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November 25, 2015

Semakau Landfill: Not Just A ‘Rubbish Island’

November 23, 2015

The mention of the word ‘landfill’ tends to conjure images of rubbish heaps strewn all over marginal land, breeding with organisms that produce pungent odours as they break down material. So when a group of 14 year old students from Balestier Hill Secondary School were invited for a visit to the Semakau Landfill, they were in for a surprise.

I initially thought that Semakau Landfill would be covered in ashes. I thought it would look dull, black and smell horrible. My visit to Semakau has indeed changed my impression because it looks like a resort. I am surprised to see so much greenery in a landfill. Various activities like the breeding of sea bass and low-tide walks do not make it look like a landfill.

– Zaafirah

No trash? No smell? What?

Semakau Landfill. Source: National Environment Agency

The Semakau Landfill is the world’s first offshore landfill located about 8km south of Singapore. The landfill was created by constructing a 7km perimeter rock bund to enclose part of the sea off Pulau Sakeng and Pulau Semakau.

Source: Qianlynthesis

During Phase 1, the landfill area is partitioned into 11 cells that are filled with incinerated and non-incinerated waste. Once the cells are full, topsoil would be poured over the cell to support the growth of an ecosystem of plants and migratory birds. Phase 2 is presently untouched, and was built to anticipate that all the cells in Phase 1 will be filled by 2016.

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Responsible Business Forum: April Group and their Efforts to Reduce Emissions through Sustainable Forestry and Agriculture

November 16, 2015

Responsible Business Forum 2015

At a panel session on Reducing Emissions through Sustainable Forestry and Agriculture, the Managing Director of APRIL Group, Mr Goh Lin Piao, spoke about APRIL’s approach towards sustainable forestry.

Being the second largest pulp and paper manufacturer in Asia, APRIL recognised the importance of peatland forest protection and eco-system restoration. In 2013, APRIL launched the Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER) restoration project.

Map of RER project

This project aimed to revitalise an initial 20,267 hectares of peat forest and restore forests which have been severely damaged by logging and encroachment. By using the landscape approach, APRIL brings together diverse stakeholders and aims to achieve a balance between multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives in the wider context of a particular region. Firstly, APRIL takes into account the communities living around the area of the restoration site, Kampar Peninsular in Riau Province, and aims to provide jobs (like training and engaging them as park rangers) and other requirements of the local community. Secondly, a buffer technique is used which forms a protective ring of plantation around its conservation core. These two methods minimize illegal logging and human encroachment of the protected forests.

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Frazzled by the Haze: the Continued Effects of Haze on Health, the Economy and the Environment

November 9, 2015

This is an update to the 2014 post Effects of Haze on Health, the Economy and the Environment. Bonus: check out the new ‘Effects on Pet Health’ section!

Republika’s front page makes a statement about the haze. Credit: Republika

Effects on Human Health

Forest fires occur every year in Indonesia and its effects can be felt throughout the year locally and internationally. This year’s haze crisis has been described by Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency as ‘a crime against humanity‘, and with good reason. In the past decade, the year 2006 had witnessed the worst case of forest fire in Indonesia. Until this year. 2015 now has the dubious honor of being the worst case of forest fires in Indonesia in the past decade, releasing almost 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. The dry conditions caused by this year’s El Nino weather phenomenon, as well as increase in number of forest fires, has exacerbated the situation. The worst case of forest fires in Indonesia’s recorded history occurred in 1997, at almost 4.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

In Indonesia

Following the 1997 fires, an estimated 20 million people in Indonesia suffered from respiratory problems, with 19,800-48,100 premature mortalities (Heil, 2007). In severely affected areas, more than 90% of people had respiratory symptoms and elderly individuals suffered a serious deterioration in overall health. (Kunii et al, 2002)

According to the Board for the Control of Environment Impacts in Palangkaraya, during the 2006 forest fires, in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, air quality was rated as ‘unhealthy, very unhealthy or dangerous’ on 81% of days from September-November 2006. In October 2006, 30 of 31 days were ‘dangerous’ representing a clear health threat. Additionally, thick smoke impairs visibility, causing an increase in traffic accidents, and a general lack of public health service and the high cost of health insurance means that treatment is not typically received for smoke-related ailments.

Over 500,000 cases of acute respiratory infections have been reported in Riau, Jambi, Sumatra and Kalimantan from July to Oct 2015. Pollution Standard Index (PSI) levels in Central Kalimantan nudged 2,000 near the end of September (anything over PSI 300 is considered hazardous).

In Singapore

According to the National Environment Agency, the highest Pollution Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) reading on record in Singapore is 401 (hazardous) in July 2013. Findings from the health impact surveillance during the 1997 haze period showed that there was a 30% increase in attendances for haze-related conditions. There were increases of 12% of upper respiratory tract illness, 19% asthma, and 26% rhinitis (Ministry of Health Statistics). During the same period there was also an increase in accident and emergency attendances for haze-related complaints. There was no significant increase in hospital admissions or in mortality.

Effects on Pet Health

Read more…

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan in Paris for Pre-COP Meeting 

November 8, 2015


France & Peru COP Presidents addressing the Pre-COP (Source: COP21 Twitter page)

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishna is in Paris, France attending an informal ministerial meeting on climate change (Pre-COP) from 8-10 November 2015. This meeting is convened by the incoming French Presidency of the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-21).

Pre-COP meeting ahead of Paris COP21 in 3 weeks’ time (Source: Laurence Tubiana Twitter Page)


The Pre-COP is held as part of the preparations for COP-21 which will take place in Le Bourget, France from 30 November to 11 December 2015. Around 80 ministers are expected to attend this Pre-COP Meeting. 

Among the other outcomes expected at COP-21 is a new global climate agreement which will succeed the Kyoto Protocol after 2020. 

Minister Balakrishnan is  accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

(Sources: MFA, COP21)

Keynote Speech at Singapore International Energy Week 2015

November 3, 2015

(This is part II of a two-part post on the opening of Singapore International Energy Week 2015. Read part I here.)

Dr. Birol at SIEW 2015. Credit: Channel NewsAsia

The Keynote Speaker was Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Dr Birol’s speech was titled “Navigating the Emerging Energy Transition”. In his speech, Dr Birol mentioned that the fall in energy prices is a boost to consumers, but has serious indications for the future–primarily that “cutbacks” and “cost efficiency” are the new watchwords upstream of the energy sector, and that the Middle East turmoil raises doubts over the future oil balance. He also mentions the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, in which there are ongoing reforms to fossil fuel subsidies and an emphasis on energy efficiency and renewables which addresses climate change concerns. He put forward a question for the audience: “Will changes in global energy be led by policies, or driven by events?” The answer is highly dependent on what emerges from COP21 in December, hence most of the globe is looking towards the summit as a decisive point in climate change negotiations.

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Graph of plunging oil and natural gas prices 2014-2015. Credit: IEA

Cost of LNG still not as competitive as coal

Dr Birol attributes the plunge of oil and natural gas prices to an oversupply of fuels, causing a divergence between different regional gas prices to narrow sharply–the differences between gas prices in the US, Europe, Japan and China are much smaller now. The lower revenues are affecting investments in upstream oil and gas capital, and is compensated by cost reductions for services and supplies. He goes on to further predict that more cuts are to be expected in 2016 if low oil and gas prices persist. Dr Birol further elaborates on Mr Iswaran’s earlier point on LNG, saying that it is the only option to deliver gas all over the world. There is an increase in demand for LNG across the globe and this is supported by projects in Australia and the US, with trade projected to increase exponentially by 2020. However, the operation costs of LNG is much higher compared to coal, and only very competitively priced LNG has a chance to beat coal, especially in Asia. Should there be no environmental restrictions imposed by any government, the more cost effective choice for energy would be coal – hence making the switch to the more carbon effective LNG is still a difficult process for many countries.

Renewable energy as the energy of choice in the future, decoupling rising world electricity demand from carbon dioxide emissions

Dr Birol moves on to speak about renewable energy, which he predicts will lead the world power market growth by 2020–hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power are expected to enter the mainstream fuel and be responsible for the establishment of two-thirds of the power plants in the next 15 years, with emerging economies making up two thirds of the expansion of the power market. This is in relation to the coverage of climate change pledges–more than 150 countries submitted pledges, accounting for 90% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and almost 90% of emissions, indicating an interest in turning towards more renewable sources of energy and slowing down the rate of carbon emissions. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, both developed and developing countries are making the commitment to change their energy policies and to combat climate change. This would result in the world electricity demand and related carbon dioxide emissions to decouple, with the emissions staying flat to 2030 despite the rising demand of electricity.

Government support still crucial for renewables to become a viable source of energy

Dr Birol concluded his speech with a reminder that the investment in renewables continues to remain strong as the costs of production continues to fall, but that government support is still crucial to ensure that they are adopted as a viable source of energy. Furthermore, he states that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions submitted in advance to the COP21 summit are an excellent basis to build ambition, but is still insufficient to reach the goals of the climate change summit. He ended by reassuring the audience that as the new IEA Executive Director, the modernisation of the agency is his priority, which he plans to do so through building ties with emerging economies, and ensuring the agency moves towards becoming a global hub for clean energy.

Q&A Session

Dr Birol’s speech was quickly followed by a question and answer session moderated by Sri Jegarajah, an Anchor/Correspondent with CNBC. Questions from the audience were placed online and subjected to a voting system, in which the questions with the highest votes were put to Dr Birol.

Iran’s oil supply will increase now that sanctions have been lifted and China is a leader in renewable energy technology

The issue of Iran and its oil supply came up, and Dr Birol said that Iran could boost production by 400,000-600,000 barrels per day within a year after sanctions are lifted, and even more could come from its floating storage platforms. He also mentions that there may be pressure on Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in COP21 to reduce their export in oil, which would require them to turn to broadening and diversifying their economies. Dr Birol also singled out China as a leader in renewable energy, noting that their renewable technology and nuclear power will soon become one of the country’s major energy exports.

Dr Birol also addressed the viability of nuclear energy as an option for countries to turn to, stating that the capital costs of nuclear power plants, as compared to OPEC energies are a major deterrent, and financing schemes need to be put in place to allow countries to consider nuclear power. Furthermore, governments face an extremely hesitant public that needs to be educated and convinced on the invulnerability of such nuclear plants, especially after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

An agreement on global carbon price is not likely for COP21
Dr Birol finished off the Q&A session by addressing the likelihood of a globally agreed carbon price, the amount that must be paid for the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide, in the near future, which many governments and stakeholders have concurred is crucial. He acknowledged that a globally agreed carbon price will discourage the use of fossil fuels and incentivise the switch to cleaner fuels and the use of more energy-efficient fuels, but has doubts that a global agreement pertaining to carbon prices will be achieved in COP21.

Dr Birol’s slides from his speech can be viewed here.

Opening Remarks of the Singapore International Energy Week 2015

November 2, 2015

The Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2015 was held from 26 October 2015 to 30 October 2015 at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands Singapore, and is organised by Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA). Now in its 8th year, SIEW comprises exhibitions, workshops, and networking sessions. It functions as a crucial arena for energy leaders in governments, academics, industry, and international organisations to come together to discuss global energy issues, share opinions and ideas, as well as form alliances to facilitate closer cooperation.  

The theme for this year is “Global Energy Transitions”.

“The theme reflects how recent volatility in oil prices, growing energy demand in Asia, and increasing market interconnectivity are greatly reshaping the global energy landscape. This has prompted re-assessment of long-term investments in both oil and gas, and alternative energy projects. Governments and industry need to consider how to leverage the opportunities and challenges that these developments present. Against this backdrop, SIEW 2015 will address how best to navigate the emerging energy transitions, and the impact these changes would have on the global energy system.”  

– Singapore International Energy Week 2015 to focus on “Global Energy Transitions” Press Release

The Guest of Honour for the Opening Ceremony was Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry). In his Opening Remarks, Mr Iswaran mentioned that the global energy landscape is ever-changing, using the fall in oil and gas prices as a case in point. He emphasises the need for governments and industry players to reevaluate policies and strategies across various energy scenarios. It is expected that more countries will be turning towards natural gas and renewables, especially with climate change and environmental concerns. Governments need to adapt to changing market trends and public perceptions, while they continue to look for ways to solve their growing energy needs.

Mr. S Iswaran

Singapore’s diverse energy options

In his speech, Mr Iswaran shares with the audience the various strategies Singapore utilises to tackle shifts in the global energy market. Singapore switched from fuel oil to cleaner, more efficient and carbon friendly natural gas. Since 2006, Singapore has introduced liquefied natural gas (LNG) to supplement the piped natural gas supply, giving the country greater energy security and access to competitive LNG supplies. In addition, Singapore has many energy options, such as electricity imports, solar energy and advanced power generation.

These can be achieved through the government providing market information on energy generation and consumption data, projected growth of energy demand, and an indicative mix of generation sources coming from gas plants, solar, and electricity imports by 2030. The Singapore government will also provide access to a land allocation framework for power plants. Furthermore, the EMA plans to establish a Secondary Gas Trading Market (SGTM) in Singapore for buyers and sellers to trade gas on a short-term basis domestically. This would allow gas prices to reflect Singapore’s demand and supply conditions and enhance Singapore’s position as an LNG and gas trading activities hub, and also set the scene for a gas futures market.

The ultimate goal of an electricity retail market open to all users

Mr Iswaran also added that enhancing retail competition is Singapore’s priority, so as to provide consumers with more choices and benefits. This is achieved through the liberalisation of the electricity retail market, so that consumers are able to choose their electricity retailer. Furthermore, the contestability threshold was lowered to allow more consumers to purchase from an electricity retailer that best meets their needs instead of buying their electricity at the regulated tariff from SP Services. The ultimate goal, Mr Iswaran states, is to fully open the electricity retail market to all users, including households, so as to allow them flexibility and choice in electricity consumption.  

Mr Iswaran ended his speech reminding the audience that there is a need to achieve “resilient, sustainable and competitive energy supplies”, drawing upon the point that Singapore continues to “facilitate energy investments, increase options for industry players, promote competition in the electricity market for the benefit of consumers, and develop capabilities and encourage innovation to strengthen our energy industry”. He also emphasised the need to continue to stimulate discussions and form partnerships to respond to the changes in the global energy landscape.

Mr Iswaran’s full speech can be read here.

(This is part I of a two-part post on the opening of Singapore International Energy Week 2015. Read part II here.)


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