Keynote Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at 9th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on 28 June 2022
Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA),
1 Good morning. I am pleased to join you at the 9th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources (SDSWR) which has been organised in person for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 Today’s event is also a timely occasion to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the SIIA. In 1962, a group of like-minded friends, including Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, bound by their interest in international affairs, came together to help Singapore officials better understand regional political issues. This marked the birth of SIIA. Three years later, SIIA organised its first goodwill visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Since then, the SIIA has helped to shape policy discourse on complex geopolitical and geo-environmental issues with its insightful analysis, in-depth engagement of decision-makers and platforms for stimulating discussions on salient issues. Notably, SIIA started the SDSWR in 2014 to bring attention to international environmental and sustainability concerns. SDSWR has served and continues to serve the region well through facilitating public discourse on sustainability. It has shaped business outlooks in investment, trade and finance so that appropriate policies and action will be taken by governments, businesses and other stakeholders.
3 Until the Ukraine conflict a few months ago, efforts were underway to pivot COVID-19 recovery towards building back better. Nations now find themselves at the confluence of on-going COVID-19 disruptions, stagflation, geostrategic contestation and climate change, and have few options in the face of complex challenges such as economic stability, energy security and food supply. Internationally, we have seen countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and India impose food export bans due to issues like the war in Ukraine, shortage of animal feed, poorer crop yields and inflationary pressures. One can only imagine how new waves of infections brought on by new COVID variants, or an escalation of the Ukraine war, could bring things to another tipping point.
4 Meanwhile, the effects of climate change and extreme weather continue to impact us. In March, India experienced one of its earliest heatwaves in history, recording average maximum temperatures that were the highest in 122 years. Last week, Southern China saw its highest amount of rainfall in decades, causing serious floods and landslides.
Importance of partnerships
5 How do we chart a way forward amidst challenges and uncertainty? We can glean some lessons from SIIA’s genesis to address our geo-strategic, political, economic and environmental problems. History is a tale of humanity leveraging partnerships and collaboration to overcome common challenges.
6 Prime examples in environmental protection, just to name a few, include Conventions to address hazardous pollutants such as Rotterdam, Basel and Minamata; Conventions to protect the oceans such as the United Nations Law of the Seas, the London Convention and MARPOL (i.e., International Convention on Prevention of Pollution from Ships); Conventions to conserve biodiversity such as Conventions on biodiversity, migratory species of wild animals and trade of endangered species of wild flora and fauna; and Conventions to protect the atmosphere such as Montreal, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. These prove that partnerships are critical for addressing environmental issues affecting humanity.
7 I saw this first-hand at COP-26 in Glasgow last year from my perspective as co-chair of Article 6 negotiations. Nations formed partnerships to accelerate momentum on global climate action by committing to a common goal despite differences. While tensions were palpable, trade-offs were made for the common good. The upcoming COP-27 will grapple with the triple confluence of COVID, conflict and climate, which has caused economic and geopolitical shockwaves. The war in Ukraine has caused some governments to walk back on energy commitments and re-look coal as a stopgap measure against record fuel prices. And there has been some skepticism about Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) investing in the wake of greenwashing scandals as reported in the media.
8 Nations need to rekindle the spirit of partnerships to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent the setback that we cannot afford. And nurturing partnerships requires three things – Challenging Limits, Collaboration, and Commitment.
9 First, challenging limits. As a small island city-state, Singapore is disadvantaged in many ways, particularly in deploying enough renewable energy as well as putting aside land to increase food production. Our dependence on energy and food imports subjects us to fluctuations in price and supply. Instead of resigning ourselves to this fate, we have focused on maximising our limited resources.
10 Last July, we launched our first large-scale floating solar farm in Tengeh Reservoir – one of the largest in the world. This will reduce our carbon emissions as the electricity generated will power the daily operations of our local water treatment plants. This April, we officially opened our fifth desalination plant to increase water supply resilience in the face of climate change. While there were opportunity costs in both endeavours, we pushed ahead because we must address our limitations through innovation and investments – investments made ahead of the time when we need them.
11 In the same vein, cultured meat producer GOOD Meat will have the largest facility in Asia in Bedok. Last week, Singapore initiated our first multilateral cross-border electricity partnership by importing renewable energy from Laos through Thailand and Malaysia. These are some examples of how our partnerships can augment domestic efforts to make the best of what we have.
12 Second, collaboration. By understanding the limitations facing us and others, we can help one another for mutually beneficial outcomes.
13 Singapore has actively assisted others where we can. We launched the Climate Action Package in 2018 to support capacity-building efforts in areas such as climate science, mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction and green climate finance. Because when each does better, the world goes further. That is why Singapore has been in the forefront of developing carbon markets and playing important roles in global carbon initiatives such as the World Bank’s Climate Warehouse on carbon credit trade and the Clydebank Declaration for green shipping corridors.
14 While Singapore contributes 0.1 per cent to global emissions, we are impacted, 100 per cent, by the remaining 99.9 per cent. We are vulnerable to sea-level rise, extreme weather and supply chain shocks. We benefit when everyone does better, including ourselves.
15 Third, commitment. We must act in good faith and meet our obligations. Otherwise, we suffer a trust and credibility deficit that undermines partnerships. Singapore participates actively and contributes to the various multilateral instruments I mentioned earlier. In fact, Professor Tommy Koh – who was a founding member of the SIIA – was President of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and Chairman of the main committee at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, which laid the groundwork for the Paris Agreement. Recently, Singapore announced that we will raise our climate ambition to achieve net zero emissions by or around mid-century.
16 Beyond these, efforts are also underway to deal with the impact of land and marine plastics through the Inter-Governmental Negotiations Committee on Plastics Pollution, or INC. Singapore will do our part to contribute to the INC and take early measures. In this regard, Singapore last month launched the National Action Strategy on Marine Litter to address this issue earlier and signal our commitment to a robust multilateral solution.
Tackling recurring challenges
17 Challenging limits, collaboration and commitment are also cornerstones in ASEAN, which has addressed its fair share of sustainability challenges through partnerships. Alongside new issues such as plastics pollution which will require ASEAN to do its fair share given its contribution, ASEAN must continue addressing recurring challenges such as haze. Singapore appreciates the efforts of President Joko Widodo and Minister Siti Nurbaya, who have exercised strong leadership and commitment to preventing fires. Should hotspots escalate, Singapore stands ready to support and assist Indonesia as we did during the international fire-fighting efforts in 2015.
18 Please allow me to conclude. Even amidst our fight with COVID-19 where we took hard decisions, we found ourselves working with one another. Our circumstances required trade-offs and phased approaches. But the centrality of cooperation to save lives, preserve livelihoods and address long-term imperatives and opportunities brought out our better sides. As such, we re-emerged stronger. In simple terms, we have always faced adversity through unity, so we should stick to this winning formula.
19 This year, my Ministry – the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment – celebrates our golden jubilee, marking 50 years of Singapore’s efforts to meet present needs and tackle emerging challenges in sustainability and the environment. When we were formed in 1972, we were one of the few governments in the world to have a Ministry dedicated to the environment. In this regard, Singapore was ahead of its time in tackling environmental challenges. Had more countries set up environment Ministries earlier, we would have been better able to address current challenges such as climate change.
20 I wish the SIIA every success on its 60th anniversary and look forward to more contributions from SIIA for the next 60 years and beyond. I also thank Professor Tay and his team for convening the 2022 edition of SDSWR and persisting as a beacon of partnerships in an uncertain international environment.
21 Thank you.