Conservation and Business: Working Together for a Sustainable Singapore

By Martin Callow | March 11, 2020

Female proboscis monkey in Borneo. These endemic monkeys are limited to coastal and river habitat strips and swamp forests and are thus threatened by land conversion and coastal development. Photo credit: ©Gregoire Dubois

Singapore

The organization I work for — the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS — is globally recognized for saving species and their habitats in some of the world’s most remote locations. So what are we doing in Singapore?

First, let’s be clear. Singapore does play home to nature and there are a variety of green places for native wild animals and plants. Greenery covers some 47 percent of Singapore despite urbanization. In excess of 8,300 species have been recorded in Singapore, including more than 85 mammals, 360 birds, 920 fishes, and 2,300 vascular plants.

For me and many of the city-state’s 5.8M residents, Singapore’s nature reserves, parks, park connectors, and gardens (managed by the National Parks Board) provide opportunity to rejuvenate from our busy work schedules, enjoy our spare time, and provide the chance to see the Raffles banded langur, Malayan colugo, palm civet, pied oriental hornbill, estuarine crocodiles (yes, that’s right!), and more.

Appreciating the presence of smooth otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) in urban Singapore. Photo credit: Max Khoo/NParks.

We’re also blessed with Wildlife Reserves Singapore and its world-leading zoological institutions, namely Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, and a Night and River Safari, all of which provide additional opportunity to experience the wonder of wildlife.

But it’s true, Singapore is not a typical place for WCS to have a presence. Our programs usually focus on saving wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. Our presence in Singapore relates to a broader goal, to build and leverage partnerships in support of our mission.

For this, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team of innovative conservationists with capacities that complement our teams of field scientists, and that allow us to have conversations with Singapore’s market-economy executives about risk, return and, importantly, impact — the latter being increasingly a part of corporate C-suite conversations.

Singapore is one of the easiest places in the world to see a Malayan colugo, or “flying lemur” (Galeopterus variegatus). Photo credit: ©Benjamin Lee/NParks.

It is an interesting time to be in Singapore. The Monetary Authority of Singapore is taking active steps to promote sustainable financing in Singapore’s financial sector, including engaging financial institutions to consider ESG (environmental, social, and governance) criteria in decision-making processes, as well as to develop the green bond market.

Many companies, including Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, are making sustainability commitments and moving towards aligning their business models with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Temasek, for example, has announced a goal to be carbon neutral by 2020, and to halve the greenhouse gas emissions of its entire portfolio by 2030. Similarly, ABC World Asia, a private equity fund for impact investing established by Temasek Trust, has closed its inaugural fund at $385 million.

It is because of our Singapore-based team, backed-up by our conservation solutions team in New York and our global network of conservation practitioners, that we are confident we can further develop new shared-value collaborations in support of our mission.

We are already working with coffee companies seeking to secure deforestation-free production around Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, Sumatra, which brings benefits to critical forest habitat, tiger populations, and small-hold farmers’ livelihoods. We call this our “forest-first” approach and it is designed to address sector risks by actively reducing deforestation through a joint, collective action, focus on high-risk priority areas.

The Eco-Link@BKE is part of Singapore’s efforts to conserve biodiversity in the urban landscape. The 62m-long bridge enables mammals, birds and insects to move freely between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Photo credit: Singapore National Parks Board (NParks).

To date, corporate signatories to this collective action include Louis Dreyfus Company, Nestlé SA, and Olam International to name a few.

We are involved in talks with the financial sector to identify ways to create innovative financial products to protect intact forests and generate cash flows for protected area managers and wildlife friendly community enterprises. To this effect, we are engaged with Singapore-based banks, including DBS and Standard Chartered, and also exploring ways to counter global and regional wildlife trafficking by stemming illicit financial flows to save endangered populations of rhino, hornbills, elephants, and pangolins.

We also work with companies that seek to reduce their carbon footprints by helping them to develop projects that can deliver verified forest carbon credits (in forests replete with wildlife), including through the sale of credits from our flagship project in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia.

More recently, we’ve been fortunate to engage with Singapore’s Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) whose team is helping us to assess and refine coastal fishers’ business strategies. Our goal here is to structure and raise private capital in support of growth strategies that secure sustainable and gender-equitable fisheries practices for the benefit of coastal communities in North Maluku, Indonesia.

Intact forests in the SE Asian archipelago provide a critical nature-based solution to climate change, but illegal roads damage their integrity, creating opportunities for wildlife poaching. Photo credit: ©Gregoire Dubois

Of course, there is much more to do. We are exploring ways to develop our network and open possibilities for further collaborations. For example, innovative partnership opportunities with technology firms certainly exist here in Singapore.

Imagine the potential of technology and artificial intelligence to tackle cyber-wildlife-crime, to trace sustainably-sourced commodities as they move through complex value chains, or to ensure blue and green financing instruments are delivering real social and environmental change. I’m positive there are many “WildTech” innovations that can be used to protect nature, and our team is keen to explore ways to do so with a range of innovators, businesses, corporations and financial institutions.

With the world more interdependent than ever before, public and private sectors will need to converge around both development and corporate sustainability objectives. We believe that by working with an array of new collaborators, we’ll collectively be able to create a future of shared value to safeguard the region’s rich wildlife and wild places.

Martin Callow is the Director for the WCS’s Southeast Asian Archipelago region, and works with a team of 400 people across Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. WCS also actively partners with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) and the National Parks Board (NParks).

WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone…

Wildlife Conservation Society

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WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

WCS Conservation Solutions

By discovering how to save nature, we can inspire everyone to work with us to protect wildlife in the last wild places on Earth.

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