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Singapore's economy starts to choke on Indonesia smoke
by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) June 21, 2013

Environment holds business risks and chances: report
Paris (AFP) June 21, 2013 - Rising temperatures, storms linked to climate change and growing competition for water and land point to tough times ahead for the business sector, but also a chance for profitable innovation, the UN said Friday.

Citing the ravages of floods in Australia in 2010-11 which cost insurer Munich Re $350 million (265 million euros) and mining group Rio Tinto another $245 million, the report said companies had no choice but to adapt.

"From extreme weather events, to rising pressures on finite natural resources, changes in the global environment will increasingly impact operating costs, markets for products, the availability of raw materials, and the reputation of businesses, from finance and tourism, to healthcare and transport," said the UN Environment Programme document.

"The future of the private sector will increasingly hinge on the ability of businesses to adapt to the world's rapidly changing environment and to develop goods and services that can reduce the impacts of climate change, water scarcity, emissions of harmful chemicals, and other environmental concerns."

In the tourism sector, for example, a 1.4-2.2-degree Celsius (2.5-4-degree Fahrenheit) rise in average winter temperatures would likely mean the closure of more than half the ski resorts operating in the northeastern United States in 30 years.

The report said Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions were projected to double in the next 50 years, leading to a global average surface temperature increase of 3-6 C (5.4-10.8 F) by the end of the century.

As for water scarcity, it said platinum mines in South Africa's Olifants River system faced ten times higher water charges by 2020 as they compete with local communities for the ever scarcer commodity.

Global electricity demand could be over 70 percent higher in 2035 than 2009, said the report -- and pointed to more frequent heat waves associated with climate change affecting grid reliability.

Last year, blackouts in northern India caused by high temperatures and low rains left hundreds of millions of people without power for several hours.

But while the risks to business were "significant", they also presented unique opportunities for companies that seized the growing demand for greener technology, investments and services, said the report entitled "GEO-5 for Business: Impacts of a Changing Environment on the Corporate Sector."

More than 80 percent of the capital needed to address climate change may come from the private sector.

"This can bring about significant 'green economy' investment opportunities in the finance sector for green buildings, energy-efficiency technology, sustainable transport and other low-carbon products and infrastructure," the UNEP said.

"In cities, around 60 percent of the infrastructure needed to meet the needs of the world's urban population by 2050 still needs to be built, presenting significant business opportunities for greener urban construction and retrofits."

There were opportunities in the energy sector too, with coal's global share of total power generation expected to drop from two-fifths to one-third by 2035, said the report, and renewables rising from 20 to 31 percent.

"The 'decarbonisation' of electricity will present opportunities for the sector to advance renewable energy technologies," said a UNEP statement.

The severe smog over Singapore caused by forest fires in Indonesia could hurt the city-state's economy if it persists for weeks, economists said Friday as the pollution index hit new record levels.

Tourist spots are shutting down, companies are allowing staff to work from home and a VIP airport has suspended operations. Some Singapore restaurants were almost deserted during the normally busy Friday lunch period.

As thick grey smoke and the acrid smell of burning wood and grass smothered the city-state for a fifth day running, economists said tourism in particular could suffer from Singapore's worst environmental emergency since the 1997 haze crisis.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Thursday that the problem "can easily last for several weeks, and quite possibly longer until the dry season ends in Sumatra".

The season lasts from June to September.

"The impact on Singapore from the Indonesian haze is particularly severe this year, and could become worse than 1997," said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at research firm IHS Global Insight.

"If the haze persists over the coming weeks during the seasonal slash-and-burn period in Sumatra, it has the potential to have significant negative effects on the Singapore economy.

"Images of the haze enveloping Singapore are being widely reported on TV channels and other media globally, and can be particularly damaging to Singapore's world-class tourism industry."

Tourism is a revenue-spinner for Singapore, a tiny city-state that has designed itself as a regional hub for everything from hosting conventions to managing the wealth of the world's millionaires.

Singapore welcomed 14.4 million visitors last year who generated Sg$23 billion ($18 billion) in tourism-related revenues. The sector contributed 4.0 percent directly to the gross domestic product (GDP).

"If the number of tourist visitors fall sharply even for several months, this will hurt Singapore's GDP numbers for the third quarter of 2013," Biswas said.

He noted that such a decline would come at a time when Singapore's manufacturing sector, a traditional pillar of the trade-driven economy, is hurting from weak orders, particularly for electronics products, from its main markets the United States and Europe.

"It's a bit of a disappointment that you can't really see the towers or the buildings. And it's a bit dark," said 26-year-old British tourist Amy Jones, referring to Singapore's famous Marina Bay Sands casino complex which looks like a curved ocean liner perched on three hotel towers over 50 storeys high.

Jit Soon Lim, head of equity research for Southeast Asia at Nomura Singapore Ltd, said domestic consumption will also suffer as residents stay indoors.

Singapore's GDP is expected to grow between 1 and 3 percent this year, according to official forecasts.

The Pollutants Standards Index rose to an all-time high of 401 at midday Friday, a level deemed as potentially life-threatening to ill and elderly persons if it persists over a 24-hour period.

Wild Wild Wet, a popular aquatic park in the island's eastern suburbs, was shut down along with the Singapore Flyer, the world's biggest Ferris wheel.

Jurong Bird Park was open but outdoor shows have been cancelled.

Seletar Airport, which services the private jets of VIP guests, was also closed "as a result of prolonged poor visibility caused by the haze," authorities said.

The main Changi Airport remains operational.

Non-essential employees at Malaysian bank CIMB were allowed to work from home and staff were given N95 masks, which block out 95 percent of airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns, said the lender's regional economist Song Seng Wun.

But one sector is a direct beneficiary of the haze problem -- surgical masks are in short supply because people have been buying them in great numbers from pharmacies.

Southeast Asia's worst haze crisis took place in 1997-1998, causing widespread health problems and costing the regional economy billions of dollars as a result of business and air transport disruptions.


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