We Need Stronger Protections for our Nature Areas
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
The recent case of an area of the Kranji Woodlands being mistakenly cleared while an environmental baseline study was still ongoing has shocked many. In addition to investigating what went wrong, we need stronger legal protections for our nature areas so that this does not happen again. Read this to learn more, and write to your MPs about this! @theweirdandwild has prepared an email template that you can use as a guide: https://tinyurl.com/kranjiwoodlands
A site in the Kranji Woodlands meant for an Agri-Food Innovation Park was cleared by JTC’s contractor before a biodiversity baseline study could be completed. Most of the land had been rezoned for Agriculture use in the latest Master Plan 2019.
JTC claimed that the deforestation started erroneously in December 2020, but satellite images showed that it had been cleared starting as early as March 2020.
Current Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Guidelines
EIAs are not required for all developments. URA states:
"proposed development projects near sensitive areas, such as Nature Reserves, Nature Areas, marine and coastal areas, other areas of significant biodiversity or with potential trans-boundary impact, are subject to greater scrutiny."
However, it is not clear how many such “sensitive areas” have been identified, and how near a development site needs to be before a study is required.
In Oct 2020, the government announced changes to the EIA framework, which included new biodiversity impact assessment guidelines, making reports available online, and “greater upstream engagement of stakeholders”. (The Straits Times) The details of the framework are not publicly available nor codified in law, but MND said that it still can take action, e.g. against developers that fail to comply with wildlife-related requirements under the Wildlife Act. However, there do not seem to be any legal implications if developers do not adopt all of the recommendations of an EIA report. There are also no provisions for an EIA to include public participation, other than publishing the reports online.
Protect the Rights of Nature
Singapore has lost an incredible amount of its rich biodiversity due to development. Protection of whatever is left is crucial for both the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. In addition, allowing existing forests to grow to maturity has been shown to be more effective for storing carbon than planting new trees.
Even if environmental studies are conducted, their recommendations can be ignored or overridden. EIAs should be made mandatory for all large developments in natural areas to facilitate transparency and public participation. Opening up the engagement process to the general public instead of just a few nature groups will also allow for more participation and diverse views on the topic, in line with the government’s SG Together movement.
These changes, together with a recognition of Rights of Nature should be legally codified in our Constitution, as we have called for in our Greenwatch Policy Brief and 2020 Calls to Action. This will send a strong message that anyone who does not respect our natural areas will be held accountable.