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Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, at the Responsible Business Forum 2019 on 18 November 2019 at St. Regis Singapore

Mr Tony Gourlay, CEO, Global Initiatives

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

1 Good morning. I am pleased to join you at this 8th edition of the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development. To our friends from overseas, a very warm welcome to Singapore.

Singapore’s Approach to Sustainable Development

2 Sustainability has always been an integral aspect of Singapore’s development, long before it became a buzzword. Since our nation’s independence, we have sought to balance economic development with environmental protection and social inclusion. In the face of climate change, it has become even more crucial now for us to put sustainability at the centre of everything we do.

3 Climate change will increasingly threaten our access to essential resources such as food, water and energy. New studies have found that rising seas could affect three times more people by 2050 than previously thought, with many Asian cities in danger of being inundated. As a low-lying island city state with no natural resources, Singapore is vulnerable to all of these threats, particularly the effects of sea level rise. To prepare Singapore for these challenges, we are building three types of resilience — climate resilience, resource resilience, and economic resilience.

4 The first – climate resilience – is about protecting our environment from the impacts of climate change. We may need to invest S$100 billion or more over the next 100 years to protect ourselves against rising sea levels. To ensure that our adaptation plans are based on robust science, the Centre for Climate Research Singapore has recently launched a S$10 million National Sea Level Research Programme, which will develop more robust projections of sea level rise. A new Climate Science Research Programme Office will also be set up to lead, formulate and implement our National Climate Science Research Masterplan, and to build up climate science capabilities in Singapore. We will share our findings with our neighbours to help them plan for climate change adaptation also.   

5 Second, we are building resource resilience to ensure we have a safe and secure supply of critical resources. One of the key things we are doing is to strengthen our food security. Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of our food today. This makes us vulnerable to external factors, such as volatilities of the global food market, the impacts of climate change, and even disease outbreak. To make our food supply more resilient, we intend to increase local food production to meet 30 per cent of our needs by 2030. We are also working to maximise resource efficiency and close our resource loops. I will elaborate on this later.

6 Third, we are building economic resilience to ensure that our economy continues to thrive in a carbon and resource-constrained future. Singapore is the first country in Southeast Asia to implement a carbon tax, with no exemptions. This is to incentivise emissions reduction across all sectors and transition to a low-carbon economy. The government is prepared to spend more than the estimated $1 billion in carbon tax revenues collected in the first five years to help businesses become more energy and carbon efficient.

7 By building climate, resource and economic resilience, we are confident that we can ensure a sustainable future for our people in the face of challenges brought by climate change. However, climate change is not the only threat we face. Urbanisation and unbridled consumption are also causing a strain on the world’s essential resources and raw materials. We must take action now to prepare for resource scarcity in future.

Building a Circular Economy

8 The theme for this year’s forum, #Circularity2030, is timely. Singapore designated this year our Year Towards Zero Waste, to rally Singaporeans and businesses to move towards more sustainable consumption and production, and to adopt circular economy strategies for our waste management.

9 A good example of how Singapore has successfully implemented circular economy strategies is in our water story. Over the last 50 years, Singapore has developed a robust and diversified water supply system called our Four National Taps. One of these taps is recycled wastewater, which we call NEWater. By endlessly recycling the water we use into NEWater, and putting it back into the system, we have closed the water loop.

10 We will do the same with our waste and resource loops. This year, we launched our inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan. The Masterplan provides a comprehensive update on Singapore’s strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. It covers areas such as infrastructure, research and development, and outreach and engagement. The targets outlined in the Masterplan are supported by the Resource Sustainability Act which was passed recently. The Act provides legislative effect to regulatory measures for the three priority waste streams in Singapore – e-waste, food waste and packaging waste, including plastics. It will also create opportunities for companies to tap on rising demand for resource recovery.

11 Besides putting in place legislative frameworks, we are also making significant investments in research and development to spur innovation. Under the ‘Closing the Waste Loop’ initiative, we have set aside $45 million to develop technologies and solutions to tackle challenges posed by increasing waste generation, scarcity of resources and land constraints for waste management. To date, this programme has funded eight projects worth almost $20 million.

12 Let me share two projects made possible by R&D, that demonstrate our circular approach:

  • First, to maximise resource recovery, we are planning to turn our incineration ash into construction material for roads and non-structural concrete. We are calling the material NEWSand. The National Environment Agency, or NEA, has developed provisional standards for NEWSand. Field trials are set to commence next year.
  • Second, we are co-locating an Integrated Waste Management Facility with a Water Reclamation Plant to harness synergies between water, waste and energy to maximise resource efficiency. This important infrastructure, known as Tuas Nexus, will embody circularity. Food waste from the waste management facility will be co-digested with used water sludge from the water reclamation plant to triple biogas yield, generating energy to power the entire facility.

Working together for a Sustainable Future

13 These examples represent what the government is doing to move Singapore closer to becoming a Zero Waste Nation. But we recognise that the government cannot achieve this vision alone. As the saying goes, “If you want to go far, go together.” We need industries and businesses to be at the forefront of these efforts.

14 One key strategy of a circular economy is sustainable production and consumption. The majority of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from the production and consumption of goods and services. Businesses can support the transition from a linear to circular economy, if they can turn trash into treasure by reusing and recycling our limited resources for as long as possible.

15 Adopting a circular economy approach will not only reduce our carbon footprint and benefit the environment. New opportunities for our companies and good jobs will be created if we scale up the extraction of resources from waste, and generate economic value from something that would have been thrown away. For example, according to preliminary estimates, if Singapore recovers and reuses valuable materials found in e-waste, we can reap a net benefit of $40 million.

16 One company that recognises the value of a circular approach is Fuji Xerox. The company has sought to recover and reuse parts of its products. This has enabled it to save around 30 per cent in new materials for manufacturing products. Another example is Ricoh Asia Pacific. Ricoh ensures that its products use less new resources, and strives to use recyclable parts in their products. I understand that close to 90 per cent of Ricoh’s products are made of recycled parts.

17 Businesses can also collaborate and work together to close the loop. For example, Australian Fruit Juice, or AFJ, has partnered with UglyGood, an upcycling solutions provider. Instead of being thrown away, waste fruit peels from AFJ are processed and used by UglyGood to make organic cleaning agents.

Conclusion

18 Let me conclude. There are many challenges ahead for sustainable development, but many opportunities too, if businesses are willing to transform themselves. I am glad that platforms such as the Responsible Business Forum are bringing like-minded individuals together to create conversations on circular economy solutions.

19 I understand that Global Initiatives will also be live-streaming tomorrow’s discussions to partner universities and business schools across the world. This is a commendable effort to engage the next generation of sustainability leaders. Given the increasingly transboundary nature of operations, we all need to work together, plan ahead and invest well not just for a sustainable nation, but a sustainable world.

20 Thank you, and I wish you all a fruitful event ahead.

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