Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at CESG Catalyst on 29 September 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good afternoon, and a warm welcome to the CESG Catalyst 2021.
Impetus for sustainable development and climate action in the region
2 Since the last CleanEnviro Summit in 2019, we have experienced dramatic shifts in the world brought about primarily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as countries grapple with the unremitting waves of infection, the existential crisis of climate change has not gone away but commands our collective and immediate action.
3 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report which warned that we must embark on urgent, large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, or risk facing even more serious impacts of climate change. In Singapore, we have already witnessed more extreme weather events in recent years, such as periods of intense rainfall which bring about flash floods.
4 While climate change is a global issue, its effects will vary across geographic regions and populations. With rising temperatures, infectious diseases that thrive in warmer climates such as dengue fever will afflict more of the world’s population. This will pose an even greater risk to public health in Singapore.
Taking a more concerted approach to environmental sustainability
5 The consequences of climate change painted by the IPCC must serve as a wake-up call for all nations. Besides accelerating our climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, we need to strengthen regional and global collaboration, as well as partnerships among the Public, Private and People (3P) sectors. This would allow us to respond nimbly and robustly in times of crises, including environmental events and future pandemics. Although Singapore accounts for around 0.1 per cent of global emissions, we are committed to doing our utmost to reduce emissions.
Seizing opportunities to drive sustainability
6 The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global trajectory towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, as discussed at the UN’s SDG Moment event last week. However, it has also provided us with an opportunity to rethink the fundamentals, and to renew our push for the global sustainability agenda. We can learn from how we reacted to this pandemic and apply these lessons to the way we approach environmental sustainability and climate change issues. Let me share three key areas for change.
7 First, building capability in climate action. COVID-19 has been a force of disruption to countries worldwide. In Singapore, we have had to react nimbly on both the public health response, as well as the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic. We were able to respond decisively on both fronts, thanks to our excellent public health ecosystem and resilient financial position. Both are competitive advantages that Singapore has built up over decades.
8 Similarly, we must continue to build on the ecosystem of environmental sustainability, to develop capability in confronting the generational challenge of climate change. Businesses have an important role to play in building capability to harness solutions such as more carbon-efficient means of production and circularity principles in resource management. Ravago Manufacturing Singapore Pte Ltd, for example, is in the business of plastic recycling and compounding. With a grant from the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s 3R Fund, Ravago set up a washing line at its plant last year to clean the dirty plastics it collected and turn them into plastic resins. The project can help reduce 6,600 tonnes of carbon emissions annually by avoiding the incineration of plastics at our waste-to-energy plants, and a further 6,700 tonnes by displacing virgin plastics.
9 NEA also works with the 3P sectors to co-create solutions to tackle public health and environmental sustainability challenges. NEA recently held the inaugural ILOOMINATION, a competition for students to design solutions to improve the cleanliness of our public toilets to minimise transmission of diseases. NEA will be evaluating the feasibility of implementing the winning design by Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
10 Second, driving resource efficiency and resilience. Throughout the pandemic, we saw global supply chain disruptions and swift border closures. These disruptions have accentuated the need to strengthen resource resilience, even as we remain open and interconnected with global supply chains. At the same time, companies need to look at how resources can be used more efficiently in an increasingly resource- and carbon-constrained world.
11 Sustainable finance is a key enabler to drive resource efficiency and resilience, and an engine of Singapore’s growth as a financial hub. The Government is leveraging sustainable finance to transform public infrastructure. A good example is the Tuas Nexus, which is Singapore’s first integrated solid waste and used water treatment facility. The Tuas Nexus Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) includes an automated materials recovery facility with higher sorting efficiencies and recovery yields for recyclables, and is equipped with a wet flue gas treatment system to ensure clean air emissions. By harnessing synergies from the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant and the IWMF, Tuas Nexus is expected to result in carbon savings of more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to taking 42,000 cars off Singapore’s roads.
12 NEA recently established a S$3 billion Multicurrency Medium Term Note Programme and a Green Bond Framework to finance sustainable infrastructure developments such as the Tuas Nexus IWMF. NEA’s inaugural launch of 10-year and 30-year green bonds worth $1.65 billion, in September, was a major milestone. The strong reception to the public sector’s first green bond affirmed investors’ confidence in Singapore’s sustainable development efforts. The issuance of green bonds will help develop green finance markets and support Singapore to become a leading centre for green finance in Asia and around the world.
13 This exciting milestone is part of our movement towards green growth as outlined under the Green Economy pillar of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 – to create good jobs, transform our industries and harness sustainability as a competitive advantage for Singapore.
14 Third, planning ahead for the next crisis. While we look forward to growth and new opportunities, we must continue to plan ahead to remain resilient in the face of new challenges.
15 Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was built on the lessons from the SARS episode in 2003. In addition, our nation was greatly aided by the fiscal prudence of our forefathers and the continued investment in our public health ecosystem. This forward planning placed us in good stead and will allow Singapore to emerge stronger from COVID-19.
16 Our strong and agile scientific capabilities also helped us respond quickly to COVID-19. Last year, NEA swiftly initiated a pilot surveillance programme to screen wastewater samples for SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of COVID-19. This has helped with the detection of new COVID-19 cases and allowed us to direct swab testing efforts in a more targeted manner. The scientific community in the health sector and universities have also collaborated closely to understand and tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This strong partnership will help us manage future public health crises as well.
17 This pandemic has further underscored the importance of being prepared, and to have adequate capacity built up during periods of stability, to handle unforeseen crises. While we cannot say for certain when the next environmental or public health crisis will emerge, we can be sure that the effects of climate change and environmental degradation will be felt around the world.
18 Therefore, even as we work to become COVID-19 resilient and prepare for the next pandemic, we must double down on efforts to become climate-resilient, build capacity in our environmental sustainability ecosystem, and galvanise action to promote sustainable development. This will give us the best chance of thriving in the new normal.
19 I wish you a fruitful discussion this afternoon, and hope that it will enable the sharing of knowledge, cross-pollination of ideas and co-creation of solutions with our stakeholders. Thank you.