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Speech by Minister Masagos Zulkifli at The Future Summit, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, on 16 January 2019

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good morning.

It is an honour to join you today. I thank Minister Thani Al-Zeyoudi for inviting me, and congratulate him and his team for arranging an important and beneficial conference. 

 CLIMATE ACTION IN 2018

2 2018 was an active productive year for Singapore on the climate front. We launched the Singapore Year of Climate Action to raise awareness, and encourage ground-up actions to address climate change. More than 800 activities were conducted with our partners from civil society, the corporate sector and the community, which would amount to two activities for every day of 2018. At the same time, we also got 340,000 pledges for climate action from the public. On the regulatory front, we implemented a carbon tax - the first in South East Asia - after adopting the Energy Conservation Act to regulate large consumers of energy - the industry in particular. We also pushed for greater adoption of solar power, and continued to invest in water supply and drainage infrastructure to increase Singapore’s climate resilience.

3 At the regional and international fronts, we convened a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action (SAMCA) and the Expanded SAMCA which involved other partners from China, Korea, as well as Japan. This is important because for climate action, we need to galvanise regional and global action. At the meeting, Singapore launched a Climate Action Package to help build capacity. I delivered Singapore’s first Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations to reaffirm our commitment to sustainable development. 

4 We concluded our Year of Climate Action by playing a key negotiation role at the UN Climate Conference in Poland last December to adopt the Katowice Climate Package which included the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. With the rules in place, I hope all countries will accelerate efforts to implement our respective Paris Agreement commitments. Singapore will of course do its part.

 INNOVATION FOR DENGUE CONTROL AND WATER SCARCITY

5 We know that with climate change, there will be rising temperatures. In our tropical urban environment, this will lead to a higher incidence of vectorborne diseases, notably dengue, which accounts for 20,000 global deaths each year. Combatting dengue raises unique challenges for Singapore. First, the Aedes aegypti mosquito species, which is the main vector of dengue, is not indigenous to our region but has adapted very well to our tropical climate. If you want to know where it breeds, you just have to look around you – the mosquito doesn’t fly very far. Second, breeding occurs indoors in our homes, in densely populated high-rise dwellings, which means that outdoor fogging is generally less effective. And third, there are large visitor movements in and out of the country, which increases the risk of spreading viruses and thus diseases across borders.

6 To stem this threat, we have turned to technology and innovation to prevent more severe consequences of dengue as a result of climate change. The Environmental Health Institute of the National Environment Agency has been studying the use of male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacteria to reduce the dengue mosquito population and lower dengue transmission. How does this work?

7 When a male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquito mates with an urban Aedes aegypti female mosquito that does not carry Wolbachia, their resultant eggs do not hatch. It’s as simple as that. However, releasing male WolbachiaAedes mosquitoes could thus potentially suppress the dengue mosquito population in the community. In other words, we reduce the mosquito population by adding mosquitoes, a paradox of this innovation. The results have been promising, with 50% of Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs in the community shown to be non-viable in the field trials that we have conducted recently.

8 I believe that we are leading in this area to understand the behaviour of our released mosquitoes in an urban setting. It has, among others things, highlighted the challenges of ensuring uniform distribution of the WolbachiaAedes mosquitoes in our high-rise landscape. We have discovered for example, that the mosquitoes do not like to fly high, so if you release them at the ground floor, you will find that they don’t fly easily to the tenth floor or higher floors. You will actually have to release them up there.

9 This has spurred further innovation with local and international companies. By working with a local start-up company called Orinno Technology, we have developed a mosquito launcher that systematically and uniformly releases mosquitoes. Other inventions include simple yet sophisticated counters that accurately count mosquitoes for efficient and quality production of the mosquitoes. Five intellectual property patents have been filed from these creative solutions. As this nascent technology matures, we hope innovation and technological solutions will contribute positively to research and economic activity, whilst improving public health in Singapore and in similarly dense urban cities around the world.

10 Let me now touch on water. Water is another example where innovation and technology were critical to enhancing our resilience and preparing for climate change. Because it is an existential issue for us, Singapore had early on shifted away from viewing water as a “single use” resource. Over the last three decades, we have developed a circular water ecosystem which focuses on conserving and reusing water resources. This was achieved painstakingly by investing in infrastructure that recovers and recycles every single drop; pricing water in accordance to its long-term scarcity; and leveraging on technology. The result is as follows. After over ten years of investing in R&D, we have created about 14,400 jobs across more than 200 companies and 25 R&D centres. The sector was further boosted in 2016 with an injection of SGD$200m for R&D from the National Research Foundation under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 Plan. This will bring total funding for water to $670m over 15 years and contribute $2.85b annually to the economy by 2020, and create more companies like Ecosoftt which received the Zayed Sustainability Prize on Monday for innovating to increase sustainability in Singapore and beyond.

11 Today, recycled water in Singapore – known as NEWater – and desalination provide us with new sources of water that is more climate resilient.  As a result of these efforts, our water sector closely reflects a circular economy. Water and Wolbachia technologies are just two areas where innovation has or is bearing fruit to overcome urban challenges and climate change.

 2019: YEAR TOWARDS ZERO WASTE  

12 Having seen the value that a circular economy has brought to the water sector, we are keen to extend this approach to other sectors. We are acutely aware that population growth, industrialisation, and the rise of consumerism have led to unrestrained exploitation of global resources. Yet, we remain fixated with the “take, make, use then toss” philosophy, and ignore the fact that resources are finite, as is the earth’s capacity to absorb pollution and waste.

13 As such, we designated 2019 as Singapore’s “Year Towards Zero Waste” last Saturday.The aim is to imbue in our citizens a greater consciousness on the need to treasure our precious resources and to do our part to protect the planet.  Our strategy for Zero Waste is to adopt circular economy principles that will support future economic growth without compromising on our environmental goals. It will require a paradigm shift from our usual “take, make, use then toss” philosophy to one where we treasure every resource, and aim to reuse and recycle them endlessly - and like water, retain the resources within and not keep taking them from Mother Nature. This will require us to go beyond the traditional 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) and embrace broader Re-X approaches such as re-purposing, re-manufacturing, re-designing, re-pairing and even re-thinking business processes. We can derive maximum value from resources, by extending their life through recovery and regeneration. The circular economy will also create new value, opportunities and green jobs.  Imagine, our cities becoming urban mines, where the raw materials we need is right under our noses, and we recover treasure from trash.

14 Singapore will publish our Zero Waste Masterplan later this year.Our efforts will centre on three key waste streams, namely electronic waste, plastic and packaging waste, and food waste. We will increase Singapore’s R&D funding to transform the environmental services industry. For instance, we will require producers to recycle and dispose of electronic waste responsibly by implementing the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Framework by 2021.We will also implement a mandatory reporting framework for packaging data and waste reduction plans from 2020. We will thereafter consider adopting the same EPR Framework for plastics and packaging waste.

15 However, we know that the government cannot do it alone. To deal with the challenges ahead, we need a whole-of-nation effort. We need all stakeholders notably the private sector and civil society, to come together, pool our efforts and work together for the common good. For example, we have launched the #RecycleRight movement to ensure proper recycling in order to keep recyclable waste clean, dry and free of food waste.

16 We are also working closely with other governments. Yesterday, Minister Thani Al-Zeyoudi and I launched a Workshop on Zero Waste that is jointly organised by Singapore and the UAE as part of the ADSW. Conferences such as these are useful as they allow us to share best practices and provide opportunities for cooperation and partnerships between countries and across regions.

17 Indeed, next week, Singapore will host the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific. 41 countries from the Asia Pacific will share their views on “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production”. The outcome of the meeting will be conveyed to the 4th UN Environment Assembly to be held in March in Nairobi. Later this year, Singapore will also participate in the Climate Summit specially convened by the UN Secretary-General. I am confident that these platforms will further global progress on sustainable development, as will the meetings held here this week in Abu Dhabi.

CONCLUSION

18 Let me conclude. Singapore is a small, resource-poor island nation. Like the UAE’s founding father Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew also recognised from the outset the need to balance economic growth with the conservation of our precious resources. We have looked to technology and cooperation to enable us to do more with less, help us overcome constraints, and develop innovative solutions to deal with environmental challenges. We will continue to attach a high priority to sustainable development, and take active steps to safeguard critical national resources so that economic growth leads to good social outcomes.

19 On this note, let me thank Minister Thani Al-Zeyoudi once again for inviting me to the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

20 Thank you.

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