city and faces "intense land-use challenges".

"As a small city-state, and one of the very few city-states in the modern world, Singapore faces intense land-use challenges, as we strive to balance the many needs of a country, entirely within the limits of our city.

A lot of things that a country would normally put far outside its cities, will – in the case of Singapore – need to be accommodated within our city. For example, airports, seaports, reservoirs, waste management facilities, and so on.

What this means is that our approach to nature conservation for a city-state must be different from that of other larger countries."

Lee thus emphasised that Singapore's approach is to weave nature into the urban fabric to become a City in Nature.

Conservation successes in Singapore

Goodall agreed with the government's method of bringing nature into the city, stating that it is a "step very much in the right direction".

In Lee's opening remarks, he also elaborated on the efforts that the government has made to make Singapore more liveable for both people and wildlife. They include:

  • Adding more park connectors and nature parks, especially around the nature reserves, to act as buffers and to enhance ecological connectivity.
  • Planting more greenery along roads to create Nature Ways, which wildlife can use as connectors between green spaces.
  • Increasing the number of flora and fauna species for recovery efforts from 120 species today to 160 species by 2030.
  • Turning canals into naturalised rivers and streams. Examples of these include Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Jurong Lake Gardens.
  • Working with JGIS to launch the "No Feeding" campaign, which discourages people from feeding macaques, thus reducing the chances of human-wildlife conflict.

And Singapore has seen conservation successes as well. Here are some examples that Lee listed:

  • Studies have been carried out on the critically endangered Singapore freshwater crab, and individuals have been successfully bred in laboratories. As of 2021, more than 100 individuals have been released into the wild, with a new crab population established in Bukit Batok.
  • Several species have also become less threatened over time. The Sunda slow loris, Lesser mousedeer & Smooth-coated otter are no longer critically endangered in Singapore.

Singapore takes agreements "very seriously"

In light of COP26, the climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which recently ended on Nov. 14, a question was posed during the dialogue session as to how the agreements Singapore has signed would translate into action.

One of these is a global pledge to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

Singapore was one of the four new endorsements since Nov. 10.

The aforementioned approaches to nature conservation, along with planting one million trees in the next decade, are some of the ways Singapore is taking "active steps" to strike a balance between development and conservation.

In response to the question, Lee said that the government takes the signing of such agreements "very seriously".

"When we sign agreements, we scrutinise every line to make sure that we can commit to them," he said.

Lee shared that efforts are being made through the Singapore Green Plan:

"And there are many more things that we need to do. We have the Singapore Green Plan, which will need to galvanise everyone. Singaporeans of all ages, companies, government agencies, NGOs, schools, young people. We have so many things we'll have to do, we have to transform Singapore into a City in Nature, and that means making difficult decisions about land use. It means an energy reset, transforming to much more sustainable forms of energy."

These efforts also include creating jobs in the green sector and working with schools and educators to guide the next generation on sustainability, so as to "meet our obligations to the future in terms of carbon emissions, in terms of sustainability, in terms of conservation of biodiversity".

Lee continued that every single person has a part to play to contribute to creating a sustainable world for future generations.

"We want our young people to have reason to hope. And as adults... we all have a part to play. No one is too insignificant to contribute towards that vision. And I think the next generation not yet born, deserves it. And there's a lot more we will have to do.

COP26 is an important milestone. These meetings have always been difficult. But we hope that at every level, we will have that resolve to do the necessarily painful and difficult things. To make the adjustments we need to make to things you're so used to taking for granted, so that we collectively have a future for our children."

Top photo from JGIS / FB and Desmond Lee / FB