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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Singapore

The Singaporean Constitution does not explicitly recognise constitutional environmental rights. However, a provision in Article 9(1) states that: ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty in accordance with the law’. The Singapore courts interpret the constitutional right to life to include protection from life-threatening environmental degradation. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s strategy of creating a healthy and pleasant living environment continues to play an important role in ensuring that Singapore remains an attractive place for investors, for talented migrants, and for its own citizens.

Featured Legislation

1965: The Animals and Birds Act (Ordinance No. 3 of 1965) was introduced. This Act provides for the trade and shipment of animals and birds, restricting their access in or out of the country on the basis of potential diseases affecting them; and deals with matters related to animal health, quarantine procedures (including inspection, abattoirs, etc.) and special provisions to prevent, limit and penalize any misconduct or cruelty to animals. The restrictions on internal and international trade apply also to GMO, semen or other biological organisms potentially harmful or infected. Licenses and health certificates are mandatory for importing, exporting, possessing, etc. animals and birds. Isolation and destruction of diseased animals is mandatory in order to prevent the spreading of diseases in the country. The disposal of carcasses is provided for in detail as also special provisions applying to cats and dogs infected with rabies and their vaccination.

1987: The Environmental Public Health Act (Chapter 95) was published. This Act provides for the disposal of industrial and domestic waste from land and streets in appropriate containers, the prohibition of utilization of human excreta as manure. Waste collection is contracted to appointed employees and disposal facilities are available for collecting and dumping and processing refuse; industrial waste disposal and procedures are detailed even for the recycling and reusing processes and, in case of toxic or hazardous substances, their treatment prior to disposal must be operated by the producers of such waste and a permission to dispose of them after treatment shall be issued by the competent authority.

1991: Prevention of Pollution of the Sea (Reporting of Pollution Incidents) Regulations (No. S 60/1991) were established. These Regulations require: masters of ships to report the occurrence of any actual or probable discharge of any harmful substances from a Singapore ship into Singapore waters; and the occupier of the place on land or the person in charge of the apparatus used for transferring oil or that substance from or to a ship, to report the occurrence of any actual or probable discharge of oil, oily mixture or noxious liquid substance into Singapore waters.

1993: The Control of Plants Act (Chapter 57A) (revision 2000) was brought into force. The present Act, in its revised 2000 version, provides for the cultivation, trade and protection of plants and plant products against pests and diseases, the control and prevention measures for the avoidance of the accidental or potential introduction of pests and diseases into Singapore; the use of pesticides and the certification of pesticide operators and manufacturers, the required documentation mandatory for the production, introduction, shipment and movement of plants and their products in the country and the restrictions to the cultivation of prohibited plants; the issuance of a phytosanitary certificate; the quarantine and disinfection procedure.

1995: The Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) was instituted.  Except as provided in Regulation 3A (import of chewing gum for health-related purposes), the importation into Singapore of any chewing gum is prohibited. However, a trader is allowed to import chewing gum into Singapore for re-export to any country, provided the trader registers with Singapore Customs as an importer and re-exporter of chewing gum and complies with the following conditions: furnish the Director-General of Customs with a letter of undertaking and lodge a banker’s guarantee with any Singapore registered bank for an amount SGD10,000 to Singapore Customs. The Regulation further provides for penalties.

1997: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Port) Regulations were passed.These Regulations provide rules for the behavior of ships in ports of Singapore as regards to anchoring, fire prevention and fighting, mooring, port signals, sea navigation and river navigation, equipment of vessels, restrictions and prohibitions, towing operations, port security, storage and handling of explosives and inflammables, etc. All ships and all persons using port facilities shall take every precaution to avoid pollution of the air. It shall be unlawful for any person to deposit, place or discharge into the territorial waters of Singapore, ashes, solid ballast, sludge or any other matter. The three Schedules attached to these Regulations contain information regarding the following: port signals; special anchorages; prohibited anchorage areas and fairways. (16 Parts divided into 80 regulations).

2014: The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 was approved. This Act makes provision with respect to measures to combat haze pollution wholly or partly caused by smoke originating from any land or forest fire outside Singapore and to protect the environment from such pollution. The Act shall extend to any conduct or thing outside Singapore which causes or contributes to any haze pollution in Singapore. The Act imposes criminal and civil liability on entities directly and/or indirectly contributing to haze pollution in Singapore. For this purpose it defines participation of an entity in the management of another entity. It also defines offenses and creates new statutory duties, the breach of which gives rise to a civil claim.

2016: Singapore’s Climate Action Plan: “Take Action Today, For a Carbon-Efficient Singapore” was approved. In this plan, Singapore sets out four strategies to achieve this. Improving energy efficiency will remain a key strategy for reducing emissions across the industry, transport, buildings, household, waste, and water sectors. Increased awareness building, enhanced regulations, capability building, and government support will help Singapore achieve this.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Dr. Anna Wong, Director, Singapore National Parks, has devoted her life to the fight against illegal wildlife trade for many years. Wong coordinated multiple enforcement operations, including the record seizure of 37.5 tonnes of pangolin scales and 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory in 2019. In August 2020, she oversaw the crushing of 9 tonnes of elephant ivory, an event which was live streamed to a global audience for four days, deterring poacher. In 2021, Singapore National Park, Singapore Customs and the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs took part in a transnational joint operation which led to the seizure of a 5.5kg elephant ornament. After conducting DNA analysis, the species appeared to be listed in CITES Appendix I. It is one of the few successful attempts of conducting a controlled delivery in a case of wildlife crime, a technique more frequently used to combat other forms of smuggling. Moreover, the awardees were able to effectively adapt their enforcement actions to the new modus operandi developed by traffickers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on online trading and air mailing.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment: