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Govt has to balance environmental laws right: Balakrishnan

The Singapore government has to get its balance right in implementing environmental legislation, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday.

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government has to get its balance right in implementing environmental legislation, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a dialogue session on sustainable world resources on Tuesday.

He added that Singapore's draft bill on transboundary haze pollution does not interfere with the laws of other regions, but has been crafted to illustrate a global challenge.

Panellists and speakers engaged the crowd of almost 300 people at the first Sustainable World Resources dialogue, which was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

The theme may have been on world resources, but much of the discussion centred on sustainable palm oil production.

It was a chance for all stakeholders -- from the large palm oil corporations to non-government organisations and to the banks that finance such investments -- to clear the air on an issue that's dogged the region for decades.

At the heart of the haze issue is environmental degradation -- drying peat and using it as fuel to clear land with fires, which produce thick smoke and release carbon that has been stored for years.

Experts say enforcement to prevent illegal clearing of land is fraught with challenges.

"You can have all the good intentions in Jakarta or at local level, but no one will really be able to implement because the authorities have been fragmented: different authorities, different agencies, and different levels of governments,” said Agus Purnomo, Special Staff to the President on Climate Change.

Mr Agus said tackling the issue involves collaborating with the private sector, many of whom have pledged a policy against deforestation, peat and exploitation.

The answer could lie with Singapore's draft bill on transboundary haze pollution, but by striking a balance.

"A lot more can still be done on the ground by NGOs, by sharing, by transparency without getting heavy-handed about it,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

“It would be counter-productive for Singapore to take an overly legalistic, burdensome regime that makes it in fact more difficult for responsible companies to do business here. So we've got to get the balance right."

For companies on the right path, Dr Balakrishnan said there is also the need to tilt the playing field in their favour, so that others follow suit. 

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