1 It is an honour to address this Conference on behalf of Singapore. Our meeting here is indeed timely and relevant, given the vital role oceans play. Oceans not only provide livelihoods for millions of people, enable maritime trade and food security, and regulate the climate; research has also shown a link between oceans and human health.
2 This nexus between the oceans and human health is multi-dimensional. The oceans are a vast supply of resources such as food, raw materials for medicines, as well as serving as a source of energy. Oceans also potentially hold the key to new drugs to treat various diseases. On the other hand, when oceans become polluted, human health can be adversely affected by contaminated seafood, toxins from algal blooms, and harmful chemical pollutants. The oceans are also increasingly being polluted by plastic waste, which can contain hazardous chemicals and bio-accumulate, posing ecological and health risks. These are serious issues that confront all of us, especially small island developing states. As such, it is vital to ensure that our oceans remain “healthy”.
Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Oceans
3 Given the close linkages between oceans and human health, we have added reason to take concrete action to conserve and sustainably use our oceans and seas. Political resolve is key. The actions we take must also be guided by the following principles. First, our actions must be informed by a clear, evidence-based understanding of the threats facing our oceans. It is only with a clear understanding of the problems that we can come up with appropriate solutions. Second, we need to take responsibility and action at the national level. Third, besides action at the national level, there is also a need for coordination and cooperation at the regional and international level, and related to this is the importance of adhering to and effectively implementing international law.
4 On the first principle of understanding the challenges, we need to enhance marine scientific research to support policy and decision-making. We also need to promote knowledge hubs and networks to enhance the sharing of scientific data, best practices and know-how. Some research projects Singapore has undertaken include establishing a citizen science monitoring and data sharing system for marine debris and the development of a multi-organism and multi-level biomarker system for biomonitoring of marine ecosystem health.
5 Second, we need to take responsibility at the national level. Singapore has been doing our part to combat marine pollution, which is a key threat facing our oceans. Given that 80% of marine pollution stems from land-based sources, which include marine litter and microplastics, it is important to take steps to control pollution from land-based sources.
6 To ensure that Singapore does not contribute to the issue of marine litter and microplastics, we have in place stringent and comprehensive policies to control pollution and manage waste. For example, all discharge of trade effluent, oil, chemicals, sewage or other polluting substances to the watercourses are tightly controlled so that they do not cause pollution. We also enforce strict anti-littering laws, and have an integrated waste management system to minimise waste at source and ensure proper waste recycling and disposal. All incinerable wastes including plastics that are not recycled are disposed of at modern waste-to-energy incineration plants equipped with advanced air pollution control. Non-incinerable wastes and ash from the incineration process are then disposed of at leach-free off-shore landfills. In addition, Singapore’s sewerage system covers 100% of the country and all surplus used water not recycled into high-grade reclaimed water is collected and treated to internationally recognised standards before discharge. Together, these measures help prevent land-based sources of pollution, including plastics, from ending up in coastal waters and the ocean. Singapore also does regular water quality monitoring of water bodies to ensure that they meet international water quality standards.
7 In line with our collaborative and inclusive approach, the Singapore Government works with the private sector and citizens on anti-littering initiatives such as cleaning up waterways and beaches. This helps raise the consciousness among people about the importance of keeping the environment, including our water bodies and seas, clean. We have also worked with industry to embark on initiatives to reduce the generation of land-based solid waste. One such initiative is the Singapore Packaging Agreement, a voluntary agreement with industry, to reduce packaging waste.
8 In addition to land-based sources, Singapore also has laws to address sea-based sources of marine pollution. Such pollution sources comprise negligent or intentional discharge from vessels and oil platforms. As one of the world's busiest ports, Singapore has taken the lead in rolling out a wide range of measures to protect our marine environment. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) was one of the first maritime administrations in the world to launch a comprehensive pro-environment initiative, known as the Maritime Singapore Green Initiative (MSGI) in 2011 to reduce the environmental impact of shipping and shipping-related activities, and promote clean and green shipping in Singapore. A sum of up to S$100 million had been pledged over 5 years to implement this initiative, which comprises three components – the Green Ship Programme, Green Port Programme and Green Technology Programme. The MSGI was further extended and enhanced in July 2016 to include two new components – the Green Awareness Programme and the Green Energy Programme.
9 While Singapore has played our part in addressing marine pollution, none of us can solve the challenges facing our oceans alone. This brings me to my third point on regional and international cooperation. All States and relevant stakeholders must cooperate to more comprehensively tackle the problem. The United Nations, in particular, has a key role to play. We applaud the UN’s efforts in galvanising action to address the challenges facing our oceans. These include the landmark Oceans Conference in June this year, which provided a platform for high-level dialogue and an exchange of ideas and solutions, including on the issue of marine pollution. It also garnered, as of 27 August, a total of 1395 voluntary commitments, and produced an ambitious and action-oriented outcome document in the form of a Call for Action. Singapore was among those which submitted a list of voluntary commitments and we remain firmly committed to deliver on them. Singapore also participates actively in regional seas initiatives such as the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia and Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia.
10 Among our commitments are those pertaining to providing training and capacity building opportunities for our partners. Having ourselves benefitted from technical assistance in the past, we are keenly aware of the value and importance of such programmes. We have established the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) in 1992 to provide training and capacity building courses for our partners. In 2015, we launched the Sustainable Development Programme under the SCP to support the 2030 Agenda, focusing specifically on climate change adaptation strategies and water quality management. More recently, we launched a course on Sustainable Oceans and Marine Resources.
11 Last but not least, I wish to draw attention to the fundamental importance of adhering to and effectively implementing international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. The issue of oceans and human health is no exception. This fundamental principle has also been explicitly recognised and will therefore serve to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14.
12 In closing, I hope that this Conference can help galvanise greater political will and action to address the challenges facing the health and sustainability of our oceans. I am happy that this conference will be issuing the Oceans Meeting Declaration. We hope that this will signal our collective political will to take action and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 and its targets.
13 Thank you.