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Singapore a perfect testbed for green transport solutions

AFTER years of wrangling, the Paris Agreement On Climate Change took effect last Nov 4.

A key element of the convention is "sustainable mobility" - no surprise given the environmental impact of transportation, which produces around 23 per cent of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Singapore is uniquely positioned to act as a testbed for green transport solutions. It is able to readily create a comprehensive public transport system of rail and bus services, while piloting electric car-sharing services and driverless cars.

Sustainable mobility actually forms just part of the country's focus on the natural environment. Known as a garden city, Singapore has now shifted its aspiration to become a City in a Garden, embracing a bolder vision of reimaging the DNA of the city and nurturing a biophilic culture.

NATURE-URBAN BALANCE

Singapore's leaders have always understood the importance of nature and greenery in an increasingly urban environment.

Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew believed that access to greenery and parks would improve the well-being of Singaporeans as they become more urbanised, and emphasised the importance of greenery and nature here.

Initiatives such as the tree planting campaigns, the Park Connector network, and plantings along road verges and carparks have led to the island state's green coverage rising from 36 to to 47 per cent between 1986 and 2007.

The continuing refinement and implementation of these efforts form an intrinsic part of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015, which outlines the country's national vision and plans for a more liveable and sustainable Singapore, including green transport.

In this regard, Singapore is in sync with global initiatives. At the first-ever global conference on sustainable transport last November, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs Wu Hongbo said: "Sustainable transport solutions are key to leaving no one behind, securing prosperity, enabling access to services and protecting the environment."

This heightened attention on the need for sustainable, green transport is highly relevant for South-east Asia.

The region's rapid population growth has led to a significantly younger workforce that needs to travel for work, and not only within borders - the increasingly integrated Asean economy means business is no longer confined to a single country.

The inevitable corollary is severe traffic congestion in cities such as Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila, in turn leading to increased carbon emissions and an unhealthy urban environment.

Asean governments are already taking steps to prioritise rail as the preferred transport mode to bring about greater interconnectedness - the High Speed Rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is a case in point.

The need for clean, efficient transport between the population centres of South-east Asia calls for well-integrated transport systems. There is convincing evidence that railway transport must form part of such networks.

We at Alstom believe that transport systems should be fluid, eco-friendly, safe, connected and accessible.

Rail is certainly the cleanest mode of transport. Rail transport uses only 2.1 per cent of transport final energy and is responsible for just 3.6 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions in transport, while carrying 8 per cent of the world's passengers and freight.

Recent data on emissions in Europe shows that carbon dioxide from road transportation rose again in 2014 after a six-year drop. Emissions increased by 13 per cent between 1990 and 2014. Thus, transport emissions need to fall significantly to help realise the target set by the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2 deg C.

In recent years, we have worked very hard to enable rail to be one of the most energy-efficient transport modes, reflecting the efficiency of mass transport and the benefits of efficient electric traction. We have constantly reduced the energy consumption of our solutions.

For example, the energy consumption of the Avelia high-speed train for AGV, Euroduplex and Liberty trains is 15-30 per cent lower than previous generations. The train features the latest generation of compact power, using less energy and offering more space for passengers inside the train.

Exhaust emissions from road transport contribute significantly to the poor air quality in large cities worldwide.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data released last year, more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas where air pollution is monitored are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits.

Prioritising rail transport would significantly reduce the contribution of the transport sector to air pollution.

EFFICIENCY

Rail is also the most efficient transport mode in terms of use of space. Worldwide, road infrastructure uses 37 times more land than rail infrastructure while only carrying 3.5 times more transport units.

For example, on average, on a track narrower than a bus lane, a tram provides two or three times higher transport capacity than a bus.

As a world leader in sustainable integrated railway systems, Alstom is committed to reducing transport's carbon footprint and we constantly strive to reduce the high cost of energy.

In recent years, we enabled a reduction in energy consumption of up to 20 per cent on a wide range of transport solutions, from components and technologies to infrastructure, trains and services, as well as on our fully-integrated mobility solutions.

Further to that, we have also made a conscious effort to favour recyclable materials in most of our trains, favouring water-soluble paints and biodegradable oils for most trains and facilitating end-of-life recycling by selecting riveting and bolting when assembling parts.

As a result, our trains are now 92 per cent recyclable and 97 per cent recoverable (including energy recovery) on average.

As the South-east Asian demand for mobility is increasing, a move towards electric transport is vital for the optimisation of the transport sector's contribution to environmental sustainability. We are committed to developing and implementing sustainable technologies into our South-east Asia plans.

  • The writer is senior vice-president, Asia Pacific, at Alstom