Closing Remarks by Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and the Environment, at the National Economics and Financial Management Challenge 2022 Final Round
Mr Ted Chen, CEO, Evercomm,
Professor Lorenz Goette, Head, Economics Department, National University of Singapore,
Mr Melvin Lim, Project Director, National Economics and Financial Management Challenge,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to join you for the final round of the National Economics and Financial Management Challenge (NEFMC) 2022, organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Economics Society. Congratulations to the eight teams for making it to the finals of this challenge, which celebrates its 15th iteration.
Our Sustainability Challenges
2 This year’s theme, “Transitioning towards a Sustainable Future”, highlights the importance of sustainable development in the face of climate change and other existential threats. The final round of the challenge is particularly relevant for Singapore – the problem statement highlights some of the challenges we face as we strive to turn our little red dot green. Let me touch on three key challenges.
3 First, our physical constraints. Our limited land means that we need to make trade-offs among competing needs such as defence, housing, industries and greenery. Second, we do not have the options for alternative energy as other larger countries do — we have no vast expanses of land for solar farms, no hydroelectric power for dams, nor strong winds for wind turbines.
4 Third, economy and jobs. With no hinterland and no natural resources, Singapore needs a vibrant and diversified workforce that is plugged into the global economy. The race to net zero by countries and companies presents an additional economic challenge for Singapore. In a carbon-constrained future, industries are expected to reduce their carbon footprint as consumers demand more sustainable products and services. Within a carbon-constrained envelope, how do we balance sustainable development with economic growth and jobs creation?
Being bold, balanced, and collaborative
5 Since July, the participating teams in the NEFMC have been working on bold, balanced, and collaborative proposals to tackle the challenges put forth. These are the same principles behind our national strategies in sustainable development.
6 First, we need to be bold in our ideas and actions, and challenge ourselves to do more. For example, how can we transform from a linear economy of ‘take-make-use-throw’ to a circular one where we reduce, reuse, and recycle our resources? We have embarked on efforts to turn our trash into treasure. Let me share three examples:
• First, we are converting our Incineration Bottom Ash into construction material for non-structural use known as NEWSand; or to use the ash possibly as aggregates for carbon capture and storage.
• Second, we are harnessing synergies across our waste-water-energy nexus. The upcoming Tuas Nexus, Singapore's first integrated water and solid waste treatment facility, will improve energy and resource recovery from waste and used water treatment.
• Third, preliminary findings from a joint study by the National Environment Agency and Shell indicate that chemical recycling solutions could be adopted in Singapore to turn plastic waste into new plastic products and reap carbon savings.
These are just some examples. With the great young minds, I am sure that there will be more to come.
7 Second, we need to be balanced in our sustainability approach, by considering our national circumstances and constraints, as well as the trade-offs to be made. The transition towards a low-carbon future will come at a cost to the Government, businesses, and our people. The question posed by the organisers to the participating teams is relevant –How should firms and the Government manage this transition in an environmentally and financially sustainable manner?
8 An example of how we have adopted a balanced approach is in our carbon tax. When the Government introduced the carbon tax in 2019, it was kept low at $5 per tonne of emissions. This is to give our businesses time to adjust. This year, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced that our carbon tax will be increased to $25 per tonne in 2024 and 2025, and $45 per tonne in 2026 and 2027, with a view to reach $50 to $80 per tonne by 2030. This phased approach gives our businesses more certainty as they set their own transition plans and helps mitigate the possibility of companies shifting their production elsewhere to avoid the carbon tax hike. We cannot impose carbon tax overnight. It will turn away new businesses and force existing companies in Singapore to leave, leading to great job losses.
9 Next, we need to be collaborative in our efforts to transition to a sustainable future – the Government neither has a monopoly of ideas nor can we achieve this vision without your contributions. Last year, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030 to catalyse a national movement to tackle climate change and make Singapore a City of Green Possibilities. One of the key priorities of the Green Plan is to mobilise and empower the Public, Private and People sectors to co-create solutions for sustainability as part of a continuous national engagement process. Through the Forward Singapore exercise, we will partner Singaporeans to foster a greater sense of shared ownership and responsibility to steward our resources and care for our environment. This is to ensure Singapore remains a green and resilient home for future generations.
10 Earlier, I had the chance to chat with the finalists and go through your project synopses. I was interested to discuss how we can apply this to Singapore:
• Team Pennymaker from Hwa Chong Institution proposed clean transport rides idea, similar to the Ministry of Transport's efforts to encourage people to adopt cleaner vehicles using cleaner energy;
• Team Interest Mates from Raffles Institution sees value in modernising the old trade of karung guni to ensure that they can be scaled up within the modern recycling landscape;
• The Goobers from Dunman High School proposed an interesting idea to incorporate durability and repairability of our electronic products – which are low-cost today but do not last very long - into the eco-labelling criteria, thereby helping consumer mindset, knowledge, and awareness in choosing the right type of environmentally-friendly products; and
• Team Genius Machines from NUS High School of Maths and Science explored the use of behavioural nudges to change mindsets and adopt greener lifestyles. I think this is the most powerful, because realising a sustainable future boils down to each of us.
11 Let me conclude. To our youths, today’s session may be the final round of the challenge, but this should be another beginning of your sustainability journey. You will be inheriting a future where the challenges we face today will only get tougher. Just as you have demonstrated boldness, balance, and collaboration during this challenge, I urge you to do the same in your efforts to build a sustainable Singapore. Your experience today will help you think about what you want to do as you pursue on your studies and career. It will also inspire you to think about your own contributions towards a more sustainable Singapore for all of us.