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Speech By Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for The Environment and Water Resources, at The Asian Scientist Writing Prize Award Ceremony, on 4 December 2019

Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng,

CEO of Science Centre, Singapore

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Good evening.

 

Thank you for inviting me to be part of your celebrations.

Let me begin by congratulating all winners of this year’s awards.

 

The importance of STEM

 

This year’s competition theme – STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and Sustainability – is apt. Singapore has always put sustainability at the front and centre of everything we do. Since our nation’s independence, we have sought to balance economic development with environmental protection and social inclusion. The environmental challenges we face have grown increasingly complex over the years.

 

2 STEM therefore enables us to make informed decisions as we implement policies for a sustainable Singapore, and develop solutions to our challenges, be it shortage of land, water or energy. Many of you know that STEM has helped us to close our water loop. We have developed four national water taps of imported water, local catchment, NEWater and desalination.  

 

3 We will soon be conducting a field trial of a new material which is derived from incineration bottom ash, along a stretch of Tanah Merah Coast Road. If successful, we will be able to turn what would have been dumped at our only landfill at Pulau Semakau as trash, into a treasure, as useful construction and road material. Just like NEWater, we have christened this new material, NEWSand.

 

4 One of our biggest challenges today is climate change. Climate change poses serious threats to all of us, for generations to come. It threatens our access to essential resources such as food, water and energy. As a low-lying island city state, Singapore is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. We are well aware of the challenges ahead, but we can face the future with confidence knowing that we are taking early, decisive actions that are underpinned by robust science. Let me give an example involving the climate. 

 

5 In 2013, we set up the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) to build up knowledge and expertise in climate science. CCRS is one of the few dedicated climate facilities in Asia Pacific focusing on research in tropical weather and climate. CCRS works closely with our neighbours to study how climate change is affecting Southeast Asia and organises programmes to build regional capability in climate science.

 

6 We also need to better understand how sea level rise affects Singapore. To deepen our understanding of sea levels around Singapore, CCRS has launched a $10 million National Sea Level Research Programme (or NSLP) over the next five years. A new Climate Science Research Programme Office will also be set up to lead, formulate and implement the National Science Research Masterplan. 

 

Communicating Science Effectively

 

7 Ladies and Gentlemen, building a sustainable future is not just the job of policymakers, scientists and engineers. Education in STEM will play an important role in helping our present and future generations to understand climate change and be adequately prepared to adapt to and mitigate its impacts. Both scientists and mainstream media can help by explaining discoveries and findings in a clear, concise and engaging manner. This is where science communication comes in. Publications like the Asian Scientist Magazine play a big role in piquing our interest in science, by highlighting scientific developments from Asia to a global audience.

 

8 Science is not just work or words, and no play. Many Singaporeans will remember visiting the Science Centre in their childhood days. Since its opening in 1977, the Science Centre has been a go-to place to see science come to life. I remember my children being absolutely enthralled by the egg incubator – everyone remembers this one - where we were able to see chicks hatch from eggs, and riding on the VR simulator machine was always a treat. These activities sparked their interest in science at an early age.

 

The Asian Science Writing Prize 2019

 

9 The biennial Asian Scientist Writing Prize has done a good job in highlighting the work of the region’s best science communicators and shining a spotlight on the excellent research being done in Asia. Assoc Prof Lim mentioned earlier 450 entries – a record breaking number – were received this year. I understand the entries came from writers as young as 13 years old and as senior as over 80 years of age! Topics discussed in the entries included renewable fuels, plastic pollution, the collapse of ecosystems, and sustainable agriculture.

 

10 These are all important issues of our time, with no straightforward solutions. However, through science communication, we are able to raise awareness of these issues, and help spur action among the general public.

 

11 For example, the issue of loss of pollination was highlighted by Ms Aimeirene Yzabel Ines, winner of the first prize in the youth category. 

 

12 Regrettably, I’ve heard that Ms Ines is unable to join us today, as she is unable to fly to Singapore, due to the typhoon in the Philippines. I would like to take this opportunity, to send my well wishes to Ms Ines, and all who have been affected by Typhoon Kammuri.

 

13 In her piece, Ms Ines wrote about how she used to be scared of bees, but now fears losing them. Not many people know about the positive impact that bees have on our environment. They pollinate flowers that bear fruit and vegetables, providing a food source to humans.

 

14 With warmer temperatures from climate change and the use of commercial fertilisers, bees are dying off. This means that producing countries may no longer have enough to sell for export. With the drop in supply, prices of food will increase.

 

15 For import-dependent countries like Singapore, this is bad news. We will either have to contend with higher prices, or face a food shortage. Therefore, it is important for Singapore to strengthen our food security – through food source diversification, growing local and growing overseas. 

 

16 In fact, we will need to fully apply STEM to achieve our grow local target of “30-by-30. That is, to grow 30 per cent of our nutritional needs by 2030. This is a significant increase from less than 10 per cent today.  To do so, we will need to push the frontiers of STEM to develop high-tech, climate-resilient and resource-efficient farms. How can we grow food with the least water, energy and carbon footprint possible? This includes indoor vertical vegetable farms, close containment floating fish farms, and even alternative proteins, such as the plant-based Impossible Meat.

 

17 Next year, my ministry will launch a campaign on the Singapore Food Story, to encourage Singaporeans to grow and eat local produce.  I encourage publications like the Asian Scientist to continue to raise awareness about food security for Singapore and the region, and the potential for STEM to help to address our pressing food and climate challenges. 

 

Conclusion

 

18 Let me conclude by once again congratulating all winners of the Asian Scientist Writing Prize Award 2019. Your works have helped to generate awareness of pertinent environmental issues. I hope they will encourage more to take collective action. Only then, can we make meaningful change in our environment and society.

 

19 Thank you.

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