Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the 6th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources at The Fullerton Hotel on 2 May 2019

Her Excellency Teresa Kok, Malaysia Minister for Primary Industries,

Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs,

Distinguished Guests,

Good morning,

I am pleased to join you today. To our friends from overseas, I hope you have an enjoyable stay in Singapore.

Lessons from the Past 

2. Singapore’s sustainability story is an ever evolving one.  What Singaporeans enjoy today - a generally clean, green and sustainable environment is no accident or coincidence. On the contrary, our sustainability journey were initiated by our founding fathers more than 50 years ago, who understood the importance of sustainable development for land and resource scarce Singapore.  It is our collective responsibility – government, businesses and community - to build on this strong foundation for our present and future generations. 

3. Through the past fifty years of Singapore’s development, we hoisted two key learning points.

4. First, economic growth need not sacrifice environmental sustainability or social inclusion. Instead of “grow now, green later”, Singapore embarked on a “green as you grow” strategy. Our development plans are centred on ensuring the well-being of our people and the security of their livelihood. This requires us to carefully balance our social and environmental needs, even as we pursue economic development.  Long-term integrated planning is essential. 

5. What we have in Singapore is not just a vibrant economy, but also a City in a Garden.  According to the 2018 Sustainability Cities Index, Singapore is Asia’s most sustainable city and fourth globally. Singapore was also ranked third on the Global Competitiveness Index in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018.  This underscores that sustainability and economic competitiveness can be complementary.

6. Secondvulnerabilities and constraints need not inhibit growth, but can be transformed into strategic advantages. Out of sheer necessity, we have had to work hard to manage our water supply and demand, and to implement our four national taps to ensure resilience of our water supply. We have closed our water loop by recycling used water into NEWater, which is Singapore’s brand of ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water. Only one in the world where we have closed the loop and reuse our water again and again. But beyond this, the water industry has also generated economic spinoffs, generating $2.2 billion to our annual GDP and creating 14,400 jobs. 

New Global Challenges

7. Looking ahead, there are two challenges that could affect not just Singapore, but countries in our region and around the world. If not properly handled, these challenges could potentially unravel the progress we all have made. What are they?

8. First, climate change has emerged as a clear and present danger. We are witnessing more extreme climate-related disasters around the globe. They have claimed lives and rolled back decades of progress. Singapore is particularly vulnerable. By 2100, end of century, Singapore could experience sea level rise of up to 1 metre. As a low-lying island nation, we have nowhere to go.  Even today, Singapore is experiencing longer dry periods and more intense weather patterns. 

9. Second, rapid urbanisation and unbridled consumption has increased competition for scarce resources. The latest UN report by the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has catalogued how the human species have plundered the planet and damaged its capacity to renew resources such as clean air, clean water and arable land. According to this report, since 2014, an area of tropical forest five times the size of England has been destroyed, mainly to service the global demand for beef, biofuels, soya bean and palm oil. We risk ecological catastrophe if we do not change our consumption and production patterns.

Vision for the Future

10. What is our response to these pressing global challenges? We need to forge a new consensus for development and cooperation. It requires stronger collective action globally and regionally, and also from all segments of society. I would like to suggest three key focus areas.

Integrate Systems Better

11. First, we need to integrate our systems. To maximise our resources and reduce our carbon footprint, we can no longer afford to operate in silos. Instead, we must think, plan and implement holistically to find new synergies across different sectors such as waste, water, energy and food. 

12. Let me cite one example from Singapore. For over 30 years, Singapore has operated our incineration plants and water reclamation plants separately. We are seeking to realise synergies from co-locating these plants. When completed in 2027, the Tuas-Nexus plant will be the world’s first facility to co-digest wastewater sludge and food waste into biogas which, in turn, will help power the co-located waste-to-energy and water reclamation plants. The integration of processes at Tuas-Nexus will save more than 200,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually – equivalent to reducing 42,500 cars on the road. By planning with a systems-level approach, we achieve better outcomes for everyone. Actually we will also be producing three times more biogas if we produce it separately. 

13. In a resource and carbon constrained world, resources can no longer be taken as “single-use” which we “take, use, then toss” without hesitation. Things are only waste if they are wasted. By developing circular economy approaches, we can keep our resources in use for as long as possible. In Singapore, our aim is to transform trash into treasure, so that we can become a Zero Waste Nation. This is why we have designated 2019 as Singapore’s Year Towards Zero Waste. 

Integrate Global Cooperation

14. Second, we need to integrate global cooperation as part of our national agenda. No one country can address the new and pressing challenges alone. An effective global response is needed. Unfortunately, the resurgence of isolationism, protectionism and xenophobia is straining the multilateral system. We believe that the UN, as the only universal, inclusive, and multilateral forum, is best placed to manage and deal with the global commons, such as climate change, transboundary pollution, and environment degradation.

15. We must therefore forge a stronger global consensus of cooperation in support of all multilateral environment agreements, notably the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.

16. Singapore will do our part. Last year, we underwent our first Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the High-Level Political Forum to share best practices and to learn from others. We also played active roles at the climate negotiations to secure realistic and achievement goals at the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the Katowice Climate Package in 2019. While not perfect, these agreements will establish a virtuous cycle of climate actions by all countries. The onus is now on everyone to take action and implement the Paris Agreement.  

17. As a responsible international citizen, we have put forward an ambitious climate pledge under the Paris Agreement, and implemented a suite of mitigation measures to steer Singapore toward a low-carbon future, including a carbon tax which has come into effect on 1 Jan 2019. Last year, as ASEAN Chair, Singapore worked with other ASEAN countries to drive regional development around environment and climate action by convening the first ever Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action. Singapore launched a new sustainability initiative called the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. We will also work with Thailand, the current ASEAN Chair, on its theme “Partnerships for Sustainability”. As the development of regional and global circular system is inevitable, demand for cross-border trade of clean and valuable recycled fractions will increase. As ASEAN-EU coordinator, Singapore will further explore this with ASEAN and EU countries.

18. Singapore is also happy to exchange our development experiences. Last year, we launched a Climate Action Package to support fellow developing countries build capacity in areas such as climate change adaptation strategies, disaster risk management and green climate financing.

19. With regard to transboundary haze pollution, ASEAN has enjoyed clear skies in recent years thanks to the strong leadership and determined efforts of President Jokowi and Minister Siti Nurbaya. Singapore and other ASEAN countries are appreciative of these efforts. We must remain vigilant. The recent incidents of fires in northern ASEAN indicates warmer and drier weather ahead. Singapore was glad to be part of the international fire-fighting assistance effort in 2015. We are ready to assist Indonesia with technical resources for firefighting assistance should the need arise again.

Integrate Ground-up Initiatives 

20. And finally, third, we need to integrate ground-up actions from all stakeholders. Governments alone cannot drive sustainability. As the saying goes, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

21. For example, businesses can support more sustainable consumption and production practices, by integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles into their decision-making, and by establishing industry standards on sustainability. The Singapore Environment Council has established the enhanced Singapore Green Labelling Scheme (SGLS+). Eight companies have already been certified under this scheme. I am also pleased that 17 companies have pledged to use sustainable palm oil under the Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (SASPO). I hope more companies will be certified under the SGLS+ and SASPO.

22. Civil society groups too have a role to play.  I am happy to note that civil society organisations, such as PMHaze, Lepak in SG and Zero Waste Singapore, have been working hard to encourage consumers to change their consumption patterns and behaviour.  

23. Looking ahead, we need to work with all stakeholders to co-create solutions for sustainability.  The Singapore government will do its part, and support innovation in sustainability solutions. For example, we have launched a S$45 million ‘Closing the Waste Loop’ initiative to fund research supporting circular economy solutions.  

24. Finally, it would remiss to not mention the efforts of the SIIA, which has been advocating greater sustainability through this platform, as well as its work. I commend the SIIA for making the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources a permanent feature on Singapore’s annual calendar of events on sustainability.


25. Let me conclude. The world is at a critical turning point. Dealing with the impact of climate change and fundamentally transforming the way we produce and consume has become more urgent than ever. We must adopt a more integrated approach in the way we develop our economy; cooperate with other countries in the region and globally; and work together as a society to build a sustainable and endearing home for all. Only then can we safeguard our planet for future generations. 

26. Thank you.

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