Parliament Q&A

Speech by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources at MEWR COS 2017 on 8 Mar 2017


1. With your permission, Madam Chair, may I ask the Clerks to distribute an infographic for MEWR COS 2017.

2. The environment has been at the top of our minds this Budget. I thank everyone who has spoken about the need to protect our resources for future generations. Singapore is not alone. Many other countries are paying closer attention to the environment, even as they grow their economies.

3. We have a plan called the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB). This plan brings together all that we are doing, in pursuit of a Liveable and Endearing Home, a Vibrant and Sustainable City, and an Active and Gracious Community. I am glad to say that we have made progress over the course of 2016, and remain on track to meet the SSB targets progressively by 2030. A strong commitment to sustainability remains critical as we build our future economy. As Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Ms K Thanaletchimi have highlighted, it will take not only Government support but also the collective effort of every individual to realise the SSB vision. That is why we launched the Sustainable Singapore Movement in July last year, to galvanise the community to action.


4. While we stand on solid footing, the road ahead is uncertain. A major concern for us is climate change, a far-reaching threat we can already see and feel today. Our Met Service recorded 2016 as the hottest year since 1929, when we started keeping temperature records. In recent years, our water managers, too, have had a foretaste of the looming challenge of coping with extended dry spells on the one hand and higher intensity rainfall on the other. Singapore has to plan ahead to deal with climate change impacts. We will not only need to protect our buildings, coasts, and infrastructure, but also foster greater awareness, so that we are a resilient people.

5. As a responsible member of the international community, Singapore is committed to fulfilling our pledges under the Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Both households and industry play a role in this, as Mr Gan Thiam Poh has noted. Industry, however, contributes the lion’s share – 60% – of Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions. We therefore need to focus our efforts there. The upcoming carbon tax to be imposed on large emitters, as announced by the Finance Minister, will help send the right price signal to industries to reduce their emissions when and where it makes the most business sense.

6. The carbon tax, however, is not a panacea for achieving our 2030 emissions pledge. We will need other measures to complement the tax. That is why we introduced the Energy Conservation Act (ECA) in 2013, to put in place measures such as mandatory energy management and encourage companies to enhance their energy efficiency. I am pleased to report that we have made progress on this front since then.

7. Let me give an example. Murata Electronics Singapore, which manufactures electronic components, is becoming an early adopter of efficient motors. Murata is replacing 50 motors with higher efficiency ones. This will save Murata some 160 MWh of electricity each year. These annual savings of $21,000 in energy costs will last throughout the 15-year lifespan of the motors. Murata is a good example of how industrial energy efficiency measures can benefit the environment as well as the company’s bottom line, but for the industry sector as a whole – there is clearly more to be done.

8. Data collected shows that our companies achieved an annual energy efficiency improvement rate of 0.6% in 2015, a slight improvement over 0.4% in 2014. This is still low. To meet our 2030 pledge, we need to work towards the 1 to 2% improvement rates achieved by leading countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

9. On a positive note, companies that I spoke to at a recent consultation session recognised the importance of improving their energy efficiency. They, however, mentioned that they faced operational and capability constraints. Some also asked for best practices and useful data to be shared with them.

10. We are studying their feedback and for a start, we will amend the Energy Conservation Act to introduce a new set of initiatives to help companies improve their energy efficiency. First, all ECA-registered companies will now be required to implement structured energy management systems and conduct regular energy efficiency opportunity assessments. Second, companies expanding their facilities will need to factor energy efficiency into their designs upfront, as well as measure and report energy usage for key energy-consuming systems. Third, NEA’s data shows that a substantial proportion of common industrial equipment is inefficient. Hence, Minimum Energy Performance Standards will be introduced, first for motors, and then other systems and equipment progressively. These practices are in line with that of leading jurisdictions and will help companies to adopt more efficient equipment, conserve energy and enjoy life cycle cost savings.

11. To pave the way for a robust carbon tax regime, we need to have a sound measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system in place. The ECA will thus be amended to require larger industrial emitters to improve the quality of measurement and reporting processes for their greenhouse gas emissions. This will help companies to better understand and manage their emissions. My Ministry will continue to work closely with the NCCS and MTI to consult the affected companies on how to best achieve this.

12. We have also received feedback on the need to improve the current incentive schemes. NEA will be consolidating their existing energy efficiency incentive schemes into a single fund called the Energy Efficiency Fund (E2F). NEA will redesign the E2F to better support companies to identify and undertake energy efficiency retrofits. We will especially help our SMEs by co-funding up to 30% of their investments in energy efficient technologies. Further details will be released by NEA.

13. We need a sustainable way to grow our economy. This is even more important as the world becomes increasingly carbon-constrained.



14. Madam Chair, let me move onto another key priority of the SSB: ensuring good air quality, which Mr Chia Shi-Lu, Associate Professor Daniel Goh, and other Members have spoken about. Indeed, just this week, the World Health Organisation reported that, worldwide, more than half a million children die every year due to air pollution.

15. Over the years, we have taken steps to improve Singapore’s air quality, all to safeguard the health of our population. Measures include tightening industrial emission standards, updating emission standards for new vehicles and introducing schemes to turn over older, more polluting vehicles. Just last year, we tightened the emission standards for new motorcycles to the latest Euro IV standards. These measures have made a difference. NEA’s studies show that the amount of pollutants emitted by vehicles have fallen by between 20 to 35% over the last decade. However, we have still some way to go to meet our SSB targets.

16. I announced last year that my Ministry would conduct a review on the diesel vehicle landscape, given rising global concerns over the health and environmental impact of diesel emissions. Diesel vehicles are a major source of local air pollution, especially particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Studies have found that PM can penetrate the lungs and contribute to heart attacks, strokes, and even dementia; while NOx becomes ground level ozone, which can result in respiratory problems. It is not surprising that many cities have taken drastic steps to limit diesel vehicles in their city centres.

17. Given these concerns, Er Dr Lee Bee Wah and Mr Chia Shi-Lu have asked for an update on our progress. As part of our review, we commissioned Assistant Professor Lynette Cheah from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) to study the impact of diesel vehicles and the availability of alternative technologies. The study found that there are indeed cleaner alternatives for certain classes of vehicles. At the same time, we recognise these alternatives also have limitations and may require infrastructure that is not widely available today. Nevertheless, my Ministry will explore ways with other agencies to encourage the adoption of viable alternatives to diesel vehicles.

18. The volumetric diesel duty, which the Finance Minister introduced two weeks ago, is in line with our plans. A usage-based tax better accounts for the harmful effects of each litre of diesel fuel used. We hope that this will encourage individuals and companies to optimise their use of diesel fuel, and even switch to alternative technologies with lower emissions.

19. Apart from this, we will continue with our three-pronged approach in managing vehicular emissions. Firstly, we encourage the purchase of cleaner vehicles, such as low emission hybrid cars, which Mr Louis Ng spoke about. The Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) was first designed to nudge consumers towards vehicles with lower carbon emissions. This remains important, as vehicles contribute the second largest share of Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions after industries. However, we now need to revise the CEVS to include tailpipe emissions of harmful air pollutants on top of carbon dioxide. The revised CEVS will be renamed as the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES). To incentivise the purchase of car and taxi models which are more environmentally friendly overall, the VES rebate or surcharge will be determined by the worst performing pollutant. This incentive framework has worked well in the past, and we will continue to review its effectiveness.

20. Secondly, we inspect vehicles already on the road to minimise harmful emissions from them. The in-use emission standard for diesel vehicles was already tightened in January 2014. We will now introduce new in-use emission standards for petrol vehicles and motorcycles, similar to those already in place in Europe and Japan. These standards are designed to be easily met by properly maintained vehicles. The new standards will take effect on 1 April 2018, and will help minimise excessive emissions due to vehicle defects or poor maintenance.

21. Thirdly, we encourage the removal of older and more polluting vehicles. To incentivise this, we will revise the Early Turnover Scheme (ETS). The ETS has been successful, with over 27,000 older diesel vehicles being replaced by newer ones, resulting in significant reductions in NOx and PM. We will extend the scheme for Euro II and III diesel commercial vehicles that turn over to Euro VI and equivalent models, for 2 years from August 2017. Given industry feedback, as well as the findings that Light Goods Vehicles (LGVs) remain a major contributor of diesel pollution due to their large population, the scheme will be enhanced by increasing the COE bonus for LGVs from 13% to 35%. We hope that through this, more diesel commercial vehicles and buses will switch to Euro VI models or cleaner electric hybrids or petrol alternatives.


22. As a small city-state, clean air is not just a local issue. Forest and peatland fires in the region can produce haze which affects us. Transboundary haze is not only detrimental to the social and economic wellbeing of South-east Asian nations, it represents a major setback to the global effort to fight climate change. A scientific study has shown that the 2015 fires in Indonesia released nearly 1 gigaton of greenhouse gases. Daily emissions during that haze period were even higher than that of the entire European Union.

23. Fortunately, the relatively wet Southwest Monsoon season in 2016 and active efforts by the Indonesian government have prevented a repeat of the 2015 haze. However, as we approach the next dry season, we appreciate the recent commitment by the Indonesian government to take action to prevent fires. In fact, as we speak, the Riau Province is under emergency alert for potential fires.

24. It is important that we continue to send a strong deterrent message to errant companies responsible for the fires, that they must change their ways. That is why we enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014. We will continue to take all steps necessary to enforce the THPA, while ensuring that we operate within the ambit of international law.

25. Businesses and the general public can play their part too. Large companies should especially ensure that sustainable practices extend throughout their entire supply chain. I am glad that last year, WWF-Singapore, together with Unilever, Danone, Ayam Brand, IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, launched the Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil. This alliance aims to transform the palm oil industry by increasing the availability and usage of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in the region. At the same time, the Singapore Environment Council has enhanced the criteria for the Singapore Green Label for pulp and paper products to take into account the companies’ efforts to prevent fires on their plantations and manage their plantations on peatland. With the enhanced label, consumers will be better able to identify paper companies with sustainable business practices and make their choices accordingly.

26. As Mr Louis Ng has pointed out, regional cooperation remains essential to tackle the haze problem. Last year, ASEAN member states (AMS) came together to develop the Roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control. This is a laudable development, and underscores the region’s commitment to realise the vision of a Haze-free ASEAN by 2020. We also look forward to the completion of the ASEAN study on the social, health and economic impacts of the 2015 haze crisis, which will consolidate the case for AMS to strengthen efforts to prevent the recurrence of haze.



27. I have laid out our plans to secure clean energy and clean air. Now let me turn to clean water. Firstly, I appreciate all who have given their comments on the water price revision over the past week and during the COS, and the many Ministers who have responded. I would like to revisit our Water Story.

28. To do this, let me begin with a tale of two countries: the Netherlands and Singapore. Both our countries face acute water problems.

29. However, the Dutch have a different problem from us – that of too much water. They have plenty of water from rivers, but much of the country lies below sea level and is prone to flooding. The massive flood of 1953 in which thousands perished is etched in their national memory.

30. A few months ago, I visited the town of Zuidplas, the lowest point in Netherlands and all of Europe. This marker shows that people in Zuidplas live 7.8 metres below sea level and are hardly aware of it. Even so, people all over the Netherlands are always reminded that the rivers could overflow at any time, inundating their homes and destroying their livelihoods. Thus, to adapt, the Dutch have over time built a complex system of dykes, pumps and water storage capabilities across the country.

31. This was possible because each household contributed its share of water taxes, establishing the world’s first and only Water Bank, which could finance large investments. In fact, this bank was instrumental in the recovery and aftermath of the 1953 floods.

32. Today, the Dutch continue to pour over 400 million euros into flood protection each year. Climate change threatens catastrophes if they do not. This capability has turned into a great advantage. They have attracted water-intensive industries to invest, and their expertise is exported globally. Even Singapore is now learning how to construct a polder at Pulau Tekong with their help.

33. We know that the Singapore story is on the other extreme. We don’t have enough water. But we have taken the same determined approach as the Dutch. We have strived relentlessly to secure reliable and good quality water supply through innovation, sound management, and a national awareness of our unique situation. Our strategy involves not just long term planning, but also right-pricing, and water conservation measures. All these levers work in tandem.

34. Let me touch on planning. Planning and investing in water resources ahead of time is in our DNA. This is even more critical in the face of looming challenges of climate change to water security and this applies around the world. We have only to look at Linggiu Reservoir, which is about a third full now, and can dry up if current abstractions continue and prolonged dry weather returns unpredicted. It has always worried us, because a dry Linggiu Reservoir will be disastrous for both Singapore and Johor in many ways. The Dutch will recall that they did not pay heed to the 1928 and 1934 studies which repeatedly warned that their dykes were inadequate. Even when high water in 1943 breached the dykes, only simple repairs were made, because they were distracted even after World War II was over. The fact is, “nobody felt like spending a vast amount of money on raising the dykes”. After all, there were no floods for years. So when the storm surge of 1953 occurred, water broke through the dykes and claimed 1,800 lives. For us, because we were adequately prepared in 2014, the prolonged dry weather in Singapore did not cost us dearly. But low rainfall continued to take a toll on Linggiu in 2015 and 2016 bringing it to its lowest level of 20 percent in October 2016.

35. For PUB, it’s always about ensuring resilience in our water supply so that disruptions do not occur to our industries and no Singaporean will die of thirst. How have we done this? Last year, PUB completed its latest review of the Water Master Plan, a strategic blueprint for our water till 2060. The plan provides for the development of NEWater and desalination plants to meet up to 85% of our water demand by 2060, as well as new pipelines for drinking water and used water. We are making good progress on the plans. Singapore’s 5th NEWater plant, located at Changi, officially opened in January this year. The 3rd desalination plant in Tuas will be completed this year, and the 4th and 5th desalination plants in Marina East and Jurong Island are underway. Phase 2 of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS), which includes the water reclamation plant and NEWater factory at Tuas, is on track for completion by 2025. All these have now become critical so that we have a resilient water supply when the weather does not favour us. The Dutch have taken a leaf from the lesson of history and likewise planned ahead and built storm barriers – one of which is the largest moving structures on Earth – to defend against exceptional storm surges under new climate predictions.

36. We also need to maintain and upgrade our existing water assets, as the Dutch have done with their dykes. As our infrastructure ages, PUB will accelerate renewal plans to minimise pipe leaks and supply interruptions. Our unaccounted-for-water losses, which include leaks from our supply network, are around 5%. This is among the lowest worldwide. In London, leakage is about one-fifth of water demand. We cannot afford that – it equates to losing all the water produced by two or three desalination plants.


37. That brings me to water conservation, another key lever in our system, which Mr Gan spoke about. My Ministry and PUB have a suite of measures – in addition to right-pricing – to promote greater water savings for households and businesses.

38. In 2016, households used 148 litres of water per capita per day, down significantly from a decade ago. We still have some way to go to reach our SSB target of 140 litres by 2030, not to mention trying to achieve even lower levels as seen in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. If each of us can save 10 litres of water per day, that is almost half a desalination plant.

39. Over the past weeks, I am inspired by the many stories of people who have gone the extra mile to conserve water. Some save the rinsed water discharged from washing machines for toilet flushing, while others use the water from washing rice to water their plants. HDB residents now are used to having their corridors washed once in four weeks rather than in two weeks. This is the right spirit. We should do more together.

40. To help with water saving initiatives, PUB will introduce several new measures. As part of our plans to phase out less water efficient products, PUB will raise the minimum standards to 2-tick rating for sales, supply and installation of water fittings from April 2019. PUB will also extend labelling requirements to dishwashers from October 2018.

41. PUB will also introduce two new water conservation programmes for households. First, PUB will roll out a community project for lower income households to replace their existing 9-litre water closets with more efficient ones. This can help them save up to 10% in their monthly water bills. Second, PUB will be installing smart shower devices for 10,000 new homes as a demonstration project. The smart shower device provides real-time information on water consumption during showers. An earlier small scale study found that a person could save up to 5 litres a day using these devices. If the positive effects are validated in the demo project, PUB may roll out the devices to more households.

42. As for businesses, we will continue to work with them to optimise water use. For large users, PUB has since 2015 required the submission of Water Efficiency Management Plans (WEMP), which help companies better understand and manage their water consumption. At a recent consultation, some companies, including SSMC, a wafer fabrication facility, said that they invest in water saving measures as a matter of principle, even though water formed only a small part of their costs. I am heartened that, for these companies, they are driven as much by water conservation DNA as company P&L. I hope many more businesses follow suit.


43. Let me now turn to drainage. As Er Dr Lee Bee Wah pointed out, climate change will pose challenges to flood management as well. PUB will continue with its island-wide programme to rehabilitate and upgrade our drains to higher design standards. This year, we will start work at another 27 locations. The Stamford Detention Tank will be ready this year, while the Stamford Diversion Canal and Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal will be completed in 2018. These works, when ready, will enhance flood protection for their catchments.

44. Our water bodies are critical assets, but we have made them accessible. Just over a decade ago, we launched the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme, to allow Singaporeans to own and enjoy our water resources. I am pleased to share that 34 ABC Waters projects have been opened to the community to date. This year, we can expect the opening of another 4 new ABC Waters projects across the island, including Pang Sua Pond and Siglap Canal which will be opened later this month. Another 4 projects at Sungei Tampines (Tampines Ave 7 to TPE), Chestnut Drive Outlet Drain, Sungei Simpang Kanan, and Alexandra Sub-drain A will commence construction this year. I hope this serves as a constant reminder of our precious assets.


45. Madam Chair, I have touched on our approach to water, to ensure we do not have too little, and to help us manage when there is too much. Many of us are familiar with the Singapore Water Story. Perhaps there is a risk of over-familiarity, a certain jadedness from one too many social studies lesson. Just like water flowing from taps everywhere, it can become invisible, overlooked, undervalued. Just like the people in Zuidplas, who are not aware that they live 7.8 metres below sea level.

46. This month, we celebrate World Water Day, to highlight the importance of water sustainability. It is a timely reminder that even today, 663 million people around the world do not have access to clean water. It is in this context that we should re-live, and encounter afresh our Water Story, the story of what it takes for our people to remain free. Our Water Story is not concluded; it is not history. Instead, the Water Story is a living story, and continues to be written by all Singaporeans today, whether in producing it, or conserving it. Sometimes it is in the large things, such as in PUB’s continuous investments for water supply and their unceasing effort to discover new technologies. Sometimes it is in the smaller things, like when we use a mug to brush our teeth, or when the coffee-shop downstairs installs automated cup washing machines that use less water. These are all stories that make up our Water Story.


47. Madam Chair, I hand over to Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor to address our other strategies to make Singapore a sustainable and liveable home.

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