Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Panel on Transforming Water Challenges into Opportunities on 10 December 2023
Your Excellency Mark Harbers, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, The Netherlands,
Your Excellency Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change & Environment, UAE,
Ladies and gentlemen,
1 Welcome to the Singapore Panel on Water and Climate. I am excited to see so many of us gathered here today. It is a recognition of the importance and criticality of water challenges amid climate change. A testament to how all of us share this crucial concern. And a shared commitment to finding solutions and seeking out opportunities amid these challenges.
2 We live in unprecedented times. We are all facing the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Global warming, which is generating more energy in our atmospheric and oceanic systems, is causing more freak weather incidents across the globe. Record rainfall has resulted in devastating floods in some countries, while others experience extreme heatwaves and exacerbated droughts. Just two weeks back, Singapore experienced a rainstorm that saw one of the highest rainfall we have had in a single day since 1978.
3 More than ever before, the world needs to come together to take on these challenges head-on. We need to seek out opportunities to collaborate and tap on one another’s strengths. Only then, can we effectively tackle our shared water security challenges.
4 Allow me to share Singapore’s own experience. Singapore is a small island city-state with limited natural water resources. In the early years of Singapore’s independence, we faced what seemed like insurmountable water challenges with droughts, floods, and polluted waterways.
5 Nevertheless, we were determined to rewrite our fate. More than fifty years ago, we began studying the feasibility of reclaiming used water. Back then, the technology was expensive and nascent. Even so, we pressed on, experimented, and innovated for more than three decades before we finally had a breakthrough. Using advanced membrane technologies, we produced NEWater, a high-grade reclaimed water. It is not only safe to drink, but it is also so clean that it can be used for manufacturing processes that require water of high purity, like wafer fabrication. And later, we added another source of water through desalination.
6 Reclaimed NEWater and desalinated water are climate resilient and essential for our water security. Even so, our work is not done. According to the World Resources Institute, Singapore will remain one of the most water-stressed countries in the world by 2040.
7 As part of Singapore’s voluntary commitments to the UN Water Action Agenda, we committed to further research and development into improving the energy efficiency of our water treatment processes. For NEWater production, we are now implementing membrane bioreactor technology which will shortcut the treatment process, reducing both land and energy requirements. For desalination, we are looking into new solutions, like ultra-permeable membranes, to significantly reduce the energy required to produce desalinated water.
8 For such innovation to happen, it takes close collaboration between government, industries, and academia. Singapore’s full-scale implementation of membrane bioreactor technology is an outcome of such synergies. We drew from academic research and the industry knowhow and production capability to apply new technologies. Our partners bring exciting new ideas to the table, with the government cultivating a fertile operational environment for ideas to germinate.
9 Singapore sees sea level rise as another water challenge. Coastal protection also requires close partnership between the public, private, and people sectors. Singapore recently launched the Coastal Protection and Flood Resilience Institute (CFI), dedicated to strengthening capabilities and expertise in coastal protection and flood management. CFI Singapore will strengthen connections with industry partners and international experts to address these pressing challenges.
10 As we reimagine our coastlines to address the long-term threat of sea level rise, we bring our public and local community on board to co-create our future coastlines together, with their aspirations and hopes incorporated into our coastal protection plans.
11 Looking outwards, Singapore also cherishes the deep partnerships we have with our international partners. Recently, in October, we signed an MOU with the UAE, which includes the exchange of knowledge, experiences, technologies, and research in water management to enhance water security and achieve water sustainability.
12 Today, Singapore and the Netherlands renew our MOU, where we will cooperate on a wide range of issues including tackling climate change and decarbonising our water resources. We have been close partners for a long time, collaborating on projects such as Singapore’s first polder. We continue this close partnership, with our scientists, Associate Professor Winston Chow and Professor Bart van der Hurk, being co-chairs of the IPCC Working Group 2 for the Seventh Assessment Report Cycle, and through the International Panel on Deltas and Coastal Areas (IPDC), an initiative by the Netherlands which Singapore has joined.
13 I look forward to today’s panel, and believe that it will be one of many rich and engaging conversations that we will have on transforming water challenges into opportunities. Together, we can make great strides in securing our water future. Thank you.