How much greener has S'pore become under PM Lee's stewardship?

Transformed the city.

Ashley Tan | May 14, 2024, 09:11 PM



After two decades at the helm, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be handing the reins over to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on May 15.

One could say that the Singapore in 2004, when PM Lee first took on the mantle, is a far cry from the Singapore now.

In that span of time, the country's iconic Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay have sprung up, and Jewel Changi Airport has become the talk of the town among tourists and residents alike, among other major milestones.

Aside from the changes in the island's physical infrastructure, Singapore's natural landscape has transformed drastically as well.

And with the more pressing and capricious issue of climate change looming over the world, the Singapore government has increasingly focused on and prioritised sustainability amidst the country's development.

The emphasis on sustainability was clear when in 2020, the former Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources was renamed to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment that we all know now.

So here's a look back at how much Singapore has evolved, on the greener side of things, in the past 20 years.


While tracts of forest have been cleared, or are slated to be cleared, to make way for the ever persistent need for housing development, Singapore's greenery has seen an uptick in other areas as well.

Under the National Parks Board's (NParks) OneMillionTrees movement, which aims to transform the country into a "City in Nature", a million more trees are expected to be planted across Singapore by 2030.

As of April 2024, 691,674 trees have been planted.

And under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, 1,000 hectares of green spaces will be added by 2035.

Our urban areas have been greened as well.

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is a well-known example. Previously a concretised canal, the area was transformed into a verdant landscape as part of PUB's and NParks' Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme.

Not only is it a sight for sore eyes, the naturalised river, redesigned to resemble a floodplain, is now able to hold 40 per cent more water, which can help prevent flooding on stormy days.

Another notable achievement in the past two decades is Singapore's Eco-Link@BKE.

Having gone viral on social media, the bridge is a feat of engineering, and testament to Singapore's commitment to preserving our natural habitats and native wildlife.

And it has been working — for the first time ever, the critically endangered Raffles' banded langur was seen using the bridge, an indicator that the species could be expanding its habitat, fulfilling the bridge's purpose.


A true indication of whether Singapore's nature is flourishing is whether the wildlife that inhabit our green spaces are thriving too.

And it seems that the populations of various species have grown in leaps and bounds in the past few decades, mostly due in part to the government's efforts to improve habitat connectivity and keep key areas like the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve pristine.


The aforementioned Raffles' banded langurs in particular, are endemic to Singapore and Malaysia.

Their local population numbered around 10 in the 1980s, and the species was initially expected to go extinct due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Since then, through conservation efforts and habitat enhancement measures such as rope bridges, their numbers have risen to around 76 individuals, and is predicted to grow to 244 by 2071.


Another iconic animal in Singapore are the smooth-coated otters.

A species thought to be extinct in Singapore till the arrival of a pair at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in 1998, the squeaky critters have since taken over the country's waterways, and now number around 170, much to the joy of some and the consternation of others.

Their return and thriving numbers are also a positive indicator of Singapore's water quality.

Sambar deer

Meanwhile, one of the country's largest mammals, the sambar deer, have made a comeback, from three individuals in 1997, to an estimated 60 now.

Waste management

Since 2004, there has been an increased focus on recycling and proper waste management.

Blue recycling bins were progressively rolled out to every estate in Singapore at the start of the century, and they are now a common sight at the foot of most HDB blocks.

As PM Lee once urged at the 2014 launch of a clean and green campaign, "If we keep sending rubbish to Semakau at our current rate, it will run out of space by 2035."

"We will turn Pulau Semakau into Bukit Semakau," he said, using the Malay word for "hill".

And recycling rates have improved — from 48 per cent in 2004 to 57 per cent in 2022, according to the National Environment Agency.

The amount of waste recycled also grew from 2.3 million tonnes a year in 2004 to 4.2 million tonnes a year in 2022.

Perhaps another major change most keenly felt by Singaporeans, and which might have been met by some opposition at the start, was the implementation of a plastic bag charge to encourage consumers to be more mindful about the disposables they use.

Since the charge though, plastic bag usage at local supermarkets has gone down by 50 to 80 per cent.


As temperatures increase worldwide due to climate change, Singapore isn't spared either. Last year was one of Singapore's warmest years on record, and 2024's set to get even more sweltering.

And to make serious its commitment to climate action, the country has the ambitious goal of committing to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Steps taken to reduce our carbon emissions include raising carbon taxes, and exploring more sustainable forms of energy generation, such as hydrogen and geothermal energy.

The government is even contemplating the feasibility of nuclear energy.

As President Tharman summed up pretty well in his letter to PM Lee accepting his resignation, and praising the latter's achievements during his "four decades of selfless service in government":

"You transformed our living environment, and set us on a path towards climate sustainability".

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Top photo from Lee Hsien Loong / FB, Otterwatch / FB and NEA