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Founded as a British colony in 1819, Singapore became part of the Malaysian Federation in 1963. Two years later, Singaporeans opted to become independent. In the 21st century, Singapore is a thriving economy with a real growth rate of 5.7 percent and a per capita income of $29,900, making this southeastern Asian nation the 25th-richest country in the world. Governed under a “dominant-party” system that many have argued is somewhat repressive and undemocratic, public environmental movements in Singapore have only recently begun to emerge. Made up of the main island of Singapore and 60 islets, the country is surrounded by 120 miles (193 kilometers) of coastline that borders the Singapore, Main, and Jahore Straits.
Singapore has two distinct monsoon seasons that last from December to March in the northeast and from June to September in the southwest. With frequent thunderstorms occurring in the afternoon and early evening, Singapore’s climate varies from tropical to hot, humid, and rainy. The terrain is made up of lowlands and central plains that provide a water catchment area and a nature preserve. Singaporeans enjoy a high standard of living. As a result, the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Singapore 25th in the world in overall quality-of-life issues.
The country’s only natural resources are fish and deepwater ports, and less than 2 percent of the land is arable. Consequently, the entire population of Singapore is urbanized. There are 122 passenger cars in Singapore for every 1,000 people. Between 1980 and 2002, the carbon dioxide emission rate per metric ton rose from 12.5 to 13.8. By the beginning of the 21st century, Singapore was generating 0.3 percent of the world’s total of carbon dioxide emissions. The Singaporean economy is almost entirely dependent on electronics and manufacturing exports and the tourist industry to support the population of 4,492,150 people. However, an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 scared thousands of tourists away.
Because of the densely populated, heavily industrialized makeup of Singapore, environmental problems are similar to those in other highly industrialized nations. The environment is chiefly threatened by industrial pollution and improper waste disposal. Due to a lack of naturally occurring potable water, Singapore imports water from Malaysia. Forest fires in nearby Indonesia, which blanket Singapore with a seasonal smoke haze, are also of major environmental concern in Singapore. Singapore has no forests; the lack of land for development results in only 5 percent of the land being protected by the government. Of 85 endemic mammal species, three are endangered, as are seven of 142 endemic bird species.
The Singaporean government has established the Singapore Green Plan, a 10-year plan to promote sustainable development, under the leadership of the Ministry of the Environment. The ministry oversees the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws that range from regulating waste and hazardous materials disposal to pollution control and public health. Approximately 24 environmental laws have been passed in Singapore since the 1960s in the areas of environmental health, water pollution control, clean air, toxic and hazardous waste disposal, petroleum storage and transportation, air pollution, pesticide use, infectious disease control, radiation protection, land use, nature conservation, wildlife protection, and national parks. Amid growing environmental awareness in the mid-1990s following the Earth Day Summit of 1992, the privately funded Singapore National Council on the Environment evolved into the Environment Council and attained prominence with an articulated mission of promoting “Green Consciousness.”
Singapore’s commitment to the global environment has been demonstrated by participation in the following international agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, and Ship Pollution.
- Central Intelligence Agency, “Singapore,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
- Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Asia: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- Michael Howard, Asia’s Environmental Crisis (Westview, 1993);
- United Nations Development Programme, “Singapore,” hdr.undp.org.