Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Charles Rudd Distinguished Public Lecture 2021 on 14 May 2021
Dr. Richard Kwok, President, IES
Prof. Chong Tow Chong, President, SUTD
Er. Tan Seng Chuan, Executive Board Member, World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) and Emeritus President, IES
Dr. Boh Jaw Woei, Chairman, Charles Rudd Distinguished Public Lectures Organising Committee
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to join you today. The theme for this year's World Engineering Day is 'Engineering for a healthy planet'. This is a wonderful reminder of the pivotal role that engineers play in maintaining the health of our planet.
2 Our planet has certainly not been in good health lately. 2020 was the second hottest year, and the last seven years, the world’s warmest seven years on record 1. In the US, there were 22 separate weather and climate disasters in 2020, costing some 95 billion US dollars in damage. This exceeds the previous record.
SINGAPORE GREEN PLAN 2030
3 The world urgently needs solutions on carbon mitigation and climate adaptation. Singapore will do our part. Ensuring that Singapore remains a clean and liveable home in the face of global warming is no small feat. As a low-lying island in the tropics, climate change affects us in several ways, including too much water at times, too little at other times, and rising temperatures.
Too much water
4 Sea level rise is an existential challenge for Singapore. By 2100, Singapore could experience mean sea level rise of up to 1 metre and more frequent extreme rainfall2. Last month on April 17th, we recorded Singapore's highest daily rainfall since 1980, more than a month's rainfall in a single afternoon3. PUB, now tasked as our national coastal protection agency, has initiated site-specific studies to develop adaptation pathways and protection measures.
5 Not only do we have to keep seawater from coming in, we have to quickly extract stormwater to prevent inland floods. Since 2011, the Government has invested $2 billion in drainage works, and will invest another $1.4 billion over the next 5 years to enhance flood resilience. It is, however, not practical to expand our drains to accommodate every extreme rainfall event. We need other cost effective measures, such as upstream detention tanks, better rainfall prediction capability to enhance our responses to potential flash floods.
Too little water
6 Global warming could also result in changes in weather patterns that lead to periods of prolonged drought. Singapore experienced significant dry spells in 2014 when February set the record for being the driest month recorded in Singapore in almost 150 years. Another extended period of dry weather in 2019 saw our grasslands and parks turning brown. We have turned to engineering solutions to ensure water security, specifically the development of Water Reclamation in NEWater and Desalination as our third and fourth national water taps. Our latest desalination plant at Marina East – the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant - is engineered to treat either seawater drawn from outside the Marina Reservoir or freshwater drawn from inside the Marina Reservoir, depending on weather conditions. This makes the plant more resource efficient.
7 Extreme weather, drought, and forest fires also affect global food production and create volatility in our food supply. In the east coast of Australia, a major food exporter of the world, the drought in 2019 affected close to half of the agricultural land there. Farms producing meat and dairy products saw significantly lower production. As a country that imports more than 90 per cent of our food, this poses a critical risk to Singapore. We are taking steps to strengthen our food resilience by producing locally in a resource-efficient and sustainable way. Our goal is to produce 30 per cent of nutritional needs locally by 2030 – also known as our "30 by 30" goal. With only about 1 per cent of our land set aside for agriculture, we will need to grow more with less, by harnessing climate-resilient technologies to produce food with as little water and energy as possible.
8 Next, global warming and rising ambient temperature will affect Singapore's urban living environment. How do we protect workers who are working outdoors, soldiers who are undergoing training, police officers, and delivery workers? What can we do to mitigate urban heat? Can we design buildings better to create natural wind corridors, invent building materials that reflect solar radiation, explore innovative ways to incorporate nature-based solutions in our built environment, or invent more energy efficient air-conditioning systems and vehicles?
9 The impact of climate change – global warming, extreme weather, too much and too little water – require us to strengthen our climate resilience. We are investing heavily over the long term on coastal and flood protection, which could cost up to $100biliion over the next 50 to 100 years; the Government has already injected an initial sum of $5billion. We are taking climate change seriously. More importantly, we will strive to be part of the global solution to climate change. That brings me to the next part of my speech – our climate change mitigation strategy.
HOW SINGAPORE ADVANCES CLIMATE ACTION
10 As a small city-state, Singapore has limited land to support the diverse needs of our nation. We have to constantly balance competing demands for land use from defence, industry, transport, housing, and greenery. Singapore is also not endowed with the same options for alternative energy as other larger countries. We do not have large tracts of land for solar farms. Neither do we have great rivers for hydroelectric power nor strong winds required for wind power. The trade-offs we face to decarbonise are much starker than most other countries.
11 Earlier this year, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, an ambitious whole-of-nation roadmap that charts concrete sectoral plans and targets over the next decade that will position Singapore to achieve our long-term net-zero emissions as soon as viable. It has 5 pillars, each addressing priority areas for sustainable development:
a. First, City in Nature – where we create a green, liveable, and sustainable home and build up carbon sinks by extending nature throughout our island. By 2030, we will plant one million more trees across Singapore. Every household will be within a 10-minute walk from a park.
b. Second, Sustainable Living – where Singaporeans embrace sustainability as a way of life and lower our carbon emissions, such as by consuming less, recycling more, and taking public transport. We will inculcate environmentally sustainable habits in our young through education, with a new Eco Stewardship programme in schools.
c. Third, Energy Reset - where we green our energy supply, infrastructure and buildings, towns and districts, as well as vehicles. We will transit towards a greener energy mix - by 2030, solar energy deployed will be at least 2GWp, five times that of 2020.
d. Fourth, Green Economy - we will seek new investments that are among the best-in-class in terms of carbon and energy efficiency. Sustainability will be our new engine of jobs and growth, for example in carbon trading and services and Green Finance. We will also help our enterprises embrace sustainability and develop new capabilities in this area.
e. Fifth, Resilient Future – where we protect Singapore against the adverse effects of climate change and build up our national resilience for the future. This includes working on long-term coastal adaptation plans to protect Singapore against sea level rise, keeping Singapore cool, and strengthening Singapore's food security in a resource-efficient way.
12 The Green Plan is a living plan and we will update our strategies and targets when new technological and engineering solutions avail themselves, and as we harness the collective resources and ideas across industry, community, and government.
ENGINEERING FOR A SUSTAINABLE SINGAPORE
13 Our constraints have in fact spurred us to pursue inventive solutions. For the engineers in this audience, let me share some examples of how engineering offers promise and impact.
14 My first example in the waste-to-energy domain is Tuas Nexus, the world's first integrated waste and water treatment facility. It is being developed by National Environment Agency (NEA) and PUB to treat solid waste and used water for decades to come, and it will be energy self-sufficient. By harnessing synergies between the solid waste and used water treatment processes, we expect to avoid emissions of 200,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. Tuas Nexus will co-digest food waste with used water sludge, a by-product of the used water treatment process. This co-digestion increases the biogas produced by some 40 per cent compared to that of digesting used water sludge alone.
15 My second example is in the built environment. The NUS School of Design and Environment's SDE4 building, completed in 2019, is the first building in Southeast Asia to be certified as Zero Energy4. The six-storey tall building features a roof with more than 1,200 photovoltaic panels and a hybrid cooling system that requires 20 per cent less energy. The School has also installed building management systems that can detect occupancy, room temperatures, and indoor environmental quality, and use the data to intelligently manage energy use.
16 My third example is in carbon capture, usage and storage. To extend the life of Semakau, we have been studying the use of incineration bottom ash as construction material. We call this material NEWSand. A*STAR is studying the feasibility of capturing and storing CO2 in NEWSand. If successful, not only do we close the waste loop, we also capture CO2 in the process.
17 My fourth example is in the agri-food sector, where engineering innovations coupled with animal and plant science will make farming more efficient in terms of land, water, energy, and labour. The ACE EcoArk off Changi is one of the world's first closed containment floating fish farms. Its system can toggle between flow through and recirculating water processes, to ensure optimal water condition for its fish. It filters and treats water before discharging it back to the sea. It taps on gravity and head pressure to push seawater through the filtration system towards final discharge. This exemplifies the potential of fish farming that is productive and protective of the marine environment. We are supporting these efforts through our S$144 million Singapore Food Story R&D Programme which supports research in sustainable urban food production technologies and a new S$60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund to spur transformation in the agri-food sector.
18 Besides these examples, we are pursuing many more projects - our target to install 60,000 electric vehicle charging points by 2030; our aim to develop Jurong Island to be a sustainable energy and chemicals park; our plan to deploy regional power grids; and our aims to support alternative low-carbon fuel –like hydrogen, or ammonia– in the maritime and port sector. In our efforts to develop solutions for sustainability, engineering expertise will be the linchpin to their success.
PARTNERSHIPS FOR A VIBRANT ENGINEERING ECOSYSTEM
19 To this end, we will collaborate with Institutes of Higher Learning to support the research ecosystem. Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan (or RIE2025), we will invest about $7.3 billion from 2021 to 2025 to support capability building in universities and A*STAR Research Institutes. We have made progress towards being more water, energy and land efficient. We have improved sustainability in waste management and climate change, and have developed a highly liveable urban environment.
20 We are nurturing a pipeline of local engineering expertise. The NEA - Industry Scholarship talent programme, jointly sponsored by NEA and partnering companies, will develop young Singaporeans to be leaders and advocates for the Environmental Services industry. The Economic Development Board (EDB) is also partnering the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) through the Industrial Postgraduate Programme to groom industry-focused research talent. In addition, PUB is collaborating with EDB to promote Engineering Doctorates for the water industry.
21 I hope I have convinced you of the immense engineering opportunities that lie ahead of us in our Green Plan. We expect many new highly skilled jobs to be created in the next decade in a wide range of areas, from high-tech agriculture and aquaculture, to resource management, climate science, carbon accounting and coastal protection. We need engineers from all disciplines, including systems engineers, to achieve our environmental aspirations. The Government will closely partner the engineering industry to embrace green growth opportunities and grow local capabilities to help our nation mitigate and adapt to climate change.
22 Let me conclude. Engineering improves lives by being the bridge between science and human beings. Since the first industrial revolution of using coal power, the second of using gas and oil for electricity, and the third of using nuclear energy and electronics, engineers have been the forefront of economic progress. After centuries of industrialisation and burning coal and oil, we are now heading into a fourth industrial revolution, of internet and renewable energy. Our planet needs engineers to pursue solutions that will mitigate and adapt to climate change. More engineers and engineering work will be needed to realise the ambitious plans set under the Green Plan. For a better world, a healthier planet, I look to you to build a sustainable, inclusive and resilient future with us together.
23 Thank you.
1US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
2 Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS)
3 About 110 per cent of the average monthly rainfall in April.
4 Certified by International Living Future Institute