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Welcome address by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the opening of the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific on 25 Jan 2019 at Marina Bay Sands

TOPICS: Sustainability

Your Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka

Your Excellency Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu

Your Excellency Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

             Welcome to the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific. This is the first meeting held outside Bangkok and with the largest turnout ever. I warmly welcome all of you to Singapore.

2          Since the end of World War II, Asia Pacific has experienced a remarkable economic boom that has lifted millions of people out of poverty. It is the fastest-growing region in the world today. Yet, such growth is not without trade-offs. Our resource use has intensified three-fold since 1990, accounting for 63% of global material use. Waste volume will double by 2025, further stressing our environment.

3          Climate change also threatens to reverse gains we have made. The recent IPCC Special Report on Global Warming 1.5oC warns that global temperatures could reach 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels as early as 2030. If we continue with business-as-usual, our societies will suffer as climate change intensifies.

4          We therefore need to embrace a new form of economic growth not purely reliant on resource exploitation. We need to adopt circular economy approaches. By transforming waste into resource, we will generate new economic value from something that would have been thrown away. A new industry can emerge where skilled workers design innovative products and manufacturing processes for waste.  

5          To succeed, a circular economy needs a strong foundation in R&D and innovation. Innovations in material recovery, remanufacturing and recycling can help close resource loops. Our National Environment Agency (NEA) has launched a “Closing the Waste Loop” R&D initiative to catalyse such innovation. Through this, a research alliance between Nanyang Technological University and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission will explore innovative and circular solutions for treating e-waste like lithium ion batteries and silicon solar panels. Further research in circular economy will arise from this R&D initiative.

6          Embracing solutions that promote a circular economy should be a part of our region’s commitment to climate action and sustainable development. If we embrace circular economy approaches together, we can transform our region and safeguard our collective future. 

Countries in our region have already begun to plan for a Circular Economy future

7          I recently announced that Singapore has designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste and we will launch our Zero Waste Masterplan this year. Other countries in our region are also moving towards a future based on circular economy principles. In its 13th five-year plan, China outlined measures to promote circularity in industrial parks and enterprises. They have begun to focus on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for electronic waste. Indonesia is exploring an EPR scheme for plastic products. Japan and South Korea are pioneers in this regard, having established EPR schemes over a decade ago. These initiatives are a good start but we have a long way to go.

Regional cooperation and partnerships will be indispensable in our transition

8          Beyond promoting circular economy within our own countries, we should collaborate to establish a coordinated regional approach.  This meeting provides an excellent opportunity to enhance our cooperation and partnerships. Last November, members of the 13th East Asia Summit met in Singapore and issued a Leaders’ statement on Combatting Marine Plastic Debris to improve plastic waste management, which is a first significant step towards solving a transnational issue. Similarly, the Asia Pacific region could explore knowledge sharing and dialogue to develop a regional circular economy. This has been done elsewhere. The North Sea Resources Roundabout, signed in 2016 by the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France and Flanders, aims to facilitate cross-border trade of recycled materials as resources. This agreement harmonises quality standards of secondary resources and contributes to building a regional circular economy within the EU. Our region, the Asia Pacific too, could explore ways to facilitate the trade of secondary raw materials, while preserving the integrity of our environment.

Conclusion

9          Let me conclude. Amongst the countries present today, we have a wealth of experience in developing circular solutions. By fostering dialogue and cooperation, we can combat the growing problem of waste and promote regional circular economy initiatives. More than ever, we will need to embrace new and innovative solutions to build low carbon cities with a high quality of life, and develop an economically vibrant region that is also sustainable in its use of resources.  

10        We have a full agenda ahead of us. As Chair of this Forum, I would rely on the spirit of cooperation of all distinguished delegates, and the able support of the members of the Bureau to produce meaningful outcomes for our work together. Thank you.


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