Using hydrographs to illustrate your answer, explain how changes in land use within a catchment area can affect discharge.

As changes in land use such as urbanisation, reforestation and deforestation occurs, the receival of precipitation by the catchment area is affected to varied extents. Due to the change in land use, the characteristics of the land and drainage basin changes and has a large influence over the speed and time in which water arrives and leaves the gauging station. The influence on speed is reflected in the lag time of the hydrograph and the amount of water within the catchment area is indicated by the peak discharge, thereby determining the shape of the hydrograph and the river discharge. 

Influence of urbanisation on flood hydrographs 

Flood hydrographs of forested area and urbanized area

As seen from the hydrographs above, the urbanised area has a shorter lag time, steeper rising limb, as well as higher peak discharge than that of the forested area. In urbanised areas, impervious surfaces such as tarmac and concrete are more commonly used, thus water cannot infiltrate through these surfaces. Therefore, during a rainfall event, the reduced infiltration rate results in the great increase in overland flow and increased runoff generation. Due to the increased surface runoff, precipitation reaches the gauging station at a faster speed, thus the steep rising limb and shorter lag time as lesser time is taken for precipitation to reach the gauging station. Additionally, in some urbanised areas, gutters and drains are constructed, helping to carry water more quickly due to less friction with the banks to the nearest river. This could also be a reason as to why urbanised areas experience shorter lag time and higher peak discharge. 

Furthermore, urbanised areas end with lower baseflows than that of forested areas due to lower levels of infiltration and groundwater storage. Soil water storage is contributed by infiltration, percolation, throughflow and baseflow, forming an unsaturated zone that acts as a storage reservoir, providing pathways for water to move downwards to contribute to groundwater storage. As forested areas have a higher soil water storage capacity, more precipitation is infiltrated and percolated into the ground thus resulting in more baseflow. On the other hand, due to urbanisation, the amount of soil present is greatly less than that of forested areas, thus the precipitation received will be lost due to the reduced ability to store precipitation as groundwater storage. Forested areas are able to store the precipitation received due to the prominence of soil which are porous and permeable, thus the higher baseflow levels at the end of a rainfall event as compared to urbanized areas. 

Influence of deforestation on flood hydrographs 

 Flood hydrographs of deforested areas and not deforested areas

As seen from the hydrographs above, the deforested area has a shorter lag time, steeper rising limb, as well as high peak discharge than that of the area that did not undergo deforestation. In deforested areas, the lack of vegetation results in direct precipitation to hit the soil, which will lead to compaction due to the raindrop effect, reducing infiltration and hence more surface flows (infiltration excess flows), which are faster than the sub-surface flows which are dominant in forested areas. This explains the shorter lag time and steeper rising limb contributed by the high speed at which the precipitation reaches the gauging station during a rainfall event.

The peak discharge is higher in deforested areas than that of in areas that do not experience deforestation due to the lack of interception from trees, increased precipitation compacts the soil, decreasing the porosity of the soil. This reduces the rate of infiltration of water into the soil, resulting in more surface runoff (infiltration excess flows), thus more precipitation recorded by the gauging station. Tropical rainforests intercept up to 80% of rainfall whereas arable land may only intercept 10%. As seen the presence of trees is essential to the discharge of an area as they reduce direct infiltration and intercept precipitation, reducing infiltration rates, leading to a decrease in peak discharge in areas that are not deforested. Therefore, the lack of vegetation would result in higher peak discharge due to exposed soil contributed by the absence of trees, increasing peak discharge. 

Influence of reforestation on flood hydrographs

Flood hydrographs of reforested area and deforested area

Reforestation is the restoration of a forest via replanting the area with trees and vegetation, re-establishing a forest on the land which once had a forest. As seen from the hydrographs above, the reforested area has a longer lag time, gentler rising limb, as well as lower peak discharge than that of the deforested area. This is because where vegetation such as trees and plants is dense, interception by the canopy would be more substantial, leading to higher interception and biological water storage and some of it will be lost to evapotranspiration. Due to the greater amounts of infiltration and more sub-surface flows in reforested areas, the rate in which precipitation reaches the gauging station is slowed, thus the longer lag time and gentler rising limb than that of the deforested area. 

Moreover, the reforested area has higher baseflows than that of deforested areas due to higher levels of infiltration, soil water storage and groundwater storage. Plant roots, especially those of trees, reduce throughflow by taking up water from the soil, increasing the infiltration capacity of the soil, resulting in lesser discharge accumulated by the end of rainfall events as reflected in the hydrograph above. Additionally, due to the increased infiltration, water of precipitation is lost to soil water storage and groundwater storage as water is stored for soil water due to the porosity and permeability of the soil. Therefore there are higher baseflow levels in reforested areas.

In conclusion, urbanisation and deforestation have similar effects on flood hydrographs as they both result in higher peak discharge, steeper rising limb and shorter lag time. On the other hand, reforestation causes the opposite, where it causes lower peak discharge, gentler rising limb and longer lag time. These observations as seen in the hydrographs illustrated above can be extended to whether an area is more prone to flooding. For example, urbanised areas and deforested areas are more prone to flooding due to the absence of vegetation and the area characteristics such as permeability of the ground, while reforested areas are not as prone to flood risks. Therefore, changes in land use can affect the discharge levels of drainage basins, leading to changes in flood hydrographs as well.

Chua Yee Suan (22-I1)

Is the state the most influential actor in the global economy?

A state is a politically bound space, within which the resident population is governed by a government authority. States seek to govern the global economy through engaging in national policies that have the fundamental aim to maximise societal welfare for its citizens, thus allowing for the creation, enhancement and retention of economic value to occur within its space. In a global production network (GPN), the role of the state can be seen as an external one that is plugged into a TNC’s main production circuit through financial and regulatory systems. However, there exists a continuous struggle for power amidst unequal power relations between the state and other actors in the global economy. Fundamentally, in this capitalistic global economy, wealth is power, and thus the struggle for power in governing the global economy and the level of influence the state has in governing the global economy is highly influenced by the state’s level of development and its subsequent economic and political clout when negotiating and interacting with other economic actors like TNCs, IOs, and non-state actors. Thus, this essay seeks to argue that the state is the most influential actor in the global economy as it has the final regulatory authority and say in the economic activities that occur within its national boundaries, but its influence may be undermined by other actors depending on its level of development.

The state is the most influential as they have the final governing authority over how their national economies operate that TNCs can only seek to influence, through exerting their role as a regulator of economic activities, provider of public goods and services, as well as a business owner and investor. As a regulator of economic activities, states pursue national policies to advance their national competitive advantage. This can be done through trade regulation, where states can engage in protectionist measures to restrict foreign imports through taxes and quotas and thus allows local firms to be insulated from overseas competition and thus able to grow. On the other hand, the state can also reduce barriers to trade by lowering taxes to promote exports so domestic firms can expand and tap into global markets to obtain raw materials or sell domestic products. This is also regularly coupled with FDI regulation, where some states seek to increase inward FDI through tax incentives and creating supporting industries for TNCs to set up domestically, while others may restrict FDI and the abilities of TNCs to engage in their economic activities, as in the case of France, to prevent foreign takeovers in important cultural and defence sectors. The state also plays a pivotal role in providing public goods and services like roads, transport and education services that ensure TNCs find the economy attractive to locate its production activities domestically, without which profit maximising TNCs would not consider to relocate its economic activities to the host country. This in turn influences the level of integratedness TNCs have with the country through the promotion of forward and backward linkages, ensuring that the initial injection of FDI by the TNC benefits the local economy through cumulative causation and the multiplier effect. The state may also engage in domestic investment that contributes to financial services in the GPN, through tax incentives and subsidies to domestic firms to make them competitive on the global scale. However, it should be noted that the success of the aforementioned policies and hence the influence of the state in governing global economic activities is heavily dependent on the labour skill and capital available in the state. South Korea, as a developmental state pursued domestic land reforms and interventionist and investment policies through its Economic Planning Board and its banks to allow for ready and huge influxes of capital investment into its own domestic firms. Its citizens were also prepared for the huge growth of capital, due to Korean Institute of Science and Technology set up by the government, that allowed for a highly skilled populace able to support the growing industries, leading to the rise of Chaebols like Samsung and Hyundai, which are successful TNCs in their own right. On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s land reforms were made without the consideration of its local populace’s skill level or level of capital as an LDC, and its subsequent forceful policies to buy land and evict white farmers resulted in a collapse of the commercial farming sector as the new black farmers were not trained and had little capital to invest in improving agricultural productivity. Thus, the state has substantial influence over how national economies operate, even able to develop TNCs of their own.

However, how the state governs and regulates may in turn be influenced by TNCs which have significant economic leverage through investment and capital, especially in LDCs which seek to attract TNCs to promote national development. TNCs are profit maximising enterprises that continuously try to seek a spatial fix by exploiting the comparative advantages of different countries in order to reduce costs or increase revenue. They can control and coordinate different segments of the production circuit and GPN. If the state fails to ensure that TNCs have a high level of integratedness in the local economy, the profit maximising nature of TNCs may result in large amounts of profits repatriated back to its home country and resulting in a low multiplier that the host country benefits. The footloose nature of TNCs also poses an added pressure for LDCs in which LDCs may wish to push for short term benefits for TNCs like laxer environmental or labour laws to attract them to continue operations. For example, Shell, a TNC, has been very important in Nigeria as it produces nearly half the country’s national output. However oil production took place at the expense of the local Ogoni people as large amounts of oil waste was left unchecked, while the Nigerian government did not lock down on Shell’s unchecked environmental pollution as the government benefited financially and recognised Shell’s immense stake in the economy. Another prominent example would be how the new government of Brazil slashed Amazon logging protections in the recent years for logging companies to carry out unchecked logging in order to promote export revenue, owing to corruption and the lack of political will in preventing deforestation. Thus, in certain place contexts, TNCs may have economic leverage over the state instead, undermining the influence of the state in governing the global economy.

The state has the potential to become the most influential actor in governing the global economy by exerting their power and agenda through exploiting political capital in IOs like the World Bank and IMF that makes the state influential even on the global scale. While IOs are supranational bodies that have powers above that of the nation state and seek to regulate activity worldwide, they can largely be influenced by individual states as well.  This is pertinent in the case of the IMF and World Bank, where biased governance of these IOs exist as each member nation contributes to a fund that is proportional to the size of their vote. Economically more advanced states like the US which hold a 16% voting share are thus able to block or include their countries’ agendas in proposed policies through their high economic leverage over IOs, securing their state’s interests through IOs. However, this is specifically true in the case of richer countries, while poorer countries with lower political clout are then forced to accept austerity policies that override how their national economic activities are operated. For example, Argentina seeked huge loans from the World Bank and IMF during the 1970s oil crisis, as these IOs seek the help Argentina retain its economic stability and ensure economic growth during those times of hardship. However, the accompanying Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) imposed onto Argentina by the IMF forcefully privatised different sectors of Argentina’s economy but the local private sectors were not ready to take over these sectors, leading to economic collapse. The IMF’s one size fit all policies with no regards to specific place contexts thus encroaches on the power of the state, rendering the state, especially less developed states, with little power over how to govern their countries. 

The state can also have significant influence over non-state actors of media agencies in countries with more authoritative stances on free speech and regulation, although checks and balances by non-state actors like standards organisations seek to put pressure on the state and thus reduce the influence of the state in other dimensions. While media agencies seek to escalate representation to a larger audience and empower citizens to demand accountability from governments, the state may have control over these media organisations through high regulation by the state, as in Singapore. However, the role of standards organisations on the state should not be ignored, with unequal outcomes for countries with different levels of development. For DCs, standards like the ISO14001 ensure that economic activity pursued in the state are done with environmental protections in mind, thereby allowing the state to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goal 13, Climate Action, better. However, for LDCs, cost presents itself as a high barrier as the state has less resources to equip its local industries and economy with clean technology and thus remain backfoot as passive standards takers that are constantly challenged for compliance. In this aspect, standards organisations thus provide a more collaborative opportunity with more developed states, while putting pressure on less developed states.

In conclusion, the global economy is a contested two-way process of negotiation and accommodation between firms and extra firm networks in order to reach a mutually beneficial agreement to enhance economic value in the GPN, with the state the primary extra firm network that provides regulatory and financial services into the GPN. In a highly interconnected global economy, the state has the most influence in governing the global economy as it has primary control over the economic activities in its national boundaries. However, there exist variations between states as well, where DCs are able to exert more influence over other actors as it is more plugged in as extra firm networks to the GPN, compared to LDCs whose influence may be undermined by actors with more economic clout. 

Lennon Chua (20-E6)

Are transnational corporations the most influential actors in the global economy?

The advent of globalisation has facilitated interconnectivity and integration between economies in the global economy, thus leading to the rise of Global Production Networks (GPNs) across national boundaries that bring together the interactions of different economic actors. Within the global economy, economic actors play critical roles in the creation, enhancement and retention of economic value, and they constantly negotiate within existing structures to make decisions that can potentially influence the global economy. A transnational corporation (TNC) is profit-maximising enterprise which is the lead actor in the control, coordination and configuration of the GPN. Footloose in nature, TNCs possess spatial flexibility and constantly seek a ‘spatial fix’ to find the most profitable combination of capital and labour in its GPN to utilise the comparative advantage of states to the full, having the ability to bring about socio-economic and environmental impacts to both home and host countries. However, TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy can be undermined by the host states’ sovereign power as the regulator of economic activities, which in turn affects flows of capital, labour and goods, and whether TNCs can even operate in those countries. Additionally, TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy can be dampened by non-state actors who serve as lobbying bodies that enact confrontations with TNCs regarding socio-economic issues, thus ensuring checks and balances of TNCs.

TNCs are influential as they are the lead actors in the control, coordination and configuration of the GPN, where they have the ability to coordinate and control cross border operations and stages in a production chain globally. The advent of globalisation has led to the new international development of labour, allowing for the spatial separation of labour functions globally which previously may have been done in the same country. Therefore, it has facilitated interconnectivity, allowing for a dense network of inter-firm and intra-firm linkages to be formed within a GPN, beyond national boundaries. TNCs are the key actors in organising the GPN into 3 functional units that implicate the whole global economy. They practice configuration by deciding where each value-added activity along the value chain should be located, thus creating intra-firm linkages within the GPN in the global economy. TNCs locate their corporate and regional headquarters in areas with high access to high-quality external services, the presence of skilled labour and excellent infrastructural and communications support. For example, BMW is headquartered in Munich, the 3rd largest city and major business and financial centre in Germany. Meanwhile, research and development (R&D) centres are configured by TNCs to be built in areas with comparative advantages of highly skilled labour and agglomeration of other institutions for science and market research. In BMW’s case, the internationally integrated R&D centre is located in Munich, Germany, while locally integrated R&D centres are located at DesignWorks in California, USA and BMW Group Engineering in Tokyo, Japan, allowing BMW to be more oriented towards other local markets. Finally, TNCs also locate branch plants and production units in countries with comparative advantages of low labour costs, where BMW has branch plants in Jakarta, Indonesia and the BMW CKD assembly plant in Rayong, Thailand. Furthermore, TNCs can control which other global firms can join the network and their roles, thus creating inter-firm linkages within the GPN in the global economy. TNCs decide the suppliers that they work with which provide the key inputs for them. For BMW, the TNC works with suppliers like Bridgestone for their tires in Japan and Guardian for their windshields in the USA. TNCs also engage in subcontracting, engaging independent firms by passing on specific job functions to them, which allows the principal firm to focus more on its core competencies for more specialisation that in turn boosts labour productivity and decreases the cost of production. As such, TNCs are influential by virtue of their powerful ability to coordinate and control cross border operations and stages in a production chain globally within the GPN.

Furthermore, TNCs are influential as they wield massive power in contributing to a range of socio-economic and environmental impacts in home and host countries. TNCs inject foreign direct investment (FDI) into host countries, leading to a process of cumulative causation—encouraging further growth in other sectors of the economy through the formation of backward and forward linkages, which results in a multiplier effect to the host economy. This leads to increased employment, of which TNC Nike employed an additional 30 000 workers in Vietnam. FDI also facilitates the technology creation process, thus allowing for the rise in higher-value manufacturing activities that can enable the host economy to transit its economic structure to a more mature one. In Shell’s case, FDI injected into Nigeria created a multiplier effect—revenue of $15 billion was earned in the host country as a result of Shell’s operations in Nigeria. While there are positive economic impacts experienced by host countries, their negative impacts more often that not outweigh the positive impacts, with host countries facing leakages of profits to the home country as TNCs repatriate profits back to their home country, workers in host countries mostly still engaging in low value-added services and the deterioration of the environment where there were 2976 oil spills into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1991 due to Shell’s operations in host country Nigeria. Meanwhile, home countries mostly benefit in the long run, experiencing higher profits that are repatriated back to the home country and workers can be upskilled which enables the host economy to produce higher value-added services. Furthermore, home countries would experience less pollution since manufacturing industries would be moved away to host countries. As such, there will be an apparent development divide between home and host countries, with the latter bearing the shorter end of the stick. Evidently, TNCs are shown to demonstrate great power in influencing the spatial developments across space, resulting in uneven spatial developments that often only benefit home economies in the long run. This therefore highlights TNCs’ influential role in governing the global economy through their capacity to engender uneven spatial developments globally.

However, TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy can be undermined by the host states’ sovereign power as the regulator of economic activities and provider of public services, which in turn affects flows of capital, labour and goods, and whether TNCs can even operate in those countries. States may pursue a wide range of economic policies, such as trade and FDI regulation. Some states may try to restrict or ban FDI, meaning that states have the sovereign power to deny TNCs from fragmenting their labour functions to those countries, thus effectively undermining TNCs’ influence over the global economy as states have the right to deny TNCs’ operations in their territories. As such, TNC activities are controlled by the host country’s government policy. Furthermore, as the provider of public services, the state is the main actor in providing infrastructure and amenities. If the state does not provide sufficient infrastructure and amenities such as poor transportation and communication networks, it would hinder firms from carrying out operations and transporting finished or semi-finished products within and out of the country. In the first place, TNCs will not be encouraged to fragment its labour functions to these areas and therefore their influence in governing the global economy may be limited. Ultimately, while TNCs’ influence can be undermined by host states’ sovereign power, TNCs often can reconfigure their GPNs to bypass the state’s regulation, and thus the relationship between TNCs and the host state is usually described as a “command and control” relationship, where the host country usually suffers from a loss of sovereignty in exchange for the promised economic growth by TNCs.

Additionally, TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy can be dampened by non-state actors who serve as lobbying bodies that enact confrontations with TNCs regarding socio-economic issues, thus ensuring checks and balances of TNCs. Through the collective action of non-state actors, they have the ability to disrupt the efficient functioning of GPNs as they are “plugged” into these networks, thus demonstrating their capacity to dampen TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy. Nimble in organisational structure, it allows for more efficient courses of action where they are placed in a good position to monitor the activities of TNCs and add another layer of governance of the global economy. Non-state actors are vocal critics of capitalism and TNCs with regard to the exploitation of labour and resources, and may thus put collective pressure on firms by staging strikes, protests and awareness programmes, should they discover socio-economic issues. A pertinent example would be TNC Zara in 2017, who was lambasted for her bad labour practices. Many workers were left unpaid by Zara’s third-party manufacturer Bravo Tekstil, and their plight was brought to light when non-state actors like the media, Associate Press, reported this whole incident to the world. Furthermore, non-state actors like even the workers themselves collectively launched a petition demanding compensation for their unpaid wages and voted to unionise, leading to the formation of labour organisations. These actions undertaken by the non-state actors serve to challenge the power and influence of TNCs in governing the global economy, and therefore through collective action of the signing of the petition as well as media exposure of the unfairness towards the workers shown by Zara, non-state actors are able to ensure checks and balances of TNCs and not let any socio-economic issues be swept under the rug, with Zara committing to establishing a “hardship fund” to cover the workers’ unpaid wages. In this light, non-state actors are shown to serve as lobbying bodies that enact confrontations with TNCs regarding socio-economic issues, and therefore TNCs’ influence in governing the global economy can be dampened by non-state actors. Ultimately, while TNCs’ influence can be undermined by non-state actors, TNCs can reconfigure their GPNs to bypass social demands from non-state actors, owing to their footloose nature.

In conclusion, the different economic actors are constantly negotiating and accommodating each other so that economic value is enhanced. While TNCs are influential in governing the global economy by virtue of being the lead actor in controlling and configuring the GPN globally, and their capacity to engender uneven spatial developments globally, TNCs’ influence can be dampened by the state and non-state actors. Ultimately, the institutional asymmetry in bargaining relationship between TNCs and other economic actors can nevertheless be rebalanced by state regulation, collective action and media exposure that helps to govern firm behaviour through checks and balances, thus ensuring that no absolute power is concentrated in the hands of one economic actor.

Dawn Lin (20-O1)

Managing Water Resources

‘The challenges associated with managing water resources are difficult to resolve’. To what extent do you agree with this statement? 

The management of water sources involves not only the local management of water resources through supply or demand management but also involves the management of transboundary water sources. As such, while the inflexible mindsets and attitudes of people and corporations, the looming threat of climate change and the inherent inequities within the private management of water, pose a significant obstacle towards the equitable and efficient management of water resources, they can largely be resolved. Conflicts surrounding local, transboundary and even global water sources arise primarily from the fact that water is a shared common resource, thus, conflicts are to occur when a pressure point is reached at the convergence of rising demand as supply shrinks and demands for water compete. 

Figure 1: Pressure Point

Firstly, while it can be acknowledged that the inflexible attitudes of people and corporations do pose an imminent threat towards water conservation efforts, these can be changed through sustained and committed public education as well as realistic pricing and movements towards pressuring corporations to exercise corporate social responsibility and government action. The mindsets attitudes surrounding an “abundance mindset” exists mainly because of a lack of sustained public education and low water prices. As such, states could easily resolve the issue by championing long term projects to educate the public on the scarcity of water and further this effort through incremental rises in water prices and charging higher prices for “unnecessary” or excessively high levels of usage, this replaces the abundance mindset with a now moral and financial conviction to limit water consumption and thus promote conservation. For example, when Singapore raised water prices in 2017 (by 30%), this allowed for a notable fall in household water consumption. In the same vein, corporations, especially large agricultural corporations account for a significant percentage of water consumption yearly. Government movements towards higher utility prices, as well as citizen rallied advocacy for less consumption would profit incentivise more sustainable modes of production and irrigation reducing corporate and agricultural consumption. 

However, climate change also poses a significant threat towards the water supply and its management as rising temperatures and aridity in already water-scarce regions could place an exacerbated pressure on states’ water management efforts. As such, while the issue of climate change is complex and requires global levels of intervention and consensus, efforts made through geopolitical efforts such as the 2015 Paris Climate Accords could pave the way for more regional and intergovernmental efforts towards tackling climate change and in so doing water management across state boundaries. While it can be argued that increased aridity in regions such as the Middle East and North Africa could see rising assertions of absolute territorial sovereignty in the protectionist usage of water by upper riparian states, the issue of climate change could, in fact, inspire more concentrated regional multilateral dialogue across riparian states in order to better utilise water sources like the Nile or Euphrates River in order to prevent the tragedy of the commons. So while climate change could threaten water supplies in the long run, the fact is that climate change would pressure certain states as a catalyst for more productive water management systems such as instead of hard to enforce and long term international agreements to more effective and data-driven Integrated Water Management Systems. 

Lastly, while the privatisation of water poses a threat to the equity of water access and distribution in replacement of what may be inefficient governmental public water suppliers, public-private partnerships offer a middle ground that can allow for an equitable yet efficient management of water sources through combining public ownership and regulation with the resources of private corporations fuelling a system that makes up each’s downfalls. This is especially so when it comes to the development of hydroelectric dams by private water companies that may prefer HEP due to its increased profitability. However, this is when water can exercise greater influence in allowing for stronger regulation and enforcement that balances profitable energy production with the moral imperative or water provision through active subsidies, regulation and the PPP. Thus, this will facilitate a more equitable water management system. 

Erica Wee (18-I1)

Singapore – Global City #2

How is Singapore establishing itself as a global city? What aspects of our heritage and culture have we given up in the pursuit of the status of a global city?

For a small nation with little resources, we have come a long way to become a flourishing economy with recognition on the global stage. However, are we setting our eyes on a goal that is even greater, such as establishing ourselves as a global city? The term “global city” can be loosely defined as cities that have control over a disproportionate amount of global business dates in comparison to other cities. Hence it would be especially beneficial to Singapore to become a global city due to the nature of its economy as an open economy, and having such an important role in the global economy would secure a more stable economic future.

In order to play the part of being a global city, Singapore has made efforts to draw large players in the global economy to choose Singapore as part of their Global Production Network (GPN). Singapore makes itself attractive through the low corporate tax rates that are kept at 17%, intellectual property protection laws and a tripartite labour environment amongst others. Even its geographical location provides Singapore an advantage – attracting firms that desire to enter the South East Asian market that is fairly untapped. Additionally, Singapore maintains its focus on upcoming sectors and supports their activities in the country. One such example would be the blooming biomedical science industry around early 2000s. Facilities such as the Biopolis research centre and Medtech hub were built to support the industry, and now many large pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, have set their roots in Singapore. This shows Singapore’s ability to support upcoming industries and hence would be attractive for foreign firms to come and invest.

Establishing Singapore as a global city also includes differentiating herself from the other economies. Current global cities such as Tokyo and London have differentiating factors that set them apart; a unique trait that cannot be remodeled by other countries. For Singapore to achieve the status of a global city, we are pushing our specialties to the forefront to highlight ourselves. Singapore maintains her image as a green city, from UNESCO awarded botanical gardens to the airports, the message of our desire to be a city in a garden is clear to all. Other than being a green city, Singapore builds its cultural presence through its ‘makan’ culture, where it can be considered a food haven with dishes from all around the world. Our hawker centres have been the envy of some countries, as they wish to also have the ease of convenience to a large range of delicious food in their countries. Therefore, Singapore hopes to draw more attention to these special aspects of our culture in order to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world, which is an important part to being a global city.

However in the pursuit of becoming a global city, we have left behind parts of our heritage. In order to keep up with the demand of the volatile global economy, Singapore focuses on opportunity-oriented and productivity-led growth to chart the country’s future plans. This mindset has bled into other sectors of the Singapore society, such as the education system which serves to prepare students who are able to cope and adapt to the real world. Thus, Singapore’s education system often prioritises academics and the all-rounded development of students in order to help them reach the desired outcome. For example, the academic syllabus and extracurricular activities programs such as LEAP are under constant revision to best tailor the education system to the skills and experience required by the real world. However, this deprioritises educating students on the importance of citizenship building. Although more structure has been given to these programmes, citizenship building fails to be of utmost importance to students who are constantly besieged by other responsibilities. Hence such values should be weaved into the education system, so that students will have a sense of ownership of Singapore that can reflect its position as a global city. Or else, each generation would slowly lose touch with the true identity of Singapore, which may become eradicated in the pursuit of adapting ourselves to suit the preference of the global economy.

Therefore, in our quest to become a global city, steps must continue to be taken to build an enticing country for foreign businesses. However, the fine balance between preserving our country’s heritage and progressing to fit the desires of the rest of the world needs to be kept or else the opportunity cost of achieving the status of a global city would be too great and unsustainable. After all, a strong backbone that comes from citizens that are willing and able to support the country in its endeavours is crucial for its economy to make drastic improvements.

Charlotte Teng (18-U1)

This essay was written as a submission to Geosphere, a publication of the NUS Geographical Society. 

Singapore – Global City #1

How is Singapore establishing itself as a global city? What aspects of our heritage and culture have we given up in the pursuit of the status of a global city? 

Singapore, which derives its name from the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Lion City’, is one of the most globalised cities in the world, placing fifth on the 2015 globalisation index, within an astounding span of about 50 years. To attain her great achievements, Singapore boasts many unique policies, infrastructure and governing systems, all of which have proven successful in placing itself on the world map. This may have come at the cost of heritage and the loss of an authentic Singaporean identity, aspects which the government currently is trying very hard to restore, albeit perhaps too late.

For the past 50 years since independence, Singapore has been slowly growing its rapport with other countries on the international platform. Through the establishments of tax-friendly incentives to attract a plethora of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), Singapore has managed to reduce unemployment rates and channel the increased tax revenue received into implementing essential reforms. One of which was the building of HDB flats to mitigate squatter settlements in Singapore, solving one of its most urgent and prevalent domestic problems. Other unique policies, such as compulsory primary education, allowed Singapore to nurture an educated population to improve society and keep up with the changing landscape of the working industry. Currently, Singapore is investing in potential sunrise industries to continue building itself as a global city. As a popular aviation hub within Southeast Asia, Singapore invests a lot on M.I.C.E facilities (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibition) and business opportunities, recently pledging to invest S$19 billion in technological companies as a part of its 2020 Research and Innovation (RI) plan. 

However, in the aspect of tourism, Singapore has diluted and even cut loose some of its cultural heritage to make it more attractive for wealthier and business-minded tourists. Huge commercial islands such as Resorts World Sentosa, house amusement parks, luxurious shopping avenues and accommodation, which do not seem to represent what Singapore or its culture stands for, but instead portrays an overpriced and westernized ‘ideal’ of what a vacation is. Despite the presence and preservation of important local landmarks such as Fort Canning and Singapore Art Museum (SAM), they receive a meagre fraction of attention from tourists as compared to the commercialized and urbanized tourist ‘hotspots’. As much as it causes discontent to most of the local population, it is important to realize and understand that in today’s metropolitan era, materialism and consumerism have driven the tastes and preferences of tourists towards certain facilities and interests. The government, in an attempt to retain Singapore’s attractiveness, embarks on these sometimes controversial infrastructural developments such as the Casino to appeal to the interests of the tourists, who provide them with the essential revenue they need to maintain and fund policies and programmes in Singapore. As such, in a crude and pragmatic manner, the idea of building popular infrastructure and becoming the ‘paradise’ tourists want and expect to see, would economically benefit us in the long run.

However, is this what we, as Singaporeans, want our country and ourselves to be recognized as? Recently, in the world of pop culture, Singapore is perceived to be a ‘paradise for wealthy and aristocratic Asians’ as falsely represented by the book and movie, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, where not only the title, but also the premise and characters poorly reflects who we truly are. The international fame and success of the movie only added fuel to the fire. In the pursuit of economic growth and progress, Singapore missed its mark on building upon our core principles and values that we established our nation and culture upon such as emphasis on personal and individual growth, bonding and sharing within and between tight-knit communities. We no longer can accurately track or understand the evolution of culture across space and time, and rely upon the Social Studies curriculum we have to learn, through which we only get to understand one version of the Singaporean narrative. In recent years, attempts made by the government to restore Singapore’s lost identity has emerged, only to be met with poor reviews by locals. The efforts to build local media through locally produced shows such as ‘Tanglin’ have fared unfavourably and has been labelled as ‘cultural cringe’.

The value credited to jobs purely based on the criteria of economic value rather than its representation and contribution to our Singaporean identity is one that needs to be changed. Our local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to be given more support and opportunities to thrive and solidify another Singaporean narrative, while encouraging more entrepreneurship within our talented population.

Vemula Sri Varshini (18-I1)

This essay was written as a submission to Geosphere, a publication of the NUS Geographical Society and garnered a runner-up award. 

On Climate Change

 “There is no question that global climate change is happening; the only arguable point is what part humans are playing in it.” – David Attenborough 

To what extent do you agree with the statement?

Climate change refers to fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature, consisting of both global warming and global cooling. Both natural and human forcings have led to climate change on different timescales. However, in recent years, on a human timescale, the impact of anthropogenic activities on the climate has had increasing significance. Therefore, I agree that while climate change is definitely occurring on a geological timescale with natural forcings, such as the Milankovitch Cycle, the influence of humans on climate change is increasing, due to changes in land use and urbanisation causing global warming.

Throughout the geological timescale, the global climate has experienced fluctuations in temperature, from periods of stability to periods of great instability, and global warming and cooling due to natural forcings. These have caused changes to the climate on a longer timescale beyond humans. The Milankovitch cycle is a natural forcing that highlights how precession, axial tilt and eccentricity affect the distribution and intensity of insolation received on the Earth’s surface. For example, eccentricity refers to the path of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, ranging from circular to elliptical. When the orbit is circular and of lower eccentricity, differences in insolation received at perihelion, when Earth is closest to the Sun, and aphelion, when the Earth is farthest from the Sun, is the least. This leads to lower variations between Southern Hemisphere summer and Northern Hemisphere summer. At 3% difference in distance between perihelion and aphelion, difference in insolation received during July in Northern Hemisphere summer and during January in Southern Hemisphere is at 6%. However, as eccentricity increases, there could be a 20% to 30% difference between insolation received at perihelion (NH Summer) and aphelion (SH summer), affecting global temperatures. However, such natural forcings occur over a longer timescale, as evidenced by eccentricity occurring over a 100 000 year cycle, therefore their effect on the climate is seen to be more gradual. Such forcings also lead to fluctuations in temperature where both global warming and global cooling occur. Therefore, it is evident that natural forcings such as the Milankovitch cycle play a significant role in climate change over a longer timescale.

Global climate change is also due to other natural forcings that occur over a shorter timescale. This is evidenced by sunspot activity, where sunspots vary over an 11-year cycle. During periods of intense sunspot activity, global temperatures were recorded to be approximately 1°C higher, as the areas around the darker sports on the sun radiate more solar energy, creating an area of intense heating. Isolated events such as volcanic eruptions serve also to affect the climate, such as the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption ejecting 15 million tonnes of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, where aerosols reflected insolation and created a ‘global dimming effect’, with global temperatures decreasing by 0.6C for 2 years. Therefore, it can be seen that natural forcings lead to global warming and cooling, and can occur over shorter timescales, making the change in climate more sudden and causing fluctuations in temperature over a short period of time.

However, in the recent years, anthropogenic activity has led to changes in land use, affecting surface albedo and causing rapid global warming. Increased urbanization involves the large-scale concretisation of the Earth’s surface, causing a fall in albedo. This has created the ‘urban heat island effect’, where concrete with an albedo of 0.55 absorbs insolation, heating the Earth’s surface. Increases in global temperatures brought about by industrialisation which increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere lead to melting of ice caps and subsequent evaporation of ocean waters. Ice has high albedo of 0.7, compared to darker ocean waters (albedo: 0.07), therefore global warming leads to less insolation reflected and more absorbed, setting up a positive feedback cycle and continuous melting of ice. This releases permafrost and methane stored in ice, and methane as a greenhouse gas further contributes to enhanced greenhouse effect, causing global warming. This accounts for the effect of human activity on climate change. Therefore, it is apparent that in the recent years, human activities has led to a continuous warming of Earth’s surface, occurring at a rate faster than that of natural forcings.

Furthermore, human activity has led to increase in emissions of greenhouse gases, leading to the enhanced greenhouse effect due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is due to industrialisation, where the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation decreases carbon stores and releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Before the Industrial Age, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were 290 ppm +/- 10ppm. Following industrialization, this increased to 390ppm, and this increase has been concentrated in the last 30 years. While natural forcings lead to global warming and cooling, human activity has led to continuous warming, and this is evidenced by Michael Mann’s ‘hockey stick graph’ (Figure 1). The large deviation in temperatures is due to the rise of the Anthropocene, where increased greenhouse gas emissions lead to enhanced greenhouse effect. Therefore, it is evident that human activity and its impact on climate change is more significant in a human timescale.

Figure 1, Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph

In conclusion, climate change has occurred due to both natural and human forcings. Natural forcings lead to periods of both global warming and cooling, and is more gradual over a longer, geological timescale. However, in recent years, the impact of human activity on climate has been increasingly significant on a human timescale, where urbanisation and industrialisation affect surface albedos, causing increased global warming and a continuous increase in global temperatures. Therefore, humans play a larger role in global warming on a human timescale. This rise in global temperatures has led to multiple impacts ranging from melting ice caps and intense warming, and it is therefore imperative that “humans work together to tackle climate change to ensure sustainable development”, as mentioned by #SDG13 in the Sustainable Development Goals, thereby highlighting the impact of climate change and how it would hinder our pursuit of sustainability. Global warming could compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as resources and funds would have to be invested into tackling climate change, and resources are diverted away from the pursuit of sustainable development, hence it is imperative climate change is tackled in order to ensure #SDG13 is not compromised.

Christabelle Kam (18-I2)

Measuring Global Development

Assess the usefulness of the Human Development Index and other indicators you have learnt that are used to measure development globally. 

Development refers to change, progress and growth over time and can occur at different scales, from global to regional and to national. Development is a widely contested subject and there lacks a consensus on what development means. However, various indicators have been created in order to measure and gauge development on a global scale and these indicators provide us with a clearer idea on what development entails, the level of development globally, as well as inform policy makers on improvements to be made. The assessment of the ‘usefulness’ of an indicator suggest an evaluation of its accuracy in measuring development, reliability of data and their ability to allow comparison, specifically in the global context.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is seen to be a useful indicator of development as it is a relatively more holistic indicator that measures development across three main areas – a long and healthy life, the attainment of knowledge and standard of living. It is a human-oriented, composite development indicator that places great emphasis on the well-being of individuals. Hence, it attempts to measure social and economic development, which can be measured at a global scale due to the ability to compare the HDI levels of countries. The higher the HDI value, the more socially and economically developed a country is likely to be. As an indicator of development, it also allows policy makers to analyse the policies in their country and aim to reach the standards of countries with higher HDI rankings, such as Norway which ranks first on the HDI. A wide disparity between the HDI levels of countries would indicate uneven development globally. However, the HDI has its limitations as well. First, while it attempts to incorporate the welfare of people as an aspect of development to be measured, it still relies heavily upon the economic aspect of development and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is because the sub indicators that contribute to the HDI are based largely on wealth. For instance, a long and healthy life is shows to have a correlation with affluence, with Singapore having both a high GDP (amongst the top 5 countries) and a long life expectancy of 80-85 years. This shows the limitations of the HDI – its inability to fully measure global development as the data used may be overly focused on economic development. Additionally, while the HDI allows comparison between countries, the precision of the comparison is in question as the HDI allows a relative rather than an absolute comparison. In other words, it takes into account the rankings of other countries rather than being assessed by a set criteria. 

Furthermore, the need for the Inequality adjusted HDI (IHDI) is evident of the HDI not being completely useful as it does not account for national inequality, in spite of equality being a hallmark of a developed country. For example, both the United States of America (USA) and Canada are seen to have HDI levels of 0.92, yet due to USA’s large national development gap, it falls to 0.7 on the IHDI. Therefore, the IHDI is necessary to complement the HDI in taking into account the inequalities within the country in order for the HDI to be more useful as an indicator.

Additionally, other indicators such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) are seen to be required in order to supplement the HDI. The MPI aims to provide greater information about the poor and level of poverty in a country, by expanding upon the 3 key indicators of the HDI, including sub-indicators such as nutrition and child mortality (health), years of schooling and school attendance (education) and levels of sanitation (standard of living). Hence, it is seen to complement the HDI to provide more in depth information about development in the lower strata of society. This is due to the MPI being measured on a household level, which is more detailed and hence serves as a more comprehensive data for policy makers to utilise in order to improve the current state of development. Countries such as Indonesia have MPI levels of 0.2 and have seen to use MPI as a measurement of development. Furthermore, the MPI can also be used to track a country’s level of development over time. Due to many countries utilising MPI, it can be perceived as a more useful indicator of global development in addition to the HDI. However, it would be important to also acknowledge the possible flaws of the MPI in its inability to identify intra-household disparities in development such as gender inequalities and the contentious nature of the unequal weightage accorded to each sub-indicator. Lastly, countries that only consider the number of people deemed multidimensionally poor may leave out a fraction of the population who are deprived in certain areas but are not deprived enough to be concluded as ‘multidimensionally poor’, failing to address their developmental needs.

Furthermore, due to the diverse and contested understandings of development, alternative indicators have been created to look at global development on a more social and sustainable scale. One example is the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which takes into account the ecological footprints of countries as well, placing a huge emphasis on environmental sustainability. 

The HPI takes into account a greater variety of development indicators, giving one a more useful and more comprehensive perspective on global development and its nuances. For example, while Costa Rica was the highest ranked country on the HPI, it was not ranked within the top 5 on the HDI rankings. Norway, despite being ranked first on the HDI, was ranked twelfth on the HPI. This foregrounds that the HDI fails to take into account certain aspects of development and therefore requires other indicators to increase its usefulness.  

However, the above indicators are lacking as they fail to set reachable targets and comprehensive goals in the aspect of global development. In order for an indicator to be more useful, it should not only inform one of the various developmental levels globally, but should also strive to enable policy makers to form concreate, realistic targets to improve development. Hence, there is the need for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which serve as a set of eight concrete international targets for countries. These targets that comprise aspects such as increasing women’s rights, are more holistic and are able to account for the social and economic aspects of development as well. The usefulness of the MDGs is evident from them acting as the springboard for the White Ribbon Alliance for expectant mothers, showcasing their value in creating tangible efforts to increase development. The MDGs also look towards sustainable development as they go beyond merely measuring development globally. This desire for sustainability is exhibited in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which form the Post-2015 Development Agenda. These are forward-looking indicators to measure global development and prove more useful as they are tangible and future-oriented. The SDGs provide a framework of measuring development based on many categories such as literacy rates, human rights and life expectancy, marking a paradigm shift of indicators from mere measurements that quantify development to actual goals for countries to work towards. Since they are easy to comprehend and have high applicability in a global context, they allow for targeted policies to alleviate uneven development.

It is admittedly true that all indicators face data collection errors due to methodological issues. However, this should not discount their usefulness and importance in measuring global development. These indicators shape our understanding of global development as they are international indicators put forth by international organisations such as the World and the United Nations. Yet, in order to be more useful they should be used in tandem with one another as they serve to supplement each other’s possible loopholes, evident from the IHDI and the MPI complementing and improving upon the HDI. Lastly, for the indicators to be deemed useful, they should move towards sustainable development and aim to aid in policy development, thus foregrounding the need for the MDGs and SDGs. Thus, the HDI and other indicators are only useful if they are used to complement each other, allowing parallels to be drawn to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of development globally.

Isabel Chan (17-U1)
Constance Thum (17-A1)