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Singapore: Green Urban Leader and Sustainability Success

If you have visited Singapore, you understand that even though it is a metropolis, there is plenty of greenery and nature interwoven into the concrete jungle. Located just 1º north of the equator, Singapore has a tropical island climate all year round, boasting an ideal climate for greenery to flourish. The city’s vegetation starts on the ground and reaches the top of its impressive skyscrapers. However, Singapore did not become a green and sustainable country naturally due to its location and size, but rather due to decades of deliberate planning and effort.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, from the British, it was a city full of slums and pollution (Kolczak, 2017). Now 57 years old, Singapore is the second most sustainable country in Asia, only beaten by Japan (Hofmann, 2019). But how did the former British colonial port achieve such sustainability? The answer to that is simple: Singapore has taken early measures on sustainable development since its independence. It all began when the former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, announced on the 12th of May, 1967 the development of Singapore will be a “a two-stage plan, which will transform Singapore into ‘a beautiful garden city with flowers and trees, and as tidy and litterless as can be’ (Lee, 1967).

Increasingly Stiff Fines

For Singapore to become what Lee Kuan Yew had envisioned within a few years, and to ensure high standards of cleanliness were maintained, strict measures had to be implemented. Therefore, new laws were introduced, and heavy fines if one were to break them. For example, a law was introduced where offenders would initially receive a $150 for the first offence, $500 for the second offences, and $1000 for the third offence. Now, the maximum fine for littering in Singapore for the first offence is $2000, $4000 for the second offence, and $10,000 for the third offence (Singapore Government, 2021).

Often, the laws that came into effect arose from the most mundane of situations. One of the most famous laws, is the ban on the sale of chewing gum. Rumor has it that a minister was officiating the newly opened MRT train. To his embarrassment, the doors would not close because someone had stuck gum on the sensors. Hence, there is a real ban on the sale of chewing gum in Singapore enforced through harsh fines. It is possible to think this is overzealous, but once you have visited Singapore, you get to understand how disciplined people in respecting the environment, and notice the almost pristine cleanliness of the bustling city.

Skyrise Greenery

Another measure Singapore has taken is the Skyrise Greenery Initiative Scheme (SGIS), introduced in 2009 by the National Parks Board of Singapore (Singapore Government, 2021). The reason for the implementation of the SGIS is to promote greenery on high rise buildings and therefore, contribute to Singapore’s vision of being a city in a garden. Moreover, with the increase of plant life in the metropolis, the SGIS offers not only environmental benefits but also social and aesthetic ones.

The SGIS has three main objectives:

§ Encourage the instillation of greenery on the existing buildings in Singapore;

§ Produce environmental benefits such as improving air quality, filtration of dust particles, and mitigating the urban heat island effect;

§ Create a unique image of the city with extensive greenery decorating buildings and skyscrapers

It is the lush greenery which makes Singapore a model of a green urban leader which many countries are trying to follow, with real reason. Amidst all the skyscrapers in the busy streets of the financial area, you can enjoy the sight of a family of otters crossing the streets of Singapore. In Singapore, nature comes in all forms. This can be seen from the famous Super tree Grove and Cloud Forest in Gardens by Bay where there is the fusion of nature and technology.

Cars and Road Tax

Buying a car in Singapore is not known for being easy or cheap. In fact, it is extremely expensive due to the many extra measures the government has implemented to control the car population in the country. For example, a brand new car which that has an open market value (OMV) of around $30,000 in most European countries can cost up to $200,000 in Singapore. The reason for this jump in price is due to four main factors which determine the price of a new car in Singapore.

1. Additional Registration Fee (ARF)

2. Excise Duty & GST

3. Certificate of Entitlement (COE)

4. The local dealers’ margin

The ARF is a form of tax imposed on all cars during registration. This tax is calculated according to the OMV of the vehicle. The next factor which increases the price is the excise duty and GST. This is a form on tax that is imposed on certain goods in a country. For cars in Singapore, the tax is 20% and after that is added to the OMV, a further 7% GST is levied on the total amount. The COE is a certificate which allows a car to be driven on the roads of Singapore for 10 years and costs $30,000 to $40,00. Finally, there is the dealers’ margin which is the cost the dealer needs to cover to earn a profit for themselves. It can range from as little as around 15% for affordable cars to 50% for more luxury cars (Ho, 2019). To put all the numbers into perspective, a simple Toyota which costs around $20,000 can cost you around $100,000. This is why some Singaporeans drive their cars into shaded parking lots when it rains to avoid dirtying their precious cars. Charging Singaporeans this much to own a car has its reasons, the main one being to control the amount of vehicles on the road to avoid overburdening the city and keep traffic in check. This sharp price also means people are more willing to use the excellent transportation system, therefore incentivizing people to choose the more eco-friendly option.


From the famous Super Tree Grove, to the clean beaches of Sentosa Island, Singapore has been able to build itself up from a poor, slum filled island, to an environmentally sustainable and green city , not only providing a life more pleasant for its population, but also building a good reputation abroad (Lee, 1967). Many of the buildings in Singapore are covered in plants which not only fulfills what Lee Kuan Yew envisioned, but also provides a template for many countries to replicate. The three policies mentioned in this article only scratch the surface on what the government of Singapore has been implementing over its short history, with many more to come to fully achieve what Lee Kuan Yew always envisioned: a city in a garden.



Ho, T. (2019, November 4). A No Nonsense Explanation On Why Cars In Singapore Are So Expensive. Dollars and Sense.

Hofmann, W. (2019, April 4). Top 5 Most Environmentally Friendly Countries in Asia-Pacific. ValueChampion.

Kolczak, A. (2017, February 28). This City Aims to Be the World's Greenest. National Geographic Channel.

Singapore Government (2021, February 04). Increase In Enforcement Actions Taken Against Smoking. National Environment Agency.,as%20of%2018%20January%202021

Singapore Government (2021). Skyrise Greenery Incentive Scheme 2.0. Skyrise Greenery.

Lee, Kuan Yew (1967, May 12). S'pore to become beautiful, clean city within three years. The Strait Times. p. 4.

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