Environmental Impact Studies - A Growing Need in Singapore

Why environmental impact assessments are much needed in development intensive countries such as Singapore. Tan Hui Zhen reports.

Singapore, 20th June 2014. While environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been enacted and practised widely in various working definitions around the world, it has only recently gained prominence in Singapore.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an instrument used to identify social, environmental and economic impacts of a proposed project on the environment. Essentially, it predicts and evaluates the potential environmental impacts early on in project development; considers various strategies to mitigate them; and communicates the findings and options to decision-makers.  

Such procedures not only ensure that an informed decision can be made for developmental projects, extensive clean-up or treatment costs from environmental degradation can be avoided- offering both environmental and economic benefits. 

Design and consultancy firm Aecom estimates that demand for such environmental impact studies has grown by 50% over the last few years, with the Singapore government being its main client. Following the Land Transport Authority’s eight-month long discussions with nature groups regarding the Cross Island MRT Line and calls for tender to evaluate the environmental impacts on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, NMP Faizah Jamal observes that there has been a greater awareness of the importance of EIAs.

Nevertheless, the absence of legislations on mandatory EIA systems remains a contentious issue. Although the Ministry of National Development assures that all development proposals are assessed comprehensively by relevant agencies before they are subjected to approvals, only major projects may render the need to commission further environmental impact studies.

Environmentalists and proponents of EIAs have expressed their hopes for EIA legislations that specifically outline when these studies should be carried out and how stringent they should be. In addition, EIAs should necessarily involve all stakeholders and be open for public consultation.  

Given the increasing infrastructural density of our island city-state, developments at any sites are likely to affect surrounding areas. It is essential that systematic consideration is given to the environment through EIAs, and used to inform and guide further developmental projects. 

A Closer Look at EIAs

Based on the goals and principles adopted by the Governing Council of UNEP in 1987 and subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations for use in forming the basis of EIAs, the minimal components of an EIA should include the following:

(i) Description of the proposed activity

(ii) Description of potentially affected environment

(iii) Assessment of environmental impacts that are likely to result from the proposed activity and its alternatives- including direct, indirect, cumulative, short-term and long-term effects

(iv) Identification, description and evaluation of available mitigating measures for proposed activity and alternatives

(v) Indication of any knowledge gaps and uncertainties faced in data collection

(vi) Indication of whether there are any environmental impacts on states or areas beyond national jurisdiction from proposed activity or alternatives

(vii) Non-technical summaries for each section for the general audience

(viii) Proposition of an environmental management plan to monitor environmental impacts