Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the opening of the Ecosperity Conference 2019 on 6 June 2019

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Sustainability as a Cornerstone of Singapore’s Development

1. A warm welcome to the Ecosperity Conference 2019, Temasek’s annual sustainability conference. The Ecosperity Conference takes place during the broader Ecosperity Week, which combines several sustainability-related partner events. These include PUB’s Singapore International Water Week Spotlight, NEA’s CleanEnviro Singapore Catalyst, World Bank’s Innovate4Climate conference and the FutureChina Global Forum organised by Business China Singapore, which focuses on sustainable development this year.

2. “Ecosperity” twins the words “Ecology” with “Prosperity”. This reflects the belief that companies can do well for their businesses, and do good for the environment and community.

3. This has also been Singapore’s experience. Economic development and sustainability must go hand in hand. The City in a Garden that Singapore is today is testament to the principle that development should not come at the expense of our living environment.

The New Reality:  A Resource and Carbon Constrained World

4. Singapore and, indeed, the world must continue on the path of sustainable development. But how we pursue sustainability today must be transformed, given the challenges we face. Growing population, rapid urbanisation, over-consumption of resources as well as the intensifying effects of climate change are all megatrends that we are grappling with.

5. In May, scientists at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory measured how atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached historic highs. The past five years have been the warmest years since data was first collected in the late 1800s. Hokkaido, where temperatures never exceed 35 degrees Celsius in May, is experiencing a heatwave where temperatures reached almost 40 degrees Celsius.

6. These effects will have a real impact on our daily lives. We have already lost one third of the world’s arable land due to ecological changes. The effects of extreme weather phenomena, such as floods and droughts, will further strain the world’s critical resources, such as food, energy and water. Our region’s rice-bowl, the Mekong Delta, is threatened by rising sea levels that increase the salinity of inland rivers and destroy rice fields.

7. We must act fast.In the words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the transition to a cleaner, greener future needs to speed up.” We must fundamentally change the way we use resources, so that we can thrive in a low-carbon and resource-constrained future.

Three “Resiliences” To Sustain Singapore’s Future

8. Singapore takes these challenges seriously. We are a low-lying island state, and the effects of climate change, notably sea level rise, are existential threats. So is the lack of space for landfill, which though not an imminent issue, is always in the horizon and something we have to address in the not- too-distant future. To ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy a vibrant and liveable city, we are working to build up “Three Resiliences” in Singapore:

(1) climate resilience;

(2) resource resilience; and

(3) economic resilience.  

Let me elaborate.

Climate Resilience:  Coping with the Effects of Climate Change

9. First, climate resilience entails taking steps to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change.

10. We have taken decisive steps to build Singapore’s climate resilience. Since 2011, we have raised minimum reclamation levels for newly reclaimed lands to at least four metres above the mean sea level. We are building future developments, such as Changi Airport Terminal 5, at higher platform levels. We have also invested heavily in technologies such as water reclamation and desalination to enhance our water security and resilience.

11. More will be done. Sea level rise will pose one of the most complex, long-term challenges for Singapore. Recent scientific studies indicate that, by the end of the century, sea levels may potentially rise faster and higher than what we had previously assumed. Work is ongoing to assess the risks and impacts of long-term sea level rise on our coasts and on flooding. The Centre for Climate Research Singapore will launch a research programme on sea level rise this year. The Government is developing a national framework for coastal protection and studying long-term plans to protect vulnerable areas along our coasts. Protecting our coasts will involve significant infrastructural investments, which must be balanced against other fiscal and land use demands. But preparing for climate change is a long-term investment in our future. We need to plan holistically and back up our plans with hefty resources. We will take decisive action to ensure Singapore remains vibrant and liveable.

12. As one of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change impacts, Singapore is committed to doing our part to fight climate change.  The Government’s strategy to fulfil our Paris Agreement pledge is outlined in our Climate Action Plan.  This details our efforts to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors, encourage energy efficiency and adopt cleaner forms of energy.

13. Singapore is the first country in Southeast Asia to implement a carbon tax which came into force this year. It is a significant step in our climate action, and complements Singapore’s suite of mitigation measures to incentivise emissions reduction across all sectors and transition to a low-carbon economy.

14. But the Government cannot address climate change on its own. Singapore designated 2018 as the Year of Climate Action to raise awareness on the urgent need for climate action and spur individual and collective action. Altogether, we received more than 340,000 climate action pledges from individuals, organisations, institutions, civil society and businesses. We hope this momentum will continue through ground-up, community-led efforts – such as this Ecosperity Conference.

15. Ultimately, climate change requires a global solution. Singapore is actively working to galvanise regional and global climate action. In 2018, we hosted a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action (SAMCA) and Expanded SAMCA (E-SAMCA) to bring together Ministers from ASEAN and the Plus Three countries to discuss ways to step up regional climate action. At the international level, we participate actively in climate negotiations. We are happy that the international community has successfully adopted the rules to implement the Paris Agreement in Katowice, Poland, last December. While the agreed measures are not entirely perfect, they are a good start.Collectively, they will help to establish a virtuous cycle of climate action by all Parties of the Paris Agreement.

Resource Resilience: Sustainable Production and Consumption through a Circular Economy Approach

16. We need a second resilience, “resource resilience”, to help us grow in a resource and carbon constrained world. Singapore must secure our critical resources, including energy, water, food and materials. We must also maximise our resources by producing and consuming sustainably, and recovering resource from waste.

Adopting a circular economy approach and closing our resource loops

17. We need a paradigm shift to regard waste as a resource. We must move from a linear ‘take-make-throw’ approach, to a circular economy approach that reuses resources for as long as possible. This reduces our environmental footprint and strengthens our resource resilience.

18. Many of you would be familiar with how Singapore has closed our water loop by recycling used water into “NEWater”. We are looking at closing other resource loops. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has started preliminary work to turn incineration bottom ash into construction material, or what we call “NEWSand”.  NEA has developed provisional environmental standards for the use of NEWSand, and field trials will start next year.

19. Closing individual resource loops is only one piece of the puzzle. Singapore will leverage our strengths in long-term planning to adopt a systems-level approach and harness synergies across different resource loops.  Let me share some examples with you.

a. First, we will harness synergies between the food and waste resource loops by converting food waste into agricultural inputs.  Food is a major source of waste, and improper disposal leads to odour and pest nuisance.  Singapore is tackling this problem by segregating and treating food waste into products such as compost, which can be used by local farms.  This contributes to our ambition of producing 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030.

b. Second, we will harness synergies between the water and energy resource loops by deploying floating solar PV panels on our reservoirs. With the sun as the main source of power, floating solar systems do not require fuel or natural gas to power their operations. This makes solar photovoltaic an environmentally friendly source which is not susceptible to fuel price fluctuations. Our reservoirs will serve not only as a key source of drinking water, but also as a source of clean energy.

c. I am pleased to announce that PUB will be launching a Request for Proposal to invite private sector companies to design, build, own and operate, for 25 years, Singapore’s first large-scale floating solar photovoltaic system on Tengeh Reservoir tomorrow. At 50MWp, the solar system will be one of the largest single floating solar PV systems in the world when it is completed. PUB will also deploy two other smaller 1.5MWp floating solar PV systems at both Bedok and Lower Seletar Reservoirs in the second half of this year. PUB hopes to generate green energy to power water treatment and reduce its carbon footprint.

d. Third, we will harness the synergies between water, waste and energy by co-locating a water reclamation plant with an integrated waste management facility. We call this the Tuas Nexus. The Tuas Nexus will co-digest food waste with used water sludge to triple biogas yield. The biogas produced will generate more than enough energy to power the Tuas Nexus. We estimate that this will reduce carbon emissions by more than 200,000 tonnes a year – equivalent to taking 42,500 cars off the road.

20. We will support innovation by putting in place facilitative regulations. NEA launched a regulatory sandbox last year under the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map. This will provide a safe space for companies to trial new solutions. Singapore Power Group (SP Group) is testing an onsite gasification system at Gardens by the Bay. The system has the potential to close the waste loop by converting waste into solid carbon material which can be used for horticulture at Gardens by the Bay. Waste heat is recovered to provide hot water for F&B outlets. Besides value recovery from waste, such a localised waste management solution also reduces the carbon footprint from transportation of waste to the incineration plants.

Economic Resilience: The Vital Role Businesses Play

21. Businesses play a key role in our third “resilience”, economic resilience. In a resource and carbon constrained world, companies must develop the capabilities to thrive through embracing circular economy solutions.

22. The Australian company, “Close the Loop”, developed a new recovery process that turns old printer cartridges and soft plastics into new materials to lay roads. These road surfaces last up to 65 per cent longer than traditional asphalt. Close the Loop is literally “paving the road” to a more sustainable future.

23. Keppel Corporation accumulated $55 million in cost savings last year by redesigning their office to be energy and environmentally sustainable. Some features include photo sensors that dimmed perimeter lighting when there is sufficient daylight, and printing features in their copier machines to reduce paper wastage.

24. It is also encouraging to see young, local entrepreneurs innovating solutions for sustainability. Rayner Loi, an undergraduate in the Singapore University of Social Sciences, developed a smart food waste tracker which uses artificial intelligence to measure, identify and record food waste going into bins. The data collected is used to provide insights to businesses such as hotels to reduce food waste. Rayner said that he has seen his clients’ food waste fall, on average, by 30 to 40 percent, and their food costs go down by 3 to 8 per cent.

25. We encourage all businesses to adopt such circular economy approaches. Allow me to suggest a few areas.

26. First, set targets. Setting targets is the first step in driving actions within the company. For example, you can aim to improve the carbon efficiency of your operations. Apart from signalling that you are serious about addressing climate change, reducing carbon through energy efficiency and renewables will also help reduce costs. One example is Singtel, which is one of few companies in Asia to set absolute carbon reduction targets that have been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).[1] You could also set recycling targets. Unilever, for instance, has committed to ensuring that 100 per cent of their plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To help create an end market for this material, Unilever will increase the recycled plastic content in their packaging to at least 25 per cent by the same year. These targets are reshaping their production and innovation framework.

27. Another way would be to adopt a triple bottom line framework to evaluate performance. This means looking at the environmental, social and financial results of the business. The SGX Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) indices is a good place to start, and can serve as a guide for a company’s decision-making processes. For example, DBS Bank has declared that it will cease the financing of new coal-fired plants beyond its existing commitments and step up financing for renewables. A triple bottom line will sustain a company’s performance and profits.

28. Finally, businesses can co-create innovative solutions with the government to drive sustainability. Two weeks ago, I officiated the opening of a Waste-To-Energy Research Facility in the Nanyang Technology University (NTU), which is a multi-stakeholder collaboration among NTU, JFE Engineering Corporation and the NEA. Besides serving as a platform for scientists and companies to test-bed their innovations and prototypes in a real operating environment, the facility can take in up to 11.5 tonnes of waste a day.  It will treat all municipal waste generated by NTU. Almost all waste going into the facility is recyclable and are converted into energy or slag, which can be used for road construction. The Government will partner and support the private sector, such as through grants and incentives to encourage ground-up solutions.  For example, we have launched a S$45 million ‘Closing the Waste Loop’ initiative to fund research supporting circular economy approaches.


29. Let me conclude. It is clear that the status quo in the way we consume our resources and grow our economy is not sustainable. The impacts of climate change respect no geographical or national boundaries. Only by building the 3 “Resiliences” – climate, resource and economic – can we secure our collective future.

30. We will need to work together. It is not a coincidence that many sustainability related events are taking place during the Ecosperity Week.I hope that all of you will find these events useful to learn best practices from around the world.

Thank you.

[1] The Science Based Targets initiative is a partnership between CDP, UN Global Compact, WRI and WWF to recognise organisations aligned with the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep temperature rise below 2°C. 

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