SINGAPORE (Sept 30): Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, has dominated headlines for much of the past week. Thunberg gave an emotionally charged speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept 23, where she accused world leaders of robbing her and her peers of their childhood and future.

“I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,” Thunberg raged at the assembled politicians. “Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, yet I’m one of the lucky ones.”

In just over three minutes, Thunberg scorned the widely accepted accord for cutting global carbon emissions by half in order to arrest global warming. “Fifty per cent may be acceptable to you, but those numbers do not include tipping points,” she says. “A 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us, we who have to live with the consequences.”

Indeed, just days after Thunberg’s address, the authoritative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that says sea levels are rising faster than scientists had initially predicted. And, historically once-a-century extreme floods are set to become more frequent, even if global temperature increases are capped at 1.5°C.

Said Thunberg: “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions?”

In this part of the world, a major industry has spent much of the last decade and millions of dollars on restructuring its business practices, or at least trying to convince the public that it has done so.

Even as a choking haze continues to envelope Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, palm oil producers in Indonesia are eager to demonstrate efforts to fight the fires that cause the haze, as well as change the practices that cause them. In fact, most declare they have a policy of no deforestation and no burning, and have committed to ensuring the sustainability of their palm oil products. Yet, as we report in “Damage control” this week, the haze issue is far from solved, especially as agricultural practices are still rooted in tradition. Exacerbating the problem is extreme and prolonged dry weather — yet another manifestation of the changing climate.

In Singapore, the government has since prioritised climate change as one of the biggest risks the city state faces. Some $100 billion is slated to be spent over the next century on shoring up the country’s defences against rising sea levels.

However, even as barricades are being erected, one should consider the footprint and potential ecological damage, or at least impact, new developments bring. This is all the more important in a hyper-compact space such as Singapore, which has a constant turnover of buildings.

One way to mitigate adverse effects on the natural environment is for a project developer to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA). The results should be published, a consultation with regulators and the public conducted, and recommendations to prevent damage made, even before a decision to proceed with a development project is taken.

As we report this week, the incidence of roadkill and other effects on the natural environment around the Bukit Timah Expressway could have been avoided, conservationists say, had an EIA been done. Most recently, there have been reports of roadkill resurfacing around the area where the development of the new Mandai wildlife parks is underway. For its part, the project’s developer has undertaken an EIA and made adjustments to its plans after consultations. It is in the process of implementing the mitigation measures, including hoardings to keep wildlife from the roads

Still, environmental groups in Singapore tell The Edge Singapore about the battles they have to fight each time a development — from buildings to golf courses and even land reclamation — is planned on tracts of the natural environment. What would really help, they say, are laws governing such developments, notably the requirement for an EIA and a public consultation process.

The Ministry of National Development says the review of the EIA framework is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

In New York, after Thunberg’s dressing-down, several countries announced efforts to achieve zero emissions by 2050. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to double the funding to fight climate change over the next five years, while French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to not pursue trade talks with countries that do not abide by the Paris climate accord. Separately, companies including Amazon.com and Nike have pledged to be carbon neutral, while an alliance of funds has pledged to have a carbon-neutral portfolio by 2050.

Whether these pledges are fulfilled, and if they can make a difference, remains to be seen. But as Thunberg warns, “the eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”

This story first appeared in The Edge Singapore (Issue 901, week of Sept 30) which is on sale now