Opening Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, for Second Reading Of The Environmental Protection And Management (Amendment) Bill
1 Mr Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, I beg to move, ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’.
2 There are two parts to this Bill. I will start with the first part on reducing the emissions of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants from RAC equipment. RAC stands for refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment.
REDUCING THE EMISSIONS OF HFC REFRIGERANTS
Contributing to Global Action Against Climate Change
3 In recent months, the world witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change, from the unprecedented heatwaves in North America, to the terrifying floods in Europe and China. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its latest report, warned of catastrophic impacts from climate change unless the world takes urgent action to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I am heartened by the strong support given by this House earlier this year, in acknowledging climate change as a global emergency and a threat to mankind.
4 Every tonne of GHG reduced can and will lead to tangible improvements to our environment. Singapore will play our part to meet ambitious GHG emissions reduction targets. These are set out under our 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution and our Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement. Earlier this year, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our national roadmap towards sustainable development. Our plans are not static – we will review our plans and continue to raise our climate ambitions as low-emissions technologies become available, to achieve net zero emissions as soon as viable.
Mitigating Emissions of HFC Refrigerants
5 One significant contributor to GHG emissions is the use of RAC equipment. Cooling is essential in our hot and humid climate, but is energy intensive and generates carbon emissions. RAC equipment also use HFCs as refrigerants and emit HFCs into the atmosphere. These are potent greenhouse gases or GHGs which trap more heat than carbon dioxide.
6 This is why MSE announced a comprehensive package of measures at the Committee of Supply debates last year to reduce HFC emissions.
a) First, to shift the market towards climate-friendly RAC equipment. This addresses the root cause, by avoiding the use of certain classes of HFC refrigerants that have the most adverse impact on the climate.
b) Second, to raise the industry’s competency in handling HFC refrigerants during the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of RAC equipment.
c) Third, to mandate the recovery of spent HFC refrigerants. HFCs from discarded RAC equipment will have to be collected and treated for reuse or destroyed, instead of being vented into the atmosphere.
Key Features of the Bill
7 Mr Deputy Speaker, I will now go through the new Part 10A of the Bill, which will give effect to the measures I have described.
Regulating the Supply of RAC Equipment
8 First, we will phase out RAC equipment using refrigerants with high Global Warming Potential (GWP), where climate-friendly alternatives are available. GWP is a measure of the warming effect of a gas relative to carbon dioxide. For example, the typical refrigerant used in chillers, R134a, has a GWP of 1,300. In comparison, carbon dioxide has a GWP of 1. The higher the GWP, the more heat the refrigerant will trap.
9 From 1 October next year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will not allow the supply of RAC equipment with high GWP, starting with:
a) Household air-conditioners that use refrigerants with GWP of more than 750; and
b) Household refrigerators and commercial water-cooled chillers that use refrigerants with GWP of more than 15.
10 Climate-friendly alternatives for such equipment are widely available. They are typically more energy-efficient and users can enjoy energy cost savings. For households, there is no cost difference in switching to climate-friendly refrigerators and air-conditioners. For commercial users, low-GWP water-cooled chillers cost 15% more on average, but as they are more energy efficient, their life-cycle cost savings more than make up for the higher upfront cost.
11 In our industry consultations, most suppliers and importers of RAC equipment have affirmed that they are able to supply climate-friendly models. Countries in the EU, as well as the US and Japan, have implemented similar measures to curb HFC emissions. Major exporters of RAC equipment, such as the US and China, are also shifting towards more climate-friendly refrigerants.
12 These measures will be effected through sections 40B to 40D, which allow the Minister to prescribe the above RAC equipment as goods to be regulated, and the requirements that they have to satisfy to be supplied in Singapore.
13 Sections 40E to 40G lay out the requirements for suppliers to register themselves and their RAC equipment with NEA. Suppliers will only need to register themselves once, whereas the registration of the regulated RAC equipment will be valid for three years. This allows NEA to regularly review the standards of these RAC equipment and ensure that the equipment sold in Singapore is climate-friendly.
Raising the Industry’s Competency in Handling Refrigerants
14 Second, to raise the industry’s competency in handling refrigerants, we will regulate companies that carry out regulated GHG works. GHG works involve the use or handling of any GHG, such as the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of RAC equipment.
15 Companies that carry out any regulated GHG works will be required to establish and maintain policies, procedures and processes to carry out the regulated GHG works safely to minimise emissions. They must keep accurate records of those regulated GHG works and provide the records to NEA upon request. Regulated companies must provide their employees with adequate and properly-maintained equipment to carry out the regulated GHG works, and deploy at least one competent technician to supervise or carry out such works.
16 To be certified as competent, technicians must attend a training and certification programme that will equip them with the necessary skills to minimise HFC emissions when carrying out regulated GHG works. NEA has worked with Temasek Polytechnic to roll out a course on handling commercial water-cooled chillers this month. The training programmes will uplift the capabilities of technicians and harmonise HFC handling practices across the industry.
17 Competent technicians will need to comply with the policies, procedures and processes set out by their respective company, as well as prescribed statutory requirements.
18 For a start, these requirements will only apply to companies handling commercial water-cooled chillers, as these chillers have much larger refrigerant capacities than household air-conditioners. Companies handling household refrigerators and air-conditioners will not have this requirement imposed on them, but are encouraged to certify their technicians.
19 Sections 40K to 40P will allow the Minister to prescribe the classes, descriptions or types of GHG works to be regulated. and the requirements for companies carrying out such regulated GHG works, including registering themselves with NEA. The responsibilities of competent technicians are set out in section 40Q.
Mandating Recovery of Spent Refrigerants
20 Third, we will introduce measures to minimise the venting of spent refrigerants into the atmosphere. The Bill will introduce a related amendment to the definition of “industrial waste” in section 2 of the Environmental Public Health Act, to classify spent refrigerants as “industrial waste”. With this change, spent refrigerants recovered during RAC equipment servicing and disposal must be sent for proper treatment by licensed toxic industrial waste collectors.
Powers of the Director-General and Authorised Officers
21 The Director-General will be empowered to administer and enforce the new Part 10A, and to conduct the necessary inspections, tests and surveys to make sure that the requirements in the Part are complied with. These powers are set out in sections 40S to 40W.
22 The Director-General will also be given the power to grant waivers from specific requirements, as set out under section 40Y. These waivers will be considered on a case by case basis.
Penalties and Appeal
23 The key offences set out in Part 10A include carrying out regulated activities without registering with NEA, supplying non-compliant GHG goods that are regulated goods, failing to meet stipulated requirements, failing to provide records relating to regulated goods or regulated GHG works, and falsifying data. The penalties for these offences are pegged to similar offences under the Energy Conservation Act.
24 An appeal process, detailed in sections 40J and 40R, will also be put in place with regard to certain decisions of the Director-General concerning matters such as registration. Reconsideration can be sought from the Director-General in the first instance. Thereafter, the person may appeal in writing to the Minister, whose decision will be final.
Impact of Reducing HFC Emissions
25 These three HFC mitigation measures are expected to reduce HFC emissions from the regulated equipment by around half by 2030. We can expect further abatement beyond 2030 when the current stock of less climate-friendly equipment is completely phased out.
STRENGTHENING ENFORCEMENT ON CONSTRUCTION NOISE
26 Mr Deputy Speaker, I will now move on to the second part of the Bill, which will introduce amendments to improve construction contractors’ compliance with the no-work rule on Sundays and public holidays.
Singapore’s Approach to Managing Construction Noise
27 Singapore is a dense, highly urbanised and vibrant city, and some amount of noise is normal and inevitable. This includes noise from construction projects, which are needed to build our homes, MRT lines, and healthcare facilities.
28 Over the years, we have introduced a suite of measures to manage construction noise. First, NEA stipulates maximum permissible noise limits for construction sites, taking reference from the World Health Organization’s guidelines. Construction sites within 150 metres from residential buildings and noise-sensitive premises such as hospitals, are subject to more stringent noise limits. Contractors must install noise meters at the nearest affected premises and monitor the noise levels regularly.
29 Second, in 2011, we implemented the no-work rule to provide residents with greater quiet on Sundays and public holidays. No work is allowed on these days at construction sites located within 150 metres of any hospital, home for the aged sick or residential building, though NEA may grant permits for quieter forms of work.
30 Third, from April 2014 to March this year, NEA disbursed a total of $8.3 million in grants to incentivise contractors to adopt quieter construction equipment and methods. These include using quieter piling and hacking equipment, and installing noise barriers and enclosures.
No-Work Rule Contraventions
31 While most contractors comply with noise management measures, 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% of construction sites, or around 150 sites, 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.
Leveraging Technology to Strengthen Enforcement
32 When complaints on construction noise are received, NEA strives to respond swiftly to address the noise disturbance, especially on Sundays and public holidays. However, there are limitations to the current enforcement approach, as violations of the no-work rule can only be confirmed through physical site inspections by NEA officers. This is resource intensive, and not always effective, as the breach of the no-work rule could have stopped by the time NEA officers reach the construction site.
33 This is where technology can make a difference. From 1 October 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.
Key Features of the Bill
34 Mr Deputy Speaker, let me outline the key features of the new section 28A. It empowers the Director-General to require the owner or occupier of a construction site who has contravened the no-work rule to install, maintain and operate an electronic video surveillance system at their own cost. This includes visual monitoring devices such as closed-circuit television cameras.
35 The notice issued to no-work rule offenders may specify the type of surveillance system required; the number of monitoring devices to be installed and where; the part of the construction site to be recorded; and the duration for which the surveillance system must be operational. The owner or occupier must store the recordings for the period specified in the notice and provide NEA with access to any stored recording so as to facilitate remote monitoring and enforcement.
36 The penalties for non-compliance are aligned with those for similar requirements in the Act, such as compliance with noise limits and installation of noise meters. Section 42 is amended to provide for appeals to the Minister against a notice issued by the Director-General under section 28A.
37 We recognise that the construction sector is facing significant challenges during this pandemic, such as a manpower crunch arising from border control measures and higher costs of construction materials. The new requirement will not affect the vast majority of compliant construction sites. It will only be imposed on the small number of construction sites that have violated the no-work rule, and is meant to deter further violations.
38 Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill marks another milestone in our efforts to tackle climate change and maintain a quality living environment for Singaporeans. The first part of the Bill will ensure that we meet Singapore’s cooling needs in a responsible manner, by using climate-friendly RAC 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. We will continue to work with the industry and other key stakeholders to regularly review our approach of managing construction noise, taking into account public feedback, international best practices, and our local context.
39 Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I beg to move.