Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the Global Compact Network Singapore Summit 2019, Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, on 12 November 2019

Ms Goh Swee Chen, 
President of Global Compact Network Singapore,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you this evening. 

2 Many things have changed since I joined the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources in 2015. For one, the temperature of our air conditioning is much better than it was then, and many of you are not wearing jackets. Secondly, I do not see plastic bottles on the tables. There have been big changes optically and substantially. Businesses should take notice. If you still do business as usual, you may be left behind. Customers want a change. They want to see sustainability in our production.
3 This annual event is an important gathering of businesses and other key stakeholders to raise awareness of sustainable development. I hope the discussions have given you useful insights, and allowed you to exchange ideas, strengthen your businesses, and ultimately contribute to a sustainable economy. 

4 Singapore has always put sustainability at the front and centre of what we do. Since our independence, we have sought to balance economic development with environmental protection and social inclusion. This is the unwavering principle that has enabled our small nation to become one of the most sustainable cities in Asia and globally. The outcomes that you see today are not the result of actions taken five, or even 10, years ago — they are the results of what we have done since independence. We are also the world’s most competitive economy, according to a recent ranking by Switzerland-based research group IMD World Competitiveness Centre.

Threat of climate change 

5 With the threat of climate change, it has become even more important to put sustainability at the centre of everything we do. Climate change will pose serious threats to our access to essential resources such as food, water and energy — three of the most important resources for humanity. Business supply chains are becoming increasingly at risk. Our future generations are at stake if we do not act. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We are in a battle for our lives (against climate change).”

6 But Singapore is a resilient nation. We have weathered many storms in the past, and put in much effort to protect our environment, even as we grow. As long as we continue to work together and do our part, we can overcome the challenges posed by climate change. 

Building a Sustainable Future for Singapore

7 The Government is doing its utmost to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For those who are still not familiar, mitigate means trying as much as possible to reduce our greenhouse gases, and adapt is to do whatever we can when we cannot mitigate it and climate change is upon us. We are boosting Singapore’s defence against sea level rise and enhancing our flood resilience measures. We are also investing in climate science research, to ensure that our adaptation plans for both sea level rises and flood resilience measures are based on robust data and projections.  

8 We have also, from early on, undertaken a suite of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors. Singapore is the first country in Southeast Asia to implement an economy-wide carbon tax with no exemptions. To create a sustainable energy future, the Government also recently announced a new solar target of at least 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp) by 2030. That will supply about 10 per cent of Singapore’s peak daily electricity demand today. 

9 The Government is also taking the lead to catalyse a shift towards a circular economy. My Ministry designated this year our Year Towards Zero Waste. We have launched Singapore’s first-ever Zero Waste Masterplan, which charts the Government’s strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. Parliament has also passed the Resource Sustainability Act, which puts in place legislative powers to tackle our priority waste streams.

Businesses Play an Important Role 

10 Businesses play an important role in these efforts. This year’s summit theme, Reimagining Businesses for Resilience, is apt. It is timely to look ahead at the journey that businesses must take in order to continue thriving in a carbon- and resource-constrained world. Let me suggest two areas. 

11 First, businesses can help to mitigate climate change by adopting energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies and solutions. Over the years, the energy efficiency improvement rate has increased from 0.4 per cent in 2014 to 1.4 per cent in 2017. This alone has resulted in $370 million worth of energy savings. We must sustain this rate of improvement in the years ahead. The Government will continue to enhance our funding programmes to give stronger support to companies to be efficient. 

12 Second, businesses can support our transition to a circular economy by engaging in sustainable production and consumption, and reusing and recycling our resources for as long as possible. Besides protecting our environment, we can catalyse the growth of new industries if we scale up the extraction of resources from waste. We have an opportunity to turn trash into treasure, and to turn Semakau Landfill into an urban mine. This would mean new jobs and economic opportunities for citizens and companies. Preliminary estimates have found that if Singapore recovers and reuses valuable materials found in e-waste, we can reap a net benefit of $40 million.

13 Businesses can support more sustainable consumption and production practices, by integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles into their decision making. Such practices make financial and practical sense, as consumers increasingly look to a brand’s sustainability practices when making their purchasing decisions. 

Reimagining Businesses for Resilience, Together

14 Businesses can also partner Non-Governmental Organisations, or NGOs, to advance their sustainable goals. I commend GCNS for organising this annual event as part of their efforts to encourage sustainable business practices. GCNS and the World Bank’s Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, or CPLC, launched the CPLC Singapore chapter at the last Summit. Since then, CPLC Singapore has been engaging companies to implement internal carbon pricing. I encourage companies to do so as internal carbon pricing can be used as a planning tool to help identify revenue opportunities and risks, as an incentive to drive energy efficiencies to reduce costs, and to guide capital investment decisions.


15 Let me conclude. The challenges which businesses face are complex but not insurmountable. To continue thriving in a carbon- and resource-constrained world, we all have to build up climate, resource and economic resiliencies. Then, we can be ready to tap on new opportunities in a circular and green economy.
16 Thank you.

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