Opening Address by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Singapore Sustainability Scholarship Award Ceremony on 25 July 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted that we are meeting in person for this year’s Singapore Sustainability Scholarship Award Ceremony, after two years of virtual ceremonies.
2 2022 marks 50 years since our formation as the Ministry of Environment in 1972. At the time, we were one of the first governments in the world to set up a Ministry dedicated to environmental protection. Today, environmental sustainability is more important than ever, and I am heartened to see many young people eager to pursue a career in this area. Let me begin by congratulating our 16 scholarship recipients. I am pleased that this year we are offering the diploma scholarship to students who are pursuing studies in Food Science, Aquacultural Science or Biotechnology at our local polytechnics. This is in recognition of the important skillsets that Diploma holders have and the contributions they can make to MSE’s work. We are very proud to welcome all of you to the MSE family.
Singapore’s efforts in sustainable development
3 In recent years, public health crises, climate change and food shortages made headlines regularly. COVID-19 has caused global disruptions to economic and social activities. The record heat in the UK melted airport tarmac. It also caused forest fires that burned through large areas of forests and caused extensive casualties and damage to properties. In India and Bangladesh, millions of people were affected, with hundreds of deaths, by floods caused by extreme rainfall. Nearly 250m people are on the brink of famine because of food shortages that were made worse by the Ukraine war. These headlines highlight the existential threat of climate change to humanity. They can seem overwhelming but we, in Singapore, are determined to move decisively towards sustainable development in a low-carbon future. To be stewards of our critical resources for future generations, we must find new and innovative ways to strengthen our energy, food and water security, and transform our economy and infrastructure to be climate-resilient.
4 To this end, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of MSE’s work in charting the future of our food and water security, and environmental and climate resilience. Let me broadly share some of our major initiatives.
5 Last year, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to tackle climate change. The Green Plan charts bold and concrete targets for Singapore to achieve net-zero emissions by or around mid-century. This includes decarbonizing our economy, electrifying our fleet of vehicles and increasing the share of our renewables.
6 We will enhance our water security by expanding our capacity for desalination and recycling, and with more energy efficient ways. We have also started on a long journey of enhancing our infrastructure to protect our people from storm surges and sea-level rise. To strengthen food security, we have been diversifying our imports and ramping up local production. By 2030, we aim to develop a local agri-food industry that can produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs. We call this our “30 by 30” goal.
7 For sustainable waste management, we want to turn trash to treasure – by reducing the amount of waste generated, increasing the collection of recyclables, and finding new ways to recycle better. On the environmental public health front, we are strengthening our environmental sanitation controls and rallying Singaporeans to uplift and sustain cleanliness and public hygiene norms.
How MSE Family officers can make a difference
8 As future leaders and environmental stewards, you will play an important role in our journey to strengthen Singapore’s climate, economic and resource resilience. The term ‘stewardship’ represents individual and collective responsibility to take good care of the environment and the well-being of all Singaporeans. Doing so requires strong commitment and leadership, responsible and informed decision-making, as well as an innovative spirit by which we can pioneer new ways of caring for the environment.
9 We need officers with deep skill sets in many science and technical areas. We also need officers with the ability to bridge the different disciplines, to lead in project teams, to communicate their ideas effectively. Let me give you a few examples of how some of our scholars have contributed.
10 Ms Trina Ng is a Research Scientist at the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS). She focuses on understanding sea level change in Singapore. Those of you who have been following climate change discussions would have heard about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group Reports. These are reports commissioned by the United Nations to draw conclusions on the impact of climate change from the research reports of thousands of scientists around the world. While these reports are significant and important for our understanding of global trends, we need to downscale global projections to achieve information and projections for Singapore specifically. Trina uses instrumental data to produce robust sea level projections for Singapore that will be included in the upcoming Third National Climate Change Study (V3). She plays an important role in communicating the research to key stakeholders, to drive our agenda on tackling climate change.
11 Ms Elis Lin is an Engineer with PUB’s Catchment and Waterways Department. She will take the V3 and study its implication on our drainage system, to identify problematic areas that will be prone to floods, and explore a range of solutions to develop effective drainage schemes. Elis and her team help ensure that our drainage system remains robust, thus increasing our flood resilience in the face of climate change.
12 At the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), Mr Jeremy Wee, an Assistant Director in the Joint Policy and Planning Division, oversees policies to strengthen Singapore’s food security. This includes drawing up plans to ensure continuity of local production at our farms in times of supply disruption. Before his current role, Jeremy managed food safety operations including inspections of imported foods and executing food recalls when food items fail safety standards. These varied roles have enabled him to contribute to SFA’s mission of ensuring a supply of safe food for Singapore.
13 The MSE Family’s work often involves interacting with various stakeholders and dealing with unforeseen challenges. This involves using your “head”, “hands” and “heart”. Your “head” represents your intellectual capacity to understand the often complex problems; your curiosity to observe and learn, even from everyday life situations; your ability to find solutions, often not in textbooks taught in universities. Your “hands” represents your core skillsets to do things in your job, manage systems in the plant, design systems that are effective; and your “heart” represents your ability to empathize with people that you interact with – be they cleaners, hawkers, or Ministers; your humility to learn from people around you. I urge all of you to make full use of your time in university to discover your strengths, challenge yourselves and be prepared to continue learning even after you graduate, from the people with whom you work and interact.
14 Let me conclude by once again congratulating all our scholars. You would not be where you are today without the support of your loved ones and community. Take some time to thank your parents, teachers and family for their support.
15 Sustainability is becoming a buzz word because of the serious problems that our planet is facing. The world must undertake the biggest change, of a global scale, of our lifetime, in our lifetime. The work involved however is often neither flashy nor glamorous. The change must take place at all levels - from the smallest denominator (such as the use of more energy efficient light bulb) to country-wide, even global systems (such as the use of renewal energy or new recyclable materials). We need people with deep science and tech, engineering, IT skills to re-engineer the world – the way we produce, farm, consume, live, commute, transport, power etc. We need people with the ability to work as a team so that we can solve complex problems with multitude of deep skills. And we also need people with the ability to communicate, convince, and motivate so that we can bring about change. The journey ahead will be challenging and exciting, as MSE presses on in many areas ranging from carbon mitigation, coastal protection, circular economy, as well as food and water security. I look forward to your contributions in the coming years to help build a green and sustainable Singapore.