Book Review - ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN SINGAPORE by Joseph Chun & Lye Lin Heng

Published date01 December 2020
Citation(2020) 32 SAcLJ 335
Date01 December 2020
AuthorKOH Kheng Lian Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.

1 The publication fills the gap for a long-needed textbook on environmental law in Singapore. Not only because of the importance of the subject on a global basis including Singapore but its dynamic nature has made it difficult to track all the areas in one convenient form. In the Singapore context, the development of modern environmental law can be said to have its roots in 1972 with the Stockholm Declaration of the Human Environment. Shortly after this, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, set up the Pollution Unit in his office to better oversee issues of pollution, as Singapore had embarked on its ambitious journey of industrialisation. When industrialisation was being discussed in Parliament, Singapore started to prevent the tiny island state from being blighted, and the concept of the “Garden City” was conceived in the 1980s. When it experienced success in industrialisation, it paid more attention to turning it into a “City in a Garden”. In more recent years, around 2010, it began to focus on climate change issues, which today has confronted the world with existential threats impacting on water, biodiversity, food security and all aspects of human environmental existence and quality of life. These trajectories underlie Singapore's progressive development in environmental law, not forgetting its role as a member state in the United Nations (“UN”) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Singapore's environmental development was influenced and facilitated by the many multilateral environmental treaties and abundant soft laws emanating from these two organisations. This is not to say that there were no environmental laws in Singapore before the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. There were the traditional laws relating to rudimentary problems such as pollution (for example, air and wastewater), and wildlife protection (at that time even the word “biodiversity” was unknown), unlike the more complex environmental issues that confront Singapore today, that is, not only within Singapore but climate change and transboundary pollution from the so-called Indonesian “haze” from fires that have come upon us. Other issues have taken the world by storm, such as zoonotic diseases and also illegal trade

in endangered species – this is a world-wide phenomenon but Singapore's geographical location has also made it a convenient transit route. It is obvious that what has been happening in other parts of the world could have an impact on Singapore as we live in an interdependent world – we share one atmosphere, one stratosphere and one world as it were, and much else besides. To respond to new and emerging environmental challenges and to update inadequate laws, knowledge and sound science as to how to tackle the issues are required before legislation can take place. The drafters of Agenda 21, in their wisdom, called for capacity building. Environmental law implementation and enforcement is undertaken not only by those legally trained experts on the environment but also administrators or others who are not legally trained. This publication caters not only to lawyers and law students but also to those not legally trained but who work on, or volunteer in, environment-related fields. To quote Joseph Chun, it is a “one-stop study guide or reference on the applicable laws on the subject”.2

2 The approach is twofold. The first is a survey of the applicable laws which could include other relevant areas of law such as the law of torts. The second approach, as underlined by Lye Lin Heng, is from the view of good governance.3 She pointed out that it is crucial that laws must be effectively implemented and enforced, as often the laws look excellent on paper except when it comes to enforcement. She noted that this entails a good government that is aware of the challenges and constraints and is able to formulate policies to resolve them – laws are only part of this management system. It would have been useful to include a section on the use of technology to enhance good governance, management and enforcement, particularly as Singapore is developing into a smart city. The potential of technology, which includes, for example, block chain, artificial intelligence (“AI”), data and digitalisation, to improve environmental governance and management is tremendous. For example, an aspect of good management and governance involves the collection, assembly and use of data (for example, to tackle climate change in food production – “green intelligence – leveraging technology to gather information about plants”),4 as is the use of AI for better disaster management (for example, floods and other environmental or natural disasters). Indeed, Singapore, together with other ASEAN cities as well as others, is developing into a smart city and this, according to the UN, is an aspect of a sustainable city. Indeed, the use of technology has an impact on environmental

sustainability. Singapore has taken the initiative to further promote its sustainability concept to the next stage – “Smart Nation”. This is in line with the global initiative, United for Smart Sustainable Cities (“UNSSC”), led by the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”) and the Economic Commission for Europe (“ECE”) which was launched at the ITU–ECE Forum on “Shaping Smarter and More Sustainable Cities: Striving for Sustainable Development Goals” held 18–19 May 2016 in Rome. Singapore was among some cities selected by UNSSC for this initiative.5

3 The book is divided into seven parts.6

4 Part I (chs 1–4) – “General Introduction” covers what is environmental law; sustainable development; regulatory approaches; and environmental governance.

5 In ch 1, “What is Environmental Law?”, it is explained that for the “purpose” of the book, the chapter takes the definition of “law” in the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore.7 Here it is defined as “includ[ing] written law and any legislation of the United Kingdom or other enactment or instrument whatsoever which is in...

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