Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at Temasek Junior College’s Temasek Distinguished Speaker Series on Thursday, 6 August 2020
1 Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to speak today. This is my first engagement with students since I took on my new appointment as Minister for Sustainability and the Environment. I look forward to a meaningful conversation with you on climate change issues, and how we can keep Singapore sustainable and liveable not just for now, but for future generations as well.
2 Before we begin our discussion, let me highlight three points on Singapore’s response to climate change.
- First, I would like to talk about Singapore’s commitment to sustainability;
- Second, Singapore’s constraints, and our three-pronged approach to tackling climate change; and
- Third, how individuals like you can play a part.
Singapore’s commitment to sustainability
3 Let me start with Singapore’s commitment to sustainable development. Some of you have probably been wondering: what will Singapore be like in 10, 20 or 50 years from now? Will our environment be unbearably hot, or will Singapore be flooded? Will we have enough resources to support ourselves, and are we doing enough to mitigate climate change? I assure you that the Government shares your concerns on these issues.
4 In fact, sustainability has always been a cornerstone of Singapore’s development. Since our independence, we have sought to balance our environmental considerations with economic development and social inclusion. We believe that they are complementary, and not contradictory.
5 Even in our early years, as our pioneer leaders worked to provide Singaporeans with jobs, affordable housing, clean water and education, they also planted trees around public housing estates, gazetted our nature reserves, cleaned up the heavily polluted Singapore River, and enacted laws against pollution. Today, we enjoy a clean and green environment, with flowing taps, and many parks and nature reserves.
6 The recent renaming of my Ministry to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment reflects the Government’s emphasis on sustainability, and our plans to press on with major initiatives in carbon mitigation, coastal protection, zero waste and circular economy, as well as food and water security.
Singapore’s constraints and our Climate Action Plan
7 Next, let me touch on Singapore’s constraints and our climate action plan. We are a small island state with limited natural resources. It was only through hard work, careful planning and deliberate implementation that we have been able to provide our people with reliable supplies of food and water, even though we are one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, and we have little land to grow food.
8 We recognised early on that climate change would make our future even more challenging. In 2007, Mr Lee Kuan Yew called climate change the “ultimate threat to human survival”. That year, we established a high-level Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change (IMCCC) chaired by then DPM S Jayakumar to dedicate resources to coordinate climate change polices and a whole-of-nation response.
9 We have taken a three-pronged approach to tackle climate change. First, we want to better understand climate change and its impact. Second, we are mitigating climate change by reducing our emissions across all sectors; and third, we are taking measures to adapt to climate change.
10 To better understand climate change, we set up the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) in 2013 to strengthen our capabilities in climate science. Today, CCRS is one of the most advanced climate research centres in the region specialising in tropical climate science. A new Climate Science Research Programme Office will also be launched this year to lead efforts to develop and implement our National Climate Science Research Masterplan.
11 Second, to mitigate climate change, we have put in place a comprehensive suite of measures to reduce emissions across all sectors over the years. These include switching to natural gas as a cleaner fuel for power generation, implementing an economy-wide carbon tax, and greening our transport system and buildings. We will do our full part to mitigate climate change as a responsible global citizen.
12 Because we are small and highly urbanised, with low wind speeds and no geothermal resources, we are disadvantaged in alternative energy. We do not have access to many of the alternative energy options that other countries have. Solar energy is our most promising renewable energy option, but our limited land makes it challenging to deploy solar power on a large scale. But we are developing creative solutions within our constraints. For example, we are installing floating solar panels on our reservoirs, and they will be amongst the world’s largest when ready.13 Third, to adapt to the impact of climate change, we are prepared to spend an estimated S$100 billion to protect Singapore against rising sea levels in the coming decades. Measures may include pumps, sea walls, reclamation (to a higher level), and polders/dykes. Earlier this year, our national water agency PUB also assumed the role of our Coastal Protection Agency. By combining coastal protection responsibilities with its stormwater management functions, PUB will be well-positioned to look at inland and coastal flooding holistically.
13 Climate change will also challenge our access to critical resources such as water and food. For instance, extreme weather conditions can pose threats to our water supply, and we will need to ensure that our Four National Taps – imported water, water from local catchment, NEWater and desalinated water – continue to supply sufficient water to meet our needs. In June this year, we opened our fourth desalination plant — the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant. It can produce about 30 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day, further strengthening our water supply resilience.
14 Rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions can also affect global crop yields. As Singapore currently imports 90 per cent of our food, this makes us vulnerable to disruptions to global supply chains, which the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored. To safeguard Singapore’s food supply, we have been pursuing three strategies, also known as our three “food baskets”. They are: 1) Further diversifying our import sources; 2) Growing more locally; and 3) Growing more overseas. By 2030, we aim to meet 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs through locally-produced food. We call this our 30-by-30 goal. Of course, besides strengthening supply chains, we can also look to reduce food waste.
Individuals play an important part
15 This brings me to my third point, which is how individuals like you can play a part. I have given you a quick snapshot of some of the Government’s efforts in sustainable development, and how we are preparing for climate change. However, the Government cannot drive these efforts alone. Everyone has a role to play in fighting climate change – from businesses and organisations, to individuals like you.
16 Each of us has the potential to be an agent of change. We can make a difference by making climate-friendly choices in our daily lives and encouraging our families and friends to do the same. Think of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle our precious resources. Although climate change cannot be solved by any single person, the sum of our actions can be significant. For example, if all households in Singapore were to change one fluorescent lightbulb to an LED bulb, we could potentially achieve enough energy savings to power 1,000 four-room housing units. And if we all reduce our shower time by two minutes, we can save about 80 million litres of water – equivalent to the daily water usage for over half a million people in Singapore!
17 Let me conclude. As leaders of tomorrow, you have the potential to make a positive impact on the environment by becoming a climate game changer. I am heartened that more youths are talking about sustainability and climate change, and what we can do together. These are important conversations that can help raise public awareness on the importance of collective action for the environment.
18 Thank you for listening, and I look forward to our discussion.