My feedback to Housing & Development Board (HDB) for Bayshore environmental study

Here is my feedback to HDB for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on Bayshore forest.

I appreciate that the EIA and Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP) have been arranged for the regenerating scrubland and secondary forest in Bayshore area, which I noted has been fully reclaimed from the sea by the 1980s and zoned for development in 2003.

Firstly, according to the executive summary page 1, the “baseline ecological surveys were conducted between 25 April and 21 July 2022”. Given the considerable size (31.4 ha) of the study area, which is about the same size as Dover forest (33 ha), and the fact that the survey was conducted outside the bird migratory season (September to March), I think that the 54 avifauna species recorded in the EIA may not be fully representative of the bird demographics that use Bayshore forest as a core habitat and/or ecological corridor or stopover between the forested areas around Sungei Serangoon water catchment area in the north and the linear forests south of East Coast Parkway (ECP).

Bayshore forest may serve as a core habitat and stopover for resident and migratory birds. For instance, the vulnerable Buffy fish owls have been spotted in the eastern side of Singapore, and it is not inconceivable that they may use Bayshore forest as a feeding ground and/or ecological corridor too. (Map adapted from URA/NParks for illustration only)

During my short recce at Bayshore area on 21 November 2022, I saw some birds resembling parakeets flying around Upper East Coast Road (though I couldn’t make out their exact species from a distance). Together with other vulnerable species such as Rusty-breasted cuckoos and Red-legged crakes as well as endangered Blue-crowned hanging parrots, Changeable hawk-eagles, Oriental magpie robins and Red junglefowl, these birds may have nesting or roosting sites within Bayshore area.

The scrubland may double up as a freshwater marsh during rainy seasons, acting as a carbon sink and a refugium for waterbirds such as the vulnerable red-legged crakes. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

If the entire forest were to be decimated for housing and road development, many of these birds would become homeless and would be forced to relocate to other forests where they have to compete with other forest-dependent birds for food and shelter.

Some of these birds may also be forced to nest or roost in roadside trees close to houses and apartments in urbanised or residential areas, such as Bedok, Siglap and so on, where they may face fierce competitions from urban-adaptive birds such as Javan mynahs, or they may be considered a nuisance by human residents, due to noise (like in the case of parakeets, as many of them were recently captured and/or culled in Choa Chu Kang, unfortunately due to their being displaced from Tengah forest as a result of deforestation and habitat loss in the vicinity).

Secondly, I noted from page 1 of the executive summary that “the Developments are located primarily on reclaimed land with an exotic-dominated secondary forest”. To me, land reclamation does not necessarily give humans the right to own the land, as it ultimately belongs to Mother Nature, to whom we owe our existence. We also owe our ability to reclaim the land partly to other countries where sand mining was carried out. As noted in an article, “instances of land erosion, community displacement, floods, or droughts in obscure parts of our Southeast Asia neighbours — all of which can be linked to Singapore’s land reclamation pursuits.”

Therefore, could we rethink our relationship with the reclaimed land of Bayshore, just like we have chosen to conserve most of the forest in Coney island which was mostly reclaimed too, and enhance the biodiversity of Gardens by the Bay which was also created on reclaimed land?

My fauna sightings include dragonflies, spiders, a snail shell and a palm civet’s poop. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Thirdly, during my recce at Bayshore forest on 21 November afternoon, I encountered many mosquitoes in the stretch of the forest between Bayshore MRT station construction site and ECP, and I had to swat at the mosquitoes that were biting my arms every few minutes.

Despite the presence of dragonflies, which are natural predators of the mosquitoes and other insects, the mosquitoes appear to proliferate in the area, most probably due to the forest ecosystem having been disturbed by the ongoing construction works in the vicinity.

A dragonfly seen in Bayshore forest. Since the profusion of mosquitoes is a sign of a disturbed ecosystem in this forest, restoring ecological health through habitat enhancement, such as improving water quality for frogs and incorporating dragonfly ponds (like the one in HDB’s Punggol Northshore), is vital to control the disease-carrying mosquito populations. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

We need healthy ecosystems, such as the relatively undisturbed mature secondary forests in Windsor nature park and Bukit Batok nature park, where frogs and dragonflies thrive, in order to curb mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively. You need not have to take my word for it, as you could visit the aforementioned forests and check for yourself, for we cannot care for what we do not know experientially. I believe that your forest experiences will tally with the observations below:

“Urbanization, habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, as well as chemically-intensive landscape management and agriculture have all led to disruptions in ecosystems. While mosquitoes can readily breed in poor-quality sites created by human disturbance, other organisms, including many of the predators that naturally control mosquitoes, require higher quality habitat. Pesticides that are used to try to control mosquitoes may actually be making matters worse as mosquitoes become resistant to the pesticides, while natural predators and other invertebrates are killed or harmed, which throws aquatic food webs out of balance.” (“Ecological mosquito management” by City of Boulder Natural Climate Solutions)

Therefore, could we apply similar ecological mosquito management, such as the one recommended in section 1.2.10 “Biodiversity-sensitive insect pest control practices” in Springleaf forest EIS report commissioned by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and also conserve and restore at least 20-40 percent of the forest to improve ecological health and support natural predators and other invertebrates such as spiders, so as to control disease-carrying mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively?

Poop of a palm civet, who plays an important role in the ecosystem as biological pest control and seed disperser for maintaining and improving the health of Singapore forests, as seen in Bayshore forest. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Fourthly, since palm civets live in Bayshore forest, as noted in the EIA report and evidenced by the presence of their poop on the forest floor, it would be good to not only ensure they have sizeable habitats to live in, but also to build drain culverts or tunnels to enable the civets and other ground-dwelling creatures, such as monitor lizards, otters and snakes, to move or escape to the wooded area across ECP for their long-term survival.

Otherwise, the civets will be forced to move to residential areas nearby where they have been sighted more often in recent years, as noted by Ms Xu Weiting, an instructor (ecology, evolution and biodiversity) at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences: “The seemingly high encounter rates could be a combination of factors, which include increased awareness of local wildlife over the years, ease of reporting sightings on social media and also clearing of forest patches, which has led to civets dispersing out into nearby areas.”

Culverts act as underpasses for animals that prefer more privacy, like the common palm civet. (Photo of NParks poster by Jimmy Tan)

Although certified wildlife handling contractors or animal management specialists will be at hand to help relocate the animals to safer grounds during the construction phase, extra care should be taken to prevent or minimise incidences of roadkill and human-wildlife conflicts as a result of the forest-dependent animals being displaced from their habitats.

This is because the animals may end up injured or dead if they are not shepherded or captured for release under safe conditions, as illustrated in a recent case of a palm civet having to be euthanised after getting burnt on a hot stove in a coffee shop during an apparently botched attempt by the contractor to capture it.

My flora sightings at Bayshore forest include fish-tail palms, bird’s nest ferns and angsana trees. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Last but not least, while certain native flora species, such as fish-tail palms and bird’s nest ferns, may be common species, they are essential for supporting native fauna, including endangered species, thus ensuring functional biodiversity and optimal ecological health in Bayshore forest. As also noted in Tengah North Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report (page 185), “it is important to recognize that both common and rare species contribute ecological functions in an ecosystem.”

Fruits of a fish-tail palm provide food for a wide variety of common and uncommon wildlife species. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

For example, the fruits of fish-tail palms, which are found growing in Bayshore forest, provide food for squirrels, palm civets and a variety of birds, including the critically endangered Oriental pied hornbills (who may use Bayshore forest as a stepping stone in the East Coast vicinity even if they are not recorded in the EIA report), who are also seed dispersers.

Bayshore forest is one of the few remaining relatively biodiverse forests in the eastern part of Singapore that are dense and sizeable enough to cool the urban heat island effect considerably in the surrounding area. According to NParks, “denser tree canopies reflect radiant heat and cool our surface and ambient temperatures through shade and evapo-transpiration, and help to mitigate the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect and climate change.” (Maps by and NParks)

In summary, given the urgency of climate emergency, threat of biodiversity loss and public health risks, may we implement or adapt the following measures?

1. Conserve at least 20-40 percent of Bayshore forest so that the densely growing trees can cool the rising urban heat island effect, mitigate floods and rising sea level along the East Coast, support forest-dependent birds and other wildlife, promote ecological health and prevent dengue outbreaks, as well as protect residents’ physical health and mental well-being.

The forest and marsh in Bayshore can function as a nature-based solution to help mitigate floods to some extent by absorbing excess water. (Map from the Straits Times, 19 August 2019)

2. Build in advance drain culverts across ECP to connect Bayshore forest and East Coast park woodland to ensure safe movements of palm civets and other animals.

3. Restore some degraded parts of the forest and create dragonfly ponds to support natural predators of mosquitoes and other pest insects, so as to prevent dengue and other disease outbreaks effectively, without resorting to harmful chemical pesticides (which inadvertently make mosquitoes more resistant).

4. Build taller buildings and redevelop brownfield sites elsewhere if need be, in order to optimise land use and ensure sustainable development, besides adopting a more sustainable economic model such as degrowth or Doughnut.

5. Implement measures to discourage short-term property investment/speculation that artificially boosts housing demand and makes it more difficult for genuine long-term home buyers (such as young couples getting married and starting a family) to buy a new Build To Order (BTO) flat, such as extending the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) from 5 years to 10 years or longer.

Over-emphasising subsidised public housing as asset investment has its drawbacks, such as inflating housing demands (mostly by property investors eager to make quick profits who sell their flats upon fulfilling the 5-year MOP), which result in oversubscribed new BTO flats in popular housing estates, and habitat loss and fragmentation for the flora and fauna wherever the forests are cleared for housing development, thus reducing our climate resilience and compromising our well-being and long-term survival. (Article by the Sunday Times, 20 November 2022)

Thank you for reading.

(Last updated on 12 December 2022)


Loss of ecological connectivity along Bukit Batok Nature Corridor is a serious concern, in view of Singapore’s commitment to sustainable development

Sustainable development should prioritise climate resilience, biodiversity protection and people’s well-being, not just having more housing or wider roads

Over the past decades, Singapore has witnessed a number of negative environmental impacts of rapid deforestation and urbanisation, such as floods, landslides, animal roadkill, human-wildlife conflicts and disease outbreaks – many of which are unprecedented.

One root cause of such environmental problems is capitalism, which is recognised to have generated massive wealth for some, while also devastated the planet and failed to improve human well-being at scale.

Lately, I learnt that an alternative economic model is gaining traction in today’s world, in which we are grappling with climate change, biodiversity loss, and threats to our well-being.

It is called the Doughnut economic model, conceived by Oxford University economist Kate Raworth for promoting respect for our social foundation and ecological ceiling.

The doughnut economics conceptual model. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It has been adopted by major cities, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Melbourne, and has also been proposed by Red Dot United (RDU) and Singapore youths’ 2022 SG Green Policy Paper, in the hope to address the issues of widening inequality and climate emergency.

After all, a growing GDP doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful society when the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, or when environmental degradation affects our well-being, quality of life and survival.

Those of us who are less well-off are also more vulnerable to the negative consequences of human-induced climate change, due to lack of or inadequate access to air cooling and/or healthcare services.

To date, six of the nine planetary boundaries, including climate change and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed, according to researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Disruption of ecological connectivity between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok being cleared for roadworks is regrettable

In the light of the aforementioned environmental impacts, I am deeply concerned about the clearance of a patch of secondary forest in Bukit Batok during the ongoing road-widening works, which was done without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Not only it results in a loss of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, cooling of urban heat island effect and prevention of soil erosion and landslides, it also disrupts safe movements of wildlife between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor.

Notably, the loss of about 1 ha of the forest in this area is equivalent to 483 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (or the equivalent of the annual emissions of over 150 cars), if we consider the fact that Singapore has lost 201 ha of tree cover, equivalent to 97,200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, last year.

Annual tree cover loss through deforestation in Singapore from 2001 to 2021 (Source: Global Forest Watch)

While we note from a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman that “detailed environmental studies were not needed when the project was first proposed in 2016 as the works mainly impacted the fringes of secondary forest dominated by rubber trees”, and that “the project will cater to the expected increase in traffic in the vicinity”, many things have changed since 2016.

Expected increase in traffic in the vicinity is questionable

Firstly, more people have been studying and working from home ever since the Covid-19 pandemic took place in 2020, and this trend is likely to continue as many schools and companies have learnt to be flexible in dealing with any such future pandemics.

Secondly, LTA has been promoting their vision for a car-lite Singapore since 2016, such as encouraging more people to walk, cycle, share cars or take public transport.

So, it is questionable as to whether traffic will increase in the vicinity as much as it was expected in 2016, since car drivers can choose to use greener transport modes, or travel via alternative routes, or adjust their travelling schedules to avoid any peak hour congestion where possible.

As a resident of Bukit Batok, my own observations show that the roads around Bukit Batok nature park have light traffic most of the time, and the peak hour traffic in the morning and evening seldom builds up beyond each cycle of traffic light changes at the road junction (see below videos for reference).

Another resident of Bukit Batok also noted that “the roadworks may be necessary, but it seems the road is being made unnecessarily wide, considering that the traffic jam occurs at only certain hours of the day”.

Moreover, in my feedback to LTA via One Service app in February 2022, I wrote that the Right Turn storage lane from Bukit Batok East Ave 6 to Bukit Batok East Ave 2 could be extended to accommodate more vehicles, so there was no real or urgent need to widen the road to the extent of encroaching on the existing pavements and trees.

The lack of space in the Right Turn storage lane results in a gap in the middle lane of Bukit Batok East Ave 6 when vehicles are waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Extending the storage lane can significantly ease traffic congestion during peak hours without having to widen this road. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)
The Left Turn slip road along Bukit Batok East Avenue 2 can accommodate one more lane to ease the short traffic jams during peak hours (which usually happen only on weekdays), so the trees along the edge of Toh Tuck Forest on the opposite side of the road junction need not be removed for road widening. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

While I understand from LTA that the widening of the junctions within Bukit Batok leading to Hillview and Dairy Farm is meant to enhance connectivity and support the growth in new and future residential and commercial developments in these neighbouring areas, I wonder how many people buy property just to sell them in 5-10 years upon meeting the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) to make quick profits, instead of staying long-term?

“Many of my peers who are also applying for a BTO unit or have already booked one seem to have this more dispassionate view: They believe it is a no-brainer that one should sell a BTO unit as soon as possible, while it is still relatively new, so as to reap sizable profits.”

– Ng Jui Sen “Adulting 101: My first BTO flat — a home to sink roots and build a family or a money spinner?” (TODAY, 31 July 2021)

Such a situation will invariably (and artificially) boost housing demands (whether for long-term homes or short-term investment or upgrading), and property developers will constantly need new land space or forests to clear to build more Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and condos. Is that sustainable, as compared to redeveloping previously developed or under-utilised lands (and perhaps also lengthening the MOP for new BTO flats in former forested lands to discourage people from speculating in property at the expense of the forests)?

Also, although Singapore’s population growth rate has risen from 1.3% in 2016 to 3.4% in 2022, most of the growth comes from PRs and non-citizens, including wealthy foreign investors who tend to make bulk purchases of private properties, and many investors may buy the properties to rent or sell them for quick profits instead of staying there long-term.

Thus, if we keep building on new condos in the vicinity to cater to such frivolous housing demands instead of redeveloping brownfield sites for genuine home buyers, we not only may make it more difficult for Singaporeans to find affordable public housing given the space constraints, but also unwittingly sacrifice our precious few forest habitats to widen roads mainly to cater to the rich and privileged who drive cars.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in ecologically sensitive areas should be mandatory

In recent years, the Ministry of National Development (MND) has been strengthening EIA frameworks, such as in 2020 when Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spelt out that an environmental study must be done if the development works are located close to an area of ecological significance, such as the nature reserves, nature areas, marine and coastal areas, other areas of significant biodiversity or with potential trans-boundary impact.

While LTA has done well to ensure that an EIA was done for the North-South corridor project in Sembawang woods, and for the Cross Island Line projects in Central Catchment nature reserve and the forested areas in Eng Neo Ave, Turf Club, Clementi forest, Maju forest and Windsor nature park to mitigate environmental impacts, it is regrettable that they neglect to do so for the road widening project between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor, as both nature areas have been studied and established to be highly biodiverse and ecologically sensitive.

We have seen how over the years previous development projects done in forested areas without any EIA have serious negative impacts on wildlife and human residents, such as in Punggol, Pasir Ris, Tampines and Hougang.

For example, the loss of forest habitats in Punggol and Pasir Ris have resulted in human-wildlife conflicts, resulting in injuries to unfortunate passers-by caused by the displaced wild boars, and the injured residents had to bear medical costs and possibly experienced post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time.

The loss of secondary forests, such as in Tampines bike park and in Hougang, have also contributed to flash floods during intense rain, causing vehicles to stall and resulting in inconvenience, distress and costs of damage for the drivers.

All these negative impacts on humans and the environment might have been prevented if an EIA had been conducted and there were mitigation measures (such as wildlife shepherding and retaining of sizeable forested areas to minimise the effects of habitat fragmentation and loss) in place.

As it were, the lack of an EIA for the road widening project in Bukit Batok to mitigate environmental impacts of the forest fragmentation is disappointing, as it suggests a disregard for climate change mitigation, wildlife movements, ecological connectivity, and human safety and well-being.

As colugos live on tall trees and move between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest, they may suffer chronic stress, fertility problems and change their migration routes in response to the construction noise and loss of tall trees along the road in the vicinity. Furthermore, if the forest patch next to Bukit Batok hillside nature park (which is part of Bukit Batok nature corridor) is cleared for housing development, it will further disrupt ecological connectivity and affect safe movements of wildlife. (Sources: NParks, ST Graphics, HDB, Our Singapore Facebook page)

Already, an uncommon native Sunda colugo, an arboreal forest-dependent animal that lives and glides among trees, was found to be stranded in a car park next to Block 271, Bukit Batok East Ave 4, late last month. It is likely to have been affected by the loss of mature trees between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest due to the roadworks, which suggests that the mitigation measures LTA had discussed with NParks have not worked as well as they should.

As noted by National University of Singapore (NUS) biology lecturer N. Sivasothi, “the affected forest patches are located near the intersection of the Bukit Batok and the Clementi nature corridors, which might impact on the wildlife moving between western catchment forests to the central nature reserves.”

“These nature corridors are important pathways for animals to travel between areas of high biodiversity, which help rejuvenate green fragments. If the link is broken, green fragments become cut off from ecosystem functions available in a mature forest.”

– Mr Sivasothi, “Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok cleared for roadworks” (The Straits Times, 26 October 2022)

If naturalists and nature groups had not spoken up about this issue, I wonder if LTA and National Parks Board (NParks) would have reinforced their efforts to mitigate such impacts?

Both Bukit Batok hillside park Hill 1 and 2 (which include new HDB BTO sites) are part of Bukit Batok nature corridor, as identified by NParks’ Ecological Profiling Exercise.

In addition, given the fact that an EIA is being carried out along Bukit Batok nature corridor (which Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) Hill 1 and 2 are a part of) since end 2021 and is expected to take about 15 months upon commencement, shouldn’t the respective agency or contractor allow for the proper environmental studies to be done, to ensure wildlife, flora and fauna could be properly managed, before deciding whether (and how much) to clear or conserve any part of the forest (like in the case of the erroneous clearance of part of Kranji woodlands last year)?

Wouldn’t the ongoing removal of vegetation at BBHP Hill 2 (as well as the planned deforestation for the November 2022 launch of BTO site in BBHP Hill 1) further disrupt ecological connectivity, which might also further impact the wildlife (such as the uncommon native Sunga colugos, critically endangered pangolins, forest-dependent palm civets, endangered long-tailed macaques, etc) moving between western water catchment forests (via Tengah nature way and Bukit Batok nature corridor) and the central nature reserves?

The collage of photos show soil erosion and loss of ecological connectivity in Bukit Batok nature corridor over the past couple of years. The landslide at Bukit Batok nature park in September 2021 may be seen as a consequence of our planetary boundaries, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, having been exceeded. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

Early this month, at the time of writing, representatives from Singapore are attending the COP27 United Nations climate talks in Egypt – can we really present our revised climate targets on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 with a clear conscience when we continue to clear carbon-absorbing forests right in our own backyard for road widening to accommodate more vehicles (many of which are carbon-emitting)?

Similarly, how can naturalists, nature groups and the general public have trust in our governance of wild green spaces if the authorities fail to respect NParks’s Ecological Profiling Exercise in the aforementioned nature corridors?

I believe that Singapore can do better than merely coming up with promising solutions that may end up being little more than greenwashing than actually dealing with the environmental problems.

In view of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health crisis facing us, may I recommend the following solutions to prevent incidents, such as the clearance of part of a wildlife corridor, from happening again?

  1. Create or appoint an independent, non-governmental agency or organisation with regulatory teeth to ensure that there are proper checks and balances regarding environmental studies, since NParks may not have sufficient clout to enforce their own regulations when it comes to working with other government agencies, such as LTA and Housing & Development Board (HDB).
  2. Consult nature groups at the earliest possible stage of any development project involving ecologically sensitive nature areas, so as to ensure accountability and transparency of the relevant policies and mitigation measures.
  3. Adopt the degrowth or Doughnut economic model to ensure that we respect our social foundation and ecological ceiling, so that every Singaporean will lead their life with dignity, opportunity and community within the means of our environment.
  4. Increase MOP from 5 years to 10 or more years for new BTO flats (especially those that will be built in greenfield sites), so as to discourage people from buying new property purely for short-term investments and profits at the expense of the forests and forest-dependent wildlife.
  5. Avoid any further deforestation along Bukit Batok nature corridor (including BBHP Hill 1 and 2 area) and in Tengah forest, so as to maintain ecological connectivity, climate resilience and a liveable environment for humans and wildlife between Western water catchment and Central catchment nature reserve, and focus on redeveloping brownfield sites elsewhere.

P.S. To support the conservation of (the rest of) Bukit Batok Hillside Park area so as to ensure a sustainable future, click here.

To support the preservation of at least 30-50% of Tengah forest so as to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency, click here.

Plant rescue at Dover Forest East

29 September 2022 felt like one of the longest days in my life.

I attended a plant rescue programme at Dover Forest East in the morning, which was organised by Nature Society Singapore (NSS), in collaboration with National Parks Board (NParks) and Housing & Development Board (HDB).

The event was supervised by NSS reforestation officer Chua Chin Tat.

I witnessed how the dedicated volunteers dug up saplings and placed them in bags for transplanting.

After the event, I had lunch with some of the volunteers and learnt much from their sharing of knowledge and experiences in various fields –

from hiking to recycling to scavenging to food security to nature conservation.

Then I cycled to Alexandra Woods for a recce via Green Rail Corridor before starting my dinner delivery shift at Bukit Merah area.

After the shift, I decided to make my way back via the Green Corridor in the dark of the night.

I was glad for the bright front lights for my bicycle and the improved surface of the greenway, which help to ensure safety.

Somehow, I am reminded that when it is darkest, we shine the brightest, even though things around us may look bleak, in view of the existential crises facing us.

“Our planet has been wounded by our actions. Those wounds won’t be healed today, or tomorrow, or the next, but they can be healed by degrees.” – Barack Obama, COP26 speech, November 2021

My feedback on Singapore’s revised climate targets

  1. Singapore has stated that we intend to achieve net zero emissions by or around mid-century. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is:

Not sufficiently ambitious

  1. What is a suitable year to reach net zero?


  1. Should we enhance Singapore’s 2030 NDC which currently pledges to peak emissions at 65 MtCO2e around 2030? What should our 2030 NDC ambition be and why?

Please see SG Climate Rally and Lepak in SG’s recommendations.

  1. What can the Government do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?

Renewable energy may not be as green as it sounds, though it is less pollutive than fossil fuels.

This is because extracting cobalt and other minerals for manufacturing electric vehicles etc through mining in Congo etc and proposed deep-sea mining has serious environmental and human rights concerns.

In comparison, conserving and restoring forests and mangroves is a more cost-effective and less resource-intensive nature-based solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (as well as protecting biodiversity and boosting public health and well-being).

That means putting an indefinite moratorium to deforestation, instead of just replanting trees while continuing to sacrifice secondary rainforests.

At the end of the day, our priorities should be focused on life and death issues (aka existential crisis of climate change fuelled by unrelenting deforestation and urbanisation) rather than comfort and convenience (aka insatiable demand for housing for upgrading and investment, excessive consumption lifestyles, etc).

  1. What can businesses and industries do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?

Pay carbon tax et al for deforestation to compensate lower income residents affected by the loss of ecosystem services in Singapore.

  1. What can individuals and communities do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?

Consume less. Cycle, walk, take public transport. Don’t use (buy & sell) property at the expense of our forests and mental health just for investment to make quick profits. Learn to be contented in life and do no harm to oneself and others.

A highly urbanised environment in Ang Mo Kio housing estate, where a forest reserve once stood in the 1930s.

7. While there may be trade-offs or inconveniences, I am willing to contribute / play my part in helping Singapore realise its net zero ambition.

I agree to play my part in helping Singapore realise its net zero ambition.

8. Do you have any other thoughts on Singapore’s climate ambition that you wish to share?

Replace “grow at all costs” economic model with degrowth or donut economic model or equivalent. Please see attached link for details.

P.S. In case what I have shared above is seen in a negative light, I was expressing my wish to the government for them to be more mindful to the less privileged who are most affected by the effects of rapid deforestation and urbanisation. It isn’t about anti-development or anti-housing, as it is about sustainable development where everyone has equal rights to housing and health and well-being, instead of only the minority of the ultra rich and megacorporations who keep on encroaching limited green spaces to profit themselves, at the expense of the general populace and the natural environment, including native flora and fauna.

Lianhe Zaobao interview: The future of our survival as a nation depends on how sustainable our development is

Yesterday, Lianhe Zaobao (Chinese morning daily newspaper) had a special feature “Non-zero-sum game of ecological conservation and urban development“.

Here’s a rough translation of the opening paragraphs of the article in English.

This is a familiar argument: the island-state (of Singapore) has a small land area and a large population. For economic development and urban housing construction, nature has to be sacrificed; no matter how important nature conservation work is, it must give way to economic development.

But must ecological protection and urban development be a zero-sum game where you have to choose one of the two?”

In response to the above question, the following are some excerpts of my answers that I have given to the interview questions posed by journalist Tan Ying Zhen.

At that time of starting the petition to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area last September, I didn’t really know what to expect because it was my first time creating a petition and it was a steep learning curve. I also had to find a balance between coming across as too demanding and too soft in my approach when I eventually wrote an open petition letter to the key decision makers. I sought to cite as many credible sources as I could find in order to back my observations and suggestions.

At the beginning, I had thought I would be lucky if at least 1,000 signatures were collected, in order to show that this issue matters to not just a handful of concerned residents. I was pleasantly surprised to find that more than 13,000 people have supported the petition so far.

By late last year, the news announced that about half of the BBHP area will be designated as the new Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park. However, my petition didn’t really move HDB to agree to conserve the entire BBHP area. Instead, HDB went ahead to launch BTO flats in one plot of land within the forested area in February 2021. They have also started to install fences around part of the area this month, apparently to prepare for partial clearance of the forest for housing development.

Because of that, I am not satisfied with their response. I am still gathering data and following the latest news updates and conversations on nature conservation, in the hope to engage HDB again for further feedback. I have written a blog to summarise how housing development in BBHP area would most likely adversely affect the natural habitats and biodiversity.

In spite of the disappointment, perhaps one consolation I could find is that the petition has at least helped to bring awareness to more people about the urgent need to conserve our few remaining secondary forests in order to maintain our biodiversity and deal with the climate emergency effectively.

More and more people expressing concerns about environmental issues

Singapore has been heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, mainly due to rapid deforestation and urbanisation resulting in increasing urban heat island effect. According to, the annual mean temperature in Singapore has been rising steadily from 26 degrees Celsius in the 1970s to 28.5 degrees Celsius in 2019. The maximum daily temperatures are also predicted to reach 35-37 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

Since the rising temperatures affect our health and well-being as well as quality of life, more and more people acknowledge the urgency of climate change emergency and the need to retain our few remaining sizeable dense forests, which are much more effective than fragmented parks, gardens and roadside trees in cooling the surroundings.

I think that many of our youths are more willing to admit the fact that we have serious environmental problems because they have observed keenly in their formative years the destructiveness of our modern capitalistic system on our natural habitats and wildlife (and ultimately on ourselves).

Many of them are also more willing to speak up as they are usually filled with idealism and vigour, wanting to deal with these problems proactively (despite feeling at a loss about what they can actually do at their young age to make a significant difference).

In contrast, many of us adults have been too caught up with various responsibilities of work and family as we seek to make ends meet in order to deal with the rising cost of living, to the point where we hardly have the time and energy to think or do much about environmental issues.

Possible to have win-win situation through sustainable development

I think that conservation doesn’t always mean that we have to sacrifice development, and that it is possible to have a win-win situation (which to me is about sustainable development, which ensures the well-being and survival of ourselves and our future generations).

It is because we can ask ourselves what “development” means to us. If need be, we can redefine “development” in order to be able to “develop” in such a way that is in harmony with Nature as far as possible.

Development usually means growth, maturity, advancement, etc.

But let’s go one step further: why do we need to develop, grow, mature and advance?

Although every individual may have their own answer, one common denominator that we all share as human beings, regardless of language, race or religion, is that we all want to be happy.

To me, a win-win situation is all about first rediscovering that we are already self-sufficient and we don’t need to depend on material wealth and status to define our worth, so that our mindset will naturally translate into our actions and lifestyles that support sustainable development (such as redeveloping brownfield sites, repurposing underutilised lands, recycling, reusing and reducing waste, etc).

My feedback to HDB on the environmental baseline findings of Dover-Ulu Pandan Forest

With a high biodiversity of (at least) 158 fauna species and 120 flora species, including critically endangered species, as well as having a rich heritage of former kampongs, farms and plantations, Dover Forest has the potential of attaining a UNESCO World Heritage status. In fact, its potential status may equal or even exceed that of Singapore Botanic Gardens. After all, Dover Forest is more local than colonial and is also more wild than cultivated or manicured.
According to the Environmental Baseline Study, the Dover/Ulu Pandan study area is “not located near to any Singapore Nature Reserve”. However, it is actually closely connected to Clementi Forest (which leads to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) and Green Corridor via Ulu Pandan PCN (which runs towards Southern Ridges). Thus, Dover Forest should be considered an ecologically sensitive area instead of vacant vegetated land.

I am a resident of Bukit Batok, and I work as a freelance writer, editor, photographer and videographer. I have worked with the Ministry of Education on Geography textbook projects for secondary schools, and I am also the author of the open petition letter in support of the conservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area to ensure a sustainable future for us.

Although I don’t live near Dover-Ulu Pandan Forest (aka Dover Forest), I occasionally cycle around the vicinity, due to my shifts in Clementi zone or Bukit Timah zone as a part-time food delivery cyclist. I can vouch for the fact that the air there often feels cooler and fresher, especially along the Ulu Pandan Park Connector Network (PCN), thanks to the presence of Dover Forest next to it.

Does Dover forest have no economic value? Well, it actually has immeasurable worth in terms of its ecosystem services, such as cooling the surroundings, purifying the air, preventing flash floods, providing food and shelter to support forest-dependent wildlife (including pollinators and seed dispersers), and so on.

In fact, it is found that a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than 10 air-conditioning units, and trees can filter air pollution, “improving our health and that of the planet”, according to Ms Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). She also said:

one of the best technologies for tackling overheating cities was invented long before humans appeared: trees” 

Dover Forest: Don’t sacrifice trees for space” (Straits times forum, 18 February 2021)

Does that mean we can replace Dover Forest with residential buildings, so long as we incorporate some greenery by planting trees around the new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats to cool the air?

No, I don’t think that is advisable in view of the climate change facing us. Instead, I strongly suggest that we should conserve Dover Forest entirely as a nature park-cum-public park (as also proposed by Nature Society), rather than destroy the forest partially or wholly for housing development.

How Dover Forest helps to deal with climate change: Size and density matter

Climate change is an existential threat caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions due to rapid deforestation, urbanisation and industrialisation in Singapore and around the world. Every day, automobiles and factories running on fossil fuels emit tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and there are fewer and fewer trees available to serve as carbon sinks.

Annual mean temperature in Singapore from 1948 to 2019. (Source: Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world – with maximum daily temperatures predicted to reach 35-37 degrees Celsius by year 2100.

In view of the climate change, we need every sizeable forest (of at least 10 ha), such as Dover Forest, in order to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, such as global warming, more frequent extreme weather changes resulting in flash floods or droughts, as well as increased danger to food security and biodiversity.

We must not forget that Singapore is located at 1 degree north of the Equator and experiences a hot, humid and wet climate. Hence, all the negative effects of climate change pose a significant threat to our safety, health and well-being, as well as quality of life, and ultimately our very survival as a human species in the long-term.

As Singapore is located just above the Equator, it receives the direct impact of the Sun’s rays during daytime. By default, our tropical island is blessed with tropical rainforests and mangrove forests that help cushion the full intensity of the Sun’s heat. Now that we have lost about 95% of our original rainforests, we are much more vulnerable to the suffocating heat of the sun and global warming than the rest of the world. Only about a third of the island is covered by trees today, which is insufficient for our optimal living and functioning in our daily lives since the trees exist mostly in fragmented areas.

On 1 February 2021, the Singapore Parliament rightfully stated:

“That this House acknowledges that climate change is a global emergency and a threat to mankind and calls on the Government, in partnership with the private sector, civil society and the people of Singapore, to deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore.”

Parliament declares climate change a global emergency (Straits Times, 1 February 2021)

Although the Singapore Green Plan 2030 has called for 1,000 hectares to be set aside for green spaces and one more million more trees to be planted across our island, it fails to include our responsibility to conserve our remaining dense secondary forests and redevelop brownfield sites instead of sacrificing our forests.

Studies have shown that sizeable forests that are at least 10 ha in area are more effective in cooling the surroundings than fragmented green spaces (such as many of our small parks and gardens).

For example, a research article reveals that:

“The results of the present study illustrate that the highest cooling effect distance and cooling effect intensity are for large urban parks with an area of more than 10 ha; however, in addition to the area, the natural elements and qualities of the urban green spaces, as well as climate characteristics, highly inform the urban green space cooling effect.”

Urban green space cooling effect in cities, Heliyon, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 2019, e01339

With an area of more than 30 ha of mainly densely growing trees (except for the small patch of grassland in the middle), Dover forest is considered sizeable enough for providing a significant cooling effect on the surroundings, which is more effective than that provided by our smaller parks and gardens, or roadside trees for that matter.

The mist above Dover Forest in the morning is a clear testimony of how the evapotranspiration from the densely growing trees has helped to cool the surrounding air significantly. We would be hard pressed to see such mist in our small, sparsely vegetated parks and gardens.

[to be continued as it takes time to put together the latest data]

Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: First forest tour of the new year 2021 and notes on nature conservation

View of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from Bukit Gombak

The year 2021 is off to a cool start, as we are currently experiencing the northeast monsoon season and La Nina effect, which have been bringing intense storms in the Southeast Asian region.

Due to the prolonged monsoon rains during the first couple of days of the new year, the temperature in Singapore dropped to as low as 21.2 degrees Celsius on Saturday, 2 January 2021.

The rain abated by Sunday morning, 3 January, thankfully, as about 20 participants and I were able to embark on our first forest tour of the year at Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area.

As we are now in Phase 3 of COVID-19 circuit breaker, we divided ourselves into smaller groups for safe distancing during the tour.

Approximate route taken by the tour groups. We saw a huge fig tree near the stream. Considering that there are a number of fairly mature trees providing ecosystem services in the lower elevation parts of the forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is worth conserving in its entirety, instead of having parts of the area destroyed and developed for housing.
Little forest creatures, such as slugs and butterflies, were seen in the hillside park area.
An immersive hiking experience in the cool interior of the surreal forest in our backyard, which is reminiscent of the mossy forest in Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
View of the surroundings from the lookout point atop the hill. We could see the destruction of Tengah forest for housing development going on behind the new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats under construction.
Grey or green environment? The kind of future we want to create is in the hands of our current and future generations.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Hiking in the forest is good for our physical and mental health. Exposure to the phytoncides given off by trees and other plants boosts our immune system. We need to preserve the lower elevation parts of the forest as well, for ease of access for both native wildlife and hikers from all walks of life.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Our forest is the lungs of the Earth. While it is good to replant trees for enhanced greenery, the trees in our dense forests purify the air and cool our surroundings much more effectively than fragmented parks, manicured gardens and roadside trees.
(Source: vegantipster on Instagram)
The refreshing natural stream cascading down the forested slope is a rare sight in urbanised Singapore. Given the fragile nature of the water catchment area, if construction were to take place in the vicinity, it could adversely affect the water quality and liveability of the ecosystem for our native flora and fauna, such as forest-dependent birds and amphibians (e.g. greater racket-tailed drongos and copper-cheeked frogs).
Different kinds of mushrooms are found growing in the forest, which is Nature’s pharmacy. We need to conserve our forests and train young botanists and ecologists who can identify medicinal plants for our healthcare needs.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
The objective of the tour in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is to experience the forest for ourselves and share our experience with others. Our flora and fauna cannot speak for themselves, so we are their eyes, ears and voice, by which we can help raise awareness about the need to conserve this entire ecological corridor between Tengah forest and Bukit Batok central nature park.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)

Conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development

Meanwhile, let’s have a conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development to answer some questions anticipated from critics of environmentalism.

Q: Is it true that we are experiencing global warming, now that we are experiencing cool rainy weather? Do we really need to be concerned about deforestation?

A: Global warming is a long-term climatic trend, not subject to daily or seasonal changes.

Though we may be experiencing cool temperatures of 22-24 degrees Celsius during the rainy northeast monsoon season, we may also experience hot dry intermonsoon seasons at other times of the year.

It is projected that Singapore will experience an increase of as much as 4.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

That means the maximum daily temperature may reach as high as 39.6 degrees in 80 years’ time.

Such hot weather conditions can be detrimental to our health and well-being, especially those vulnerable to climate change, such as the very young, the elderly, the disabled and the sick.

Hence, the time to stop deforestation and focus on redevelopment of brownfield sites is now.

Sizeable dense forests (of 10 ha or bigger) can cool the surrounding air in a built-up urban area more effectively than small parks and gardens.

For example, Bukit Batok is generally 1.5 degrees Celsius cooler than Toa Payoh because Bukit Batok is surrounded by dense forests, whereas Toa Payoh has only roadside trees, and its mainly open-spaced town park has limited cooling ability.

Q: Is our ecosystem really experiencing a crisis? We seem to be getting on fine even after losing more than 95% of our original rainforests and at least 50% of our original flora and fauna in the past 200 years.

A: Let’s consider this analogy.

If you have been eating unhealthy food regularly, such as fast food, for a number of years, you may look healthy outwardly, but inwardly, your blood vessels are clogging with saturated fats.

Occasionally, you may fall sick, or even experience some organ disease and seek treatment.

As you continue to eat unhealthy foods regularly for another 20 to 30 years, you may have to become dependent on medication just to stay alive and prevent yourself from getting a stroke or heart attack.

Would you say that you are still healthy, or are you experiencing a health crisis?

Similarly, if we continue to destroy our remaining secondary forests, even though we seem to be able to go on our daily lives as usual, we are actually spending millions of our public funds to mitigate the negative consequences, such as flood prevention, dengue fever control, heat mitigation, etc.

“The incidence of dengue, caused by viruses spread by the Aedes mosquito, has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years…. Increased urbanisation, travel and migration, the pressures of globalisation, and global warming are likely to maintain dengue transmission at high levels and continue to result in major outbreaks in affected countries.”

(Source: “Act against dengue now with tools that exist“, 24 July 2015)

Suppose we stop spending on all these damage control measures, can we still say we can live as per normal (as compared to, say, indigenous peoples who have been living in tropical rainforests for thousands of years in a simple, sensible and sustainable manner)?

Can we survive the next extreme storm without any expensive flood control technology?

Can we survive the dengue fever outbreak caused by deforestation without any expensive vector control measures of mosquito-frequented urbanised areas?

Can we survive the worsening urban heat island effect without having to spend millions of dollars on mass airconditioning, designing and constructing “green” buildings, etc?

Until we acknowledge the problems and have honest conversations on nature conservation and stop further deforestation (and instead choose to redevelop brownfield sites), we and our future generations will continue to bear the massive costs of environmental degradation and unsustainable development.

P.S. Click here to support the petition to save the forests in the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from housing development.

Forest tour at Bukit Batok Hillside Park area

My group members and I experienced the coolness and serenity of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area while we surveyed the secondary regrowth as well as the main natural stream and pond habitat. (Source of base map: EIS report)

On 12 December 2020, I conducted my first tour at Bukit Batok Hillside Park area as a volunteer guide.

Normally, I would baulk at the idea of being a tour guide due to my shy and introverted nature (and being hard of hearing).

But the stakes of losing much of the secondary rainforest habitat and its wildlife are too high.

Even though slightly more than 50% of the area has recently been designated as a nature area, I feel the entire 17-ha ought to be preserved (together with its neighbouring forested hill, which used to be part of the same ridge before they were separated by road construction).

Some may wonder why we should pay so much attention on what seems to be a relatively small forested area.

It is because we care about environmental issues which affect everyone, and we need to keep the big picture in mind.

1. Our biodiversity has been depleted by at least half in the last 200 years, and some endangered species of flora and fauna are found living in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, including the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls.

Less biodiversity means more pests and greater risk of diseases, such as dengue fever and zoonotic virus infection.

It also means fewer plants being available for research and medicinal uses.

We need coherent sizeable ecological corridors, not patchy and fragmented ones, to prevent further human-wildlife conflicts and extinction of endangered flora and fauna.

2. Deforestation directly affects the quality of air and the microclimate of the surroundings.

It will result in rising urban heat island effect and flash floods over impermeable surfaces during intense rain.

These in turn have negative impacts on human safety, health and well-being.

According to some research, forests less than 10 hectares in size are generally more vulnerable to disturbance and deterioration of plant and animal life over time.

3. Quality of life for our residents may be compromised by overcrowding of existing spaces.

We need more green space buffers to ease human visitor pressure from our nature reserves.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many people have avoided malls and sought refuge in Nature to escape stress/sickness, to heal and to build immunity freely and naturally.

With a recent population decline, we don’t really need more housing, and we can choose to redevelop existing lands if need be.

It is hoped that the group tour will enable the visitors to experience the forest for themselves and help spread the word about the need to conserve Bukit Batok Hillside Park area and its biodiversity in their entirety.

After all, our best teacher is Mother Nature herself.

My thanks go to the following participants, without whom the tour wouldn’t be possible: Miss Irene, Mr CK Tan, Mr Michael and Mr CK Chong.

To sign the petition to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park forests from housing development, click here.

Why we need to conserve our forests instead of destroying them in the name of unsustainable development

Why do we need to conserve our forests instead of destroying them in the name of unsustainable development?

You may have read about the reasons in school textbooks.

You may have also read about them on news media and/or social media.

You have probably watched documentaries about them too.

But perhaps nothing is better than going into a forest and experience it for yourself.

After much consideration, I am convinced that no one can explain the reasons to you as well as Mother Nature herself.

That is, if you are willing to let Nature be your teacher.

I hope my short video will go in some small ways to give you a gentle nudge to experience the forest for yourself.

Feel free to share your learning points after watching the video.

Speaking up for Nature who has no human voice

Deforestation in Tengah forest

With a loss of at least 90% of our tropical rainforests and up to 73% of our plant species and animal species in the last 200 years, it is heartening at least to see a diversity of voices supporting our disappearing forests.

“Botanist Karl Png, the 23-year-old co-founder of the Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity, added that an increasing number of younger Singaporeans are concerned with the state of the environment because it affects their future.

“I think it’s selfish that leaders of today are saying, ‘Young people are great, they will solve the climate change crisis’ and then don’t do anything about it.

“Ultimately, they won’t face the consequences (of inaction)… but future generations will.”

What Singapore needs, said the environmentalists, is a conversation about what it wants for its future — do we value growth and convenience that comes with development over the intangible benefits of retaining what little green spaces are left?

Wildlife activist Vilma D’Rozario believes that the One Million Trees project would be better served by focusing on joining up forest fragments.

“But you have to leave patches of green along the way, otherwise what are you linking?” said the 63-year-old member of the Singapore Wildcat Action Group.”

From “Nature enthusiasts launch petitions to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park and Clementi forest“)

We have perhaps reached a crucial cross-road where we need to choose between:

🔥 further deforestation for short-term gratification with eventual self-destruction


🌳 recycling of existing lands for long-term survival with sustainable development.

My hope is to see more of our voices advocating nature conservation, not only for the sake of ourselves and our future generations, but also our voiceless and vulnerable flora and fauna.

Even if we replant 1 million trees in parks and gardens and along roadsides to replace 1 million trees lost through deforestation, we cannot replace forest biodiversity (plants and animals) that will have been lost. It also takes a forest decades, or more likely centuries, to grow and recover to become a healthy ecosystem.

(Photos show the desecration and destruction of our natural habitat of Tengah forest, Singapore, dated 10 Nov 2020)