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OCBC Arboretum an initiative to reduce Singapore's carbon footprint

OCBC invests in first of its kind high-tech tree bank in South-east Asia to fight climate change

By investing in technology to understand the conditions for better growth, we hope to ensure the survival of these trees and mitigate the impact of climate change, says Mr Tsien (third from left). He is seen here with (from extreme left) Kenneth Er, CEO, NParks; DesmondLee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development; and Prof Tan.


HAVE you been feeling a little hot lately? You are not alone.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS), September 2019 was the warmest and driest September in Singapore on record at the climate station in Changi.

A recent study by the National Parks Board (NParks) also showed that land in Singapore had changed from being a net absorber of carbon in 2012 to a net emitter in 2014.

Carbon dioxide is the largest cause of rising temperatures, and makes up around 80 per cent of greenhouse gases.

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And with about 95 per cent of Singapore's electricity being generated by natural gas, this has also contributed to a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions here.

Hence, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli recently announced that nature-based solutions will be part of Singapore's climate fight.

Such solutions include tree-planting, and the work at the OCBC Arboretum in Singapore Botanic Gardens will be instrumental in these efforts.

The OCBC Arboretum is a conservation project to grow and conserve 200 species of dipterocarps, the most important trees in Asian rainforests. These trees are slow-growing forest giants endangered by logging and timber production. Yet if preserved, they can live for hundreds of years.

The arboretum is an important component of the bank's commitment to fighting climate change in a world where carbon emissions are at their highest and are likely to increasingly cause potentially disastrous events for mankind.

Forestation can be a huge part ofthe climate solution, and the 2,000 trees at the OCBC Arboretum alone can store 80 million kg of carbon dioxide in their lifetimes.

Samuel Tsien, group CEO of OCBC Bank, said: "By planting a living collection of trees and investing in technology to understand the conditions for better growth, we hope to ensure the survival of these trees and mitigate the impact of climate change."

Shee Zhi Qiang, director of horticulture and operations, Singapore Botanic Gardens, said: "Dipterocarps are mostly slow-growing trees with dense, hard wood. They eventually grow to become some of the tallest trees in the rainforest after hundreds of years. Due to their massive size and dominance, they make up one of the largest stocks of carbon in the region."

Through photosynthesis, trees take in planet-warming carbon dioxide present in the air. The absorbed carbon is then locked in their trunks and roots for their entire lifetime, preventing the carbon from being re-emitted into the atmosphere.

Dipterocarps are big carbon storers because of their size - they can grow to 80m in height, and a mature dipterocarp tree can store as much as 40,000 kg of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.

Keeping mature forests alive is also an important part of fighting climate change. The OCBC Arboretum aims to develop better methods of growing trees, dipterocarps in particular.

It is a first-of-its-kind arboretum in the region in its use of technology. A unique monitoring system, the Ecological Network of Tree Sensors (ENTS) is deployed in the arboretum.

The system tracks three main parameters - the environment that the trees are exposed to, their growth and health - by using Internet of Things (IoT), environmental sensors and remote sensing.

The arboretum will also act as a gene bank to preserve the different species of endangered dipterocarps.

OCBC Bank's efforts to fight climate change involve research and preservation of these trees' unique species, as much still remains to be discovered about their diversity and growth habits.

Unlike other plants, dipterocarp seeds cannot be stored in freezers for planting in future. As "recalcitrant seeds", they have the ability to germinate under any condition - including freezers. And as a tropical species, they will die under those conditions.

In addition, they are also highly susceptible to insect predators, which eat about 80 to 90 per cent of dipterocarp seeds.

Even the ones that do survive might not have the right conditions for growth. With this in mind, the OCBC Arboretum will study the precise environmental conditions that are crucial to the survival of the dipterocarp saplings.

In turn, this understanding will enhance capabilities in restoring the tropical forests both in Singapore and the region - a step to achieving positive climate change.

OCBC Bank will also fund the Forest Discovery Centre @ OCBC Arboretum, a knowledge centre for conservation housed in Singapore's first black and white bungalow.

This is done through the Garden City Fund, an NParks-registered charity and IPC.

Leo Tan, chairman of the Garden City Fund, said: "NParks is glad to have OCBC on board with us for this project. As the first arboretum of its kind in the application of technology in South-east Asia, the OCBC Arboretum marks a significant milestone in NParks' efforts to use technology to enhance greenery management and research."

Professor Tan added: "We hope that OCBC's support will inspire more organisations to join us in our efforts to further research and conserve our flora and fauna for future generations."

  • This article is part of a series on climate change initiatives, supported by OCBC Bank

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