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March 21st, 2016
Energy • Finance

The National Environment Agency (NEA) in Singapore

In the late 1990s, Singapore was badly affected by the worsening air quality that affected the region and resulted in the notorious haze of September 1997 while its increasing industrial activity and individual prosperity resulted in a growing waste management problem. In 2002 it created the National Environment Agency to focus on these and other issues to make Singapore a greener and cleaner place to live.

The initiative

In July 2002, the National Environment Agency (NEA) in Singapore was separated from the Ministry of Environment as a discrete organisation with the aim of providing more targeted environmental control and more effective and prompt environmental management.

Its scope is very broad, and includes the monitoring of the general living environment and promoting public hygiene. The specific aspects include:

  • Pollution control (a specific objective is to reduce air pollution and achieve an annual mean of 15µg/m3 of SO2 and 12µg/m3 of PM2.5 by 2020).
  • Waste treatment (another specific aim is to implement resource waste minimisation),
  • Recycling and energy efficiency.
  • Food sanitation.
  • Environmental cooperation with neighbouring countries.
  • Weather forecasting.

The challenge

With greater industrial activity and a rising national income in Singapore, an increasing amount of waste was being generated. Annual figures indicated that the total volume of solid waste generated in 2001 was 5,035,415 tons.

Air pollution was also a major problem. The Southeast Asian haze that enveloped the region in September 1997 and, to a lesser extent, in 1998 resulted in an estimated cost to the nations affected of US$9.3 billion. A significant proportion of that was borne by Singapore.

The public impact

The overall recycling rate from 40 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2008. Waste growth was curtailed: the total waste disposed of in 2008 was 7,179 Tonnes Per Day, a 6 percent reduction compared to 2000.

A dengue campaign carried out by the NEA reduced dengue cases from 14,209 people in 2005 to 5,330 in 2011. (Dengue is a viral disease, carried - like malaria - by mosquitoes.)

Stakeholder engagement

Government agencies and ministries formed the NEA from existing units within the Ministry of the Environment and provided necessary funds for its proper functioning as a discrete entity. Government ministries, such as the Ministry of Communications, and agencies, such as the Singapore Maritime Port Authority, then collaborated with the NEA on environmental issues. The agency makes significant effort to engage with external stakeholders for the various programmes that it carries out.

Political commitment

The government demonstrated its commitment to the NEA by enshrining the agency's formation in statute: in July 2002, the government passed the National Environment Agency Act, which formally created the NEA.

NEA's operating budget is essentially financed by subsidies from the Ministry of the Environment, ensuring that there is a sufficient source of funding.

Clarity of objectives

The NEA's objectives were clearly set out in the 2002 Act. The initiatives the NEA has subsequently undertaken are in line with its overall organisational goals and spheres of activity. For example, reducing air pollution has been a major objective, and to work towards attaining its air quality targets by 2020, the NEA has “put together a roadmap with a set of abatement measures to achieve sustainable growth and development.” [1]

In order to meet its general goal of more effective environmental management, the NEA has carried out several initiatives like ‘clean and green environment' and the Energy Efficient Singapore Campaign.

Strength of evidence

Previously, the Ministry of the Environment was responsible for the implementation of all environmental measures. The NEA continues to benefit from the ministry’s skill set expertise and pre-existing best practice while using the best available evidence from around the world to set its agenda and define its programmes.


Detailed fiscal considerations were set out in the 2002 Act, with stringent requirements annual estimates of the NEA's income and expenditure for each ensuing financial year. The funding was essentially guaranteed, given that:

  • “For the purpose of enabling the Agency to carry out its functions under this Act, the Minister may, from time to time, make grants to the Agency of such sums of money, as the Minister may determine, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament” - section 22
  • “For the discharge of its ... the Agency may, from time to time, raise loans from the Government or ... raise loans from banks or other financial institutions (whether in Singapore or elsewhere)” - section 23.

The previous existence of the agency functions as part of the Ministry indicated that it was feasible and practical for those functions to be carried out by a government agency.


NEA has a clear organisational structure, which includes a management structure and function-dedicated units. There are 15 different divisions, e.g. the Sustainability Office and the Environmental Protection Division, which are overseen and governed by a 12-member board of directors.

To strengthen the capabilities of NEA staff, there has been a series of Operational Excellence Get-Basics-Right Forums. External speakers from other government agencies shared knowledge about standards, challenges and operations.


NEA's success is broadly determined by the programmes it undertakes. The agency has devised different mechanisms to assess these programmes at regular intervals.

The programme for air pollution, for example, obtains air quality data from remote air monitoring stations linked to a Central Control System. This is used to record SO2 and PM2.5 levels, which are the metrics to be used for the 2020 target defined above.

In order to ensure that wastewater standards are complied with, the NEA's Pollution Control Department requires factories to submit reports on water quality measurements at regular intervals, and also conduct a frequent onsite inspection of factories.

3. NEA conducts regular checks on food establishments, cooling towers, swimming pools, and public toilets to ensure that a high standard of hygiene is maintained.


NEA coordinates with the Ministry of the Environment and other government ministries in pursuing its green agenda. NEA staff and those from other government agencies share knowledge about enforcement standards, challenges and operational excellence. It also liaises with public organisations with similar interests in environmental protection, for example, the Singapore School Transport Association.

The NEA also works closely with town councils and land agencies to carry out surveillance programmes for vector-borne diseases.

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