Intervention by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the G20 Agriculture and Water Ministers Meeting on 12 September 2020
1 I would like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the G20 Presidency for hosting the G20 Agriculture and Water Ministers Meeting. This has been a particularly difficult period given the hardship that the COVID-19 global pandemic has presented us. In this light, I wish to particularly highlight the great leadership and fortitude that Saudi Arabia has demonstrated in galvanising the G20 community and ensuring that countries are still able to participate in the discussions and drafting sessions despite such challenges.
2 Singapore commends the work of the G20 on food security and nutrition, and integrated water resource management. Sustainability is an important theme for the Ministers Communique whether it relates to Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems, Food Loss and Waste Reduction Initiatives or Fostering Sustainable and Resilient Water Management. Singapore strongly supports this call to build a future where the supply of food and water is sustainable and secure. The theme resonates strongly with Singapore, especially with the recent renaming of my Ministry to the ‘Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’ reflecting the strong commitment that Singapore places on sustainability amidst long-term challenges stemming from climate change and global resource constraints, and hopefully a short-term disorder to lives and livelihoods caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
3 Since the start of 2020, the world has changed in ways that none of us could have imagined. The COVID-19 crisis has claimed lives, fundamentally altered how we live, work and connect, and impacted all our economies. Its lasting impacts will be felt long after the health crisis is over.
4 Against this backdrop, we continue to face challenges in food and water sustainability. Based on United Nation’s estimates, the global population is expected to grow by 32% to 9.7 billion in 2050. By then, global food demand is projected to rise by 50% from 2013. In Asia alone, we expect an additional 250 million mouths to feed by 2030. As climate change and environmental degradation intensify, changes in weather patterns can also lead to disruptions in water supply and water management, while the amount of arable land could fall by 5%. Together with the impact from the COVID-19 global pandemic, these challenges will bring rapid and drastic changes to the agri-food and water landscape in the coming years. We must strive to prepare for these challenges and take steps to ensure that our food and water systems are resilient.
A Circular Economy Approach for a Sustainable Singapore
5 In Singapore, the principle of sustainability and a circular economy approach have helped us build resilience in our systems over the decades. Since independence, we understood that, for a small nation without natural resources to survive and thrive, we must develop sustainably so as not to waste scarce resources and extend the shelf-life of these limited resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible through a circular economy approach. This has allowed us to tackle issues such as water, energy, food, and waste, which are fundamentally interconnected, in a systematic way. We identified synergies within and across resource loops, which allowed us to maximise resource use, minimise waste, and create economic opportunities.
6 An example of this is a facility we have started building called the Tuas Nexus, where our Tuas Water Reclamation Plant (Tuas WRP) will be co-located with our Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF). At Tuas Nexus, food waste will be mixed with used water sludge and co-digested. This process increases biogas production by 40%, compared to the yield from treatment of used water sludge alone. The biogas produced will enhance the overall thermal efficiency of IWMF, generating more than enough energy to power Tuas Nexus. The enhanced processes of Tuas Nexus such as increased biogas production and thermal hydrolysis will contribute to the reduction of an estimated 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, equivalent to taking 42,500 cars off the road. Treated used water from the water reclamation plant will also be piped to the waste management facility to be used for cooling and cleaning purposes. By harnessing synergies in the food-water-waste-energy nexus, we can do more with less: improving energy and resource recovery from waste with a smaller environmental and land footprint.
Produce Food Sustainably
7 In Singapore, over 90% of our food is sourced from over 170 countries and regions. In this regard, it is important to effectively strengthen our individual and collective food security. We also reaffirm the commitment made at the G20 Extraordinary Agriculture Ministers Meeting this year to ensure the continued flow of food, products, and inputs essential for agricultural and food production across borders. To do this, countries would also need to ensure that critical infrastructure such as air and seaports remain open. Nonetheless, given the risks posed by COVID-19, climate change and disruptions in supply chains, we are implementing plans to produce more food locally and sustainably. In fact, we have a goal to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030, from the less than 10% today. This “30 by 30” goal is a stretched one, given that less than 1% of our land is used for agriculture.
8 To achieve our ”30 by 30” goal, we have put in place plans to build an innovative agri-food sector that is highly productive and that is able to meet the challenges of an increasingly resource-constrained world. We have an $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund to incentivise our farms to adopt automation and productivity-enhancing technologies. Many of our vegetable farms have tapped on this fund to adopt climate-control technologies that mitigate adverse weather conditions, thereby raising their production capacity. We will continue to do more to optimise the use of farmland to raise food production.
9 Increasing food production should be done in a sustainable manner. We encourage our farms to embrace sustainability by employing circular economy principles. One example is a local egg farm called N&N Agriculture. The farm converts its poultry waste to biogas using an anaerobic digester. The biogas is then used to generate electricity to power the farm. The solid by-product of anaerobic digestion is also used as compost for growing vegetables. As a result, the farm requires low energy input and generates little waste that needs to be incinerated. Farms are recognising the economic opportunities and environmental benefits of designing circularity into their processes. These interventions allow companies to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly resource constraint world.
10 We strongly believe in leveraging R&D to fill the gaps where existing technologies cannot address. Last year, we had set aside S$144 million for the Singapore Food Story Research & Development programme to support sustainable urban food production to contribute to the “30 by 30” vision. One of the themes under the research programme is the production of novel foods like alternative proteins. Traditional meat production methods are often land- and water-intensive, and generate high levels of emissions.
11 Alternative proteins, including novel food, are also poised to be game changers for high-yield food production. With alternative proteins, Singapore can “produce meat” in a much more sustainable way than traditional animal farming. To ensure that novel food is safe for consumption, we have introduced a new regulatory framework that requires companies to seek approval and undergo a scientific pre-market assessment before novel foods goes to market. It is our hope that our R&D support and strengthened regulatory framework will allow Singapore and other nations to continue to secure a safe and sustainable supply of food for generations to come.
Closing the Water Loop
12 The circular economy approach that can be found in our food management has also been integral to our water story. Since independence, we have strived to overcome our lack of natural water resource by building a robust and diversified water supply from four water sources known as the Four National Taps. The Four National Taps refer to water from local catchment, imported water, high-grade reclaimed water known as NEWater, and desalinated water.
13 I would like to take this opportunity to share more about NEWater. Introduced in 2003, NEWater was a major breakthrough that allowed Singapore to close the water loop and strengthen our water security. While we had experimented with used water recycling as early as the 1970s, and it was three decades later that our efforts paid off when membrane technology’s cost and performance improved sufficiently for reclaimed water to be priced reasonably. Perhaps what is less talked about is the mindset and long-term investments that allowed NEWater to happen. From the very beginning, we were convinced that every drop of water, every H2O molecule, can be reclaimed and re-treated for drinking. This circular mindset, which helped us to close the water loop, is the very same approach that Singapore applies today in how we treat our waste, plastics, energy, and food.
14 NEWater would also not be possible without our long-term investments in our sewerage network. The Deep Tunnel Sewerage System, or DTSS, is a used water superhighway that spans our island-state and ensures that every drop of used water does not go to waste. This DTSS project was conceptualised in 1990s and is expected to be completed in 2025. The NEWater story shows that leveraging technology is only part of the sustainability story. We also need a vision to believe in and a determination to make it happen. We are working towards reducing the energy needs of water reclamation and desalination.
15 Another important aspect of our integrated approach to water management is our emphasis not just on managing water supply, but also on managing water demand. We recognise that water is a treasured resource, and that we need consumers to use water wisely so that water demand does not rise at an unsustainable rate. We have implemented a range of water conservation measures for the domestic and non-domestic sectors, such as the Mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme and minimum water efficiency standards for water fittings and appliances, and requiring large water users to prepare and submit mandatory water efficiency management plans and to appoint water efficiency managers. We price water fully to reflect its true scarcity value and send the right price signal to consumers for its sustainable consumption. These measures, coupled with public education efforts, have helped reduce per capita household water consumption from 165 litres per day in 2003 to 141 litres per day in 2019. We are targeting to lower this further to 130 litres per day by 2030. To further promote water conservation, Singapore is deploying smart water meters to residential and commercial premises from 2021, and some 300,000 smart water meters will be installed by 2023. These smart water meters will provide consumers with accurate and timely water usage data to encourage them to conserve water, to maximise its use and minimise its waste.
16 The circular economy approach to resource management is a concept that has roots originating from nature. Systems are interconnected, resources are kept in closed loops, and waste of one process is the input to another. From our experience, we believe this approach to sustainable development is important and will allow us to develop climate, resource, and economic resilience in a low-carbon and resource-constrained future and strengthen food security and nutrition, and integrated water resource management.
17 I understand that the Presidency is working hard to find consensus and finalise the G20 Agriculture and Water Ministerial Communique. Singapore supports the Presidency in its efforts, and we look forward to seeing consensus on this document which we stand prepared to support. We also welcome the Dialogue on Water, and Roadmaps on Water Best Practices and Water Coordination. We thank the G20 Presidency for giving Singapore the opportunity in joining other delegations in the G20 community to contribute meaningfully to the process.
18 Thank you.