Proposed changes to law on environmental pollution will boost efforts to tackle climate change, noise, Politics News & Top Stories

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s efforts to tackle climate change and noise pollution will get more bite under proposed changes to a law governing environmental pollution.

The changes set out under the Environmental Protection And Management (Amendment) Bill, which was debated in Parliament on Monday (Sept 13), will give regulatory teeth to existing initiatives to control the release of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The amendments will also help to improve contractors’ compliance with the no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays, by allowing the National Environment Agency (NEA) to impose electronic video surveillance at certain work sites from Oct 1 next year.

Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said in Parliament ahead of the debate: “This Bill marks another milestone in our efforts to tackle climate change and maintain a quality living environment for Singaporeans.”

He added: “The first part of the Bill will ensure that we meet Singapore’s cooling needs in a responsible manner, by using climate-friendly refrigeration and equipment, and building up the industry’s competency in handling these equipment.

“The second part of the Bill will maintain a conducive living environment by strengthening enforcement on offenders of the no-work rule.”

Commonly used as refrigerants, HFCs are greenhouse gases that have a higher global warming potential range than carbon dioxide (CO2), the main culprit driving modern climate change due to the sheer amount being released into the atmosphere.

While CO2 has a global warming potential of one, that of HFCs can be up to 12,400. For example, the typical refrigerant used in chillers, R134a, has a global warming potential of 1,300.

The amended law, if passed, will bar the supply of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment with high global warming potential from Oct 1 next year.

The proposed changes will also allow the Government to introduce measures to minimise the venting of spent refrigerants into the atmosphere, and regulate firms that use or handle greenhouse gases. These companies include those involved in the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of cooling equipment.

Mr Tan said cooling is essential in Singapore’s hot and humid climate, but the Republic must also be mindful about environmental impact.

“Climate-friendly alternatives for such equipment are widely available. They are typically more energy-efficient and users can enjoy energy cost savings,” he added.

For households, there is no cost difference in switching to climate-friendly refrigerators and air-conditioners, Mr Tan noted.

For commercial users, he acknowledged that low global warming potential water-cooled chillers cost 15 per cent more on average. “But as they are more energy-efficient, their life-cycle cost savings more than make up for the higher upfront cost,” he said.

He added that his ministry is aware of the need to curb the environmental impact of cooling Singapore. Measures were announced last year by the NEA to reduce HFC emissions. These included efforts to phase out equipment that use HFCs with high global warming potential, raise the industry’s competency in handling HFC refrigerants, and mandate the recovery of spent HFCs.

Said Mr Tan: “This Bill will give effect to these measures.”

From October next year, NEA will start barring the supply of household air-conditioners that use refrigerants with a global warming potential of more than 750, and household refrigerators and commercial water-cooled chillers that use refrigerants with a global warming potential of more than 15.

He said: “In our industry consultations, most suppliers and importers of cooling equipment have affirmed that they are able to supply climate-friendly models.”

Mr Tan said the United States, Japan and countries in the European Union have implemented similar measures to curb HFC emissions. Major exporters of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, such as the US and China, are also shifting towards more climate-friendly refrigerants.

On the regulation of firms involved in the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of cooling equipment, Mr Tan said this will apply only to companies handling commercial water-cooled chillers for a start. These chillers have much larger refrigerant capacities than household air-conditioners.

But companies handling household refrigerators and air-conditioners are encouraged to certify their technicians, he added.

Under the proposed changes, firms will need to establish and maintain policies, procedures and processes to carry out the regulated greenhouse gas works safely to minimise emissions.

Regulated firms must also deploy at least one competent technician to supervise or carry out such works. To be certified as competent, technicians must attend a training and certification programme.

NEA has worked with Temasek Polytechnic to roll out a course on handling commercial water-cooled chillers this month (Sept), Mr Tan said.

The proposed changes in the law will also see the definition of industrial waste under the Environmental Public Health Act expanded to include spent refrigerants.

Said Mr Tan: “With this change, spent refrigerants recovered during refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment servicing and disposal must be sent for proper treatment by licensed toxic industrial waste collectors.”

On noise management, he noted that his ministry has taken action over the years. This includes giving grants to incentivise contractors to adopt quieter construction equipment and methods, and implementing in 2011 a no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays.

Mr Tan added that most contractors comply but there is a small group of contractors that has continued to violate the no-work rule.

From 2016 to 2020, NEA prosecuted an average of 3 per cent of construction sites, or around 150, for first-time violation of the no-work rule each year. Twenty-two per cent of this group would go on to repeat the offence, said Mr Tan.

But there are limitations to the current enforcement approach as violations can be confirmed only through physical site inspections by NEA officers. The resource-intensive endeavour may not always pay off as the breaches could have stopped before their arrival, said Mr Tan.

“This is where technology can make a difference. From Oct 1 next year, we will impose electronic video surveillance on the small subset of offenders to deter further violations of the no-work rule and improve NEA’s operational effectiveness,” he added.


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