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SPEECH BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES AT THE 7TH CONGRESS OF THE EAST ASIAN ASSOCIATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS ON 6 AUGUST 2017, 9AM AT MANDARIN ORCHARD HOTEL

Professor Hsiao-Chi Chen, President of the East Asian Association of Environmental and Resource Economics, National Taipei University, Taiwan

Professor Orapan Nabangchang, Program Chair of the East Asian Association of Environmental and Resource Economics, Sukhothai Thammatirat Open University, Thailand

 

Professor Euston Quah, Local Organising Committee Chair of the East Asian Association of Environmental and Resource Economics, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

 

Distinguished guests

 

Ladies and gentlemen

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

It is my pleasure to be here at the 7th Congress of the East Asian Association of Environmental and Resource Economics today. I understand that this is the first time that it is hosted in Singapore, and I am pleased to welcome all our foreign participants to Singapore.  

 

 

SINGAPORE’S ENVIRONMENTAL JOURNEY

 

2        Let me begin by sharing how Singapore has transformed itself from third world to first in a short span of about fifty years. Over this period of time, our nation has enjoyed growth in many areas, thanks to the hard work of our people.

 

3        One key aspect of our growth that we are very proud of is that we have achieved our economic development without sacrificing our environment. After gaining independence in 1965, we were hard-pressed to grow our economy and create jobs for our people. However, Singapore firmly believed that our environment issues have to be given priority alongside economic considerations.

 

4        To this end, we established various government institutions, such as the Public Works Department, the Environmental Public Health Division and the Anti-Pollution Unit during our founding years to look into providing environmental infrastructures and regulations. Some of these institutions were amalgamated to form the Ministry of Environment in 1972. In fact, we were one of the first few countries in the world at that time to have a dedicated Ministry that addresses environmental issues.

 

5        There are two key anchors to Singapore’s sustainable development approach. Firstly, taking a pragmatic view towards governance and a long term view in implementation. Our focus is on outcomes, not ideology. If we believe that a policy would work, we will stand by our position even if they might not play well to popular opinion. NEWater, one of our four National Taps is a good example. NEWater, for those who might not be aware, is purified wastewater (or used water as we prefer to call it). When it was first launched, there was a well known risk of the public not accepting it due to its origins. In reality, after processing the used water through multiple treatment barriers, the output, NEWater, is so pure that it barely contains any minerals and may be used as a high grade water in wafer fab manufacture! Because of our belief in the quality of NEWater and its importance to helping Singapore achieve water security, we took great pains to educate the public that NEWater is safe and a sustainable source of water for cities like Singapore. Today, recycled water is readily accepted as an integral part of our water portfolio.

 

6        Second, partnerships have helped us to build our capacity and capabilities beyond what the government can do alone. Citizens, industry, academia and civil society have partnered us in order to monitor and tackle climate change as well as other environmental challenges. For example, as of May 2017, a total of 246 companies have joined the Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) as partners. Ricoh Asia Pacific Pte Ltd. is another partner which has been strongly supportive of sustainability efforts. Their Eco Action Day held earlier this year saw over 1,100 individuals, organisations and schools pledging positive actions for the future of the environment. Indeed, we believe that strong local and global partnerships will lead Singapore into the future.

 

7        Let me now touch on some of our key environmental challenges – how we have dealt with them, and the way moving forward.

 

 

KEY ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

On Water

 

8        When we first gained independence in 1965 – with an almost complete absence of natural resources – we were acutely aware of the importance of long-term planning and forward-looking policies. We knew that first impressions counted and when visitors and foreign investors came to Singapore, a large part of their impression of our nation would be determined by the appearance of our infrastructure. Thus we ensured that two big priorities would be to build a world class airport and a city centre district that was clean.

 

9        As part of the cleaning up effort, our Singapore River, which flows along the heart of the Central Business District, was judged to be in need of an extreme makeover with squatters, hawkers and manufacturing industries crowding the banks of the river, leading to severe pollution. A large-scale clean-up costing S$300 million was mounted by the Government over ten years from 1977, with enhancements in subsequent years, forming the vibrant waterway that we know today. In 2008 we built the Marina Barrage across the mouth of the Marina Channel to create Singapore’s 15th reservoir, right in the heart of the city. Not only is this used to create a new supply of freshwater, the Marina Barrage brings about other benefits such as controlling floods and as a lifestyle attraction with canoes and dragon boats a common sight across the Marina Reservoir.

 

10      Singapore viewed water resource management as essential to Singapore’s development, and had poured in much research and emphasis on it. This meant that we had to make sure the entire urban catchment – including land and waterways – were clean enough so that the water collected could ultimately be made potable. In this respect, Singapore was one of the pioneering countries to carry out city-scale urban stormwater harvesting. I’ve already alluded to NEWater and local stormwater harvesting as key parts of our four National Taps. Singapore also has imported water from Malaysia and desalinated water to supply our remaining two taps. Over the last 50 years, we have built a robust, diversified and sustainable water supply that ensures a sufficient supply of water for everyone on the island.

 

11      One of my Ministry’s key roles is to ensure resilience in our water supply going forward. To that end, PUB, the National Water Authority, has in place a Water Master Plan – a strategic blueprint for our water until 2060 – which is regularly reviewed. The plan provides for the development of NEWater and desalination plants to meet up to 85% of our future projected water demand by 2060, as well as new pipelines for drinking water and used water. We are making good progress on the plans with several projects that are critical to water supply resiliency being rolled out within the next decade.

 

On Air Pollution

 

12      Air pollution is another critical environmental problem that we pay close attention to. In Singapore, industries and vehicles are the two key sources of air pollution. To address air pollution from industries, we strive to make environmental considerations part of the upstream planning process. For example, land-use planning takes into consideration possible pollution and nuisance impact, which must be mitigated in the development. We also work closely with economic agencies to ensure that the pollution impact of new industries, as well as the health and safety hazards, can be managed before allowing them to operate in Singapore. These industries are then sited in designated industrial estates with adequate buffer from residential estates. In addition, they have to incorporate pollution control measures to comply with NEA’s air emissions standards and regulations.

13      Aside from industrial emissions, we also look closely at vehicular emissions as part of our approach. Measures include updating emission standards for new vehicles and introducing schemes to turn over older, more polluting vehicles. These measures have made a difference, with studies showing that the amount of pollutants emitted by vehicles have fallen by between 20% to 35% over the last decade. Nonetheless, we still have some way to go toward our targets, and are pressing on with our efforts in this area.

 

On Waste Management

14      Another key focus area for us is waste management. During the early years, our pioneers overcame the problems of dirty streets, poor sanitation and polluted waterways, transforming the country into a liveable city with a level of cleanliness that countries around the world look up to.

 

15      Singapore has put in place an effective and efficient waste management system to safeguard our health and protect our environment - most of the waste we generate is incinerated, with the resulting ash as well as non-incinerable waste sent to the offshore Semakau Landfill. 

 

16      But we continue to face challenges. In the face of an increasing population and economic activity, the amount of waste that we generate is increasing. Semakau, our only landfill, is expected to run out of space by 2035. And because land in Singapore is limited, we can’t keep building landfills or incineration plants. 

 

17      Achieving our vision of becoming a Zero Waste Nation requires a significant shift in mindset and behaviour of every single individual and organisation. To facilitate this positive change, the government has adopted a holistic strategy to tackle different waste streams. For instance, the Singapore Packaging Agreement was established in 2007 to reduce packaging waste. To date, almost 200 organisations have come on board, and we have witnessed a cumulative reduction of 39,000 tonnes of packaging waste and savings of more than $93 million in material cost.  

 

18      We are also working closely with stakeholders to manage electrical and electronic waste, or e-waste in short. We are currently consulting industry stakeholders on an enhanced national e-waste management system – which would cover both the collection and disposal of e-waste – and will also be seeking the public’s views on the proposed system soon. 

 

19      We also aim to encourage individuals to actively Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Since 2014, all new HDB developments have been fitted with dual chutes for refuse and recyclables, making it easier for residents to make recycling a way of life. And from 1 April 2018, buildings above four storeys in all new non-landed private residential developments will need to be equipped with dual chutes. We hope that by making recycling more convenient, we would be able to achieve our national domestic recycling target of 30 per cent by 2030.

 

 

SUSTAINABLE SINGAPORE BLUEPRINT – A WHOLE-OF-GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES

 

20      Our journey of sustainable development is a continuous one, and one which we will pass on from generation to generation. To direct our efforts into the future, we developed the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint or SSB for short. The SSB outlines our national vision and plans for the next phase of development until 2030, through three themes: “A Liveable and Endearing Home”, “A Vibrant and Sustainable City” and “An Active and Gracious Community” to create a more liveable and sustainable home for Singaporeans. The SSB represents our belief that we can balance our approach towards both growing our economy and protecting our environment. Under these themes, we further developed five key focus areas: “eco-smart” endearing towns, a car-lite Singapore, a leading green economy, working towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation, as well as active and gracious community, so as to engage the Singapore community to contribute to this vision. 

 

21      I believe that everyone has a role to play in combatting environmental challenges, as well as helping to create an even more sustainable and liveable Singapore. To facilitate this, we launched the Sustainable Singapore Movement (SSM) a national movement launched in July 2016 that is part of the SSB to make sustainability a way of life. Through the movement, we hope to galvanise ordinary Singaporeans and organisations to cherish our resources, consume less and practice sustainability habits, so that we can create a sustainable and liveable home for ourselves and future generations. On this note, I am heartened that more companies are increasingly doing more to promote sustainability. Earlier this week, more than 350 partners from the public, private, academic and NGO sectors came together to discuss opportunities for cross-sector collaborations, and I am glad that there were some interesting ideas that could be developed further.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

22      Similarly, I understand that many academic and policy ideas relating to the economics and management of the environment in Asia would be discussed at the conference today. I am hopeful that through cross-sharing of experiences from your respective backgrounds, there can be new ideas that would contribute towards a more sustainable environment. I wish you a lively and fruitful discussion. Thank you.

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