SPEECH BY MS GRACE FU, MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT AT THE DEBATE ON THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS ON 20 APRIL 2023
1 What has clearly emerged from our debate in this House this week is our common desire to build a better Singapore for Singaporeans – not just for today, but also for the future.
2 This has been a clear theme throughout our development as a nation. Since independence, we have looked beyond our immediate needs, taken a long-term perspective to plan for Singapore’s growth, and incorporated environmental stewardship in our development.
a. Take tree planting for example.
i. As the Chinese saying goes, 前人种树，后人乘凉.
ii. When our forefathers planted trees, it was to create a shade for the future generations.
iii. The trees our forefathers planted continue to provide us shade today, creating lush green spaces where we can rest and recharge.
b. Another example is our efforts to clean up our waterways.
i. When our forefathers cleaned up the Singapore river, it did not just solve the immediate problems of public hygiene and public health, but also transformed the Singapore river over decades.
ii. Today, the river channels into the Marina Reservoir, providing clean water for our daily needs.
iii. It is now a distinctive icon of our bustling city.
3 Like tree planting and waterway cleanups, our efforts in environmental stewardship are made possible through the dedication of many generations of Singaporeans.
a. As President Halimah Yacob said in her opening address last week, “we are here today only because of what previous generations of Singaporeans did.”
EVOLVING OUR CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
4 Times may have changed, but we need to preserve our forefathers’ values of putting before self, the interests of the family, the community, and the country; of self-sacrifice; and of hard work and determination in the face of adversity.
5 As we respond to a changing world and its new demands, we will need to find ways to steward Singapore towards a new and more sustainable future.
a. There is a growing awareness that mankind’s current reliance on fossil fuels is no longer sustainable.
i. Humanity needs a fundamental change in the way we power our economy, our way of life.
ii. Paris Agreement signaled a global commitment to cap global warming to 1.5°C, and there is a clear need for the world to act fast to reduce emission quickly.
iii. Even so, the cumulative greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have already created deep and lasting impacts on our ecosystems:
• raising temperatures and sea levels;
• increasing the frequency of extreme weather events;
• disrupting food production; and
• exacerbating the risk of infectious diseases.
iv. There is a need for us to adapt and prepare for a future that is warmer, with more unpredictable weather, and their full consequences.
b. We have also realised that our pursuit for convenience through the linear “use and throw” consumption model will have to change.
i. It depletes our planet’s scarce resources and burdens our environment with the waste that it generates, often degrading the surroundings that we share with other living creatures.
ii. And as we consume more and dispose more in Singapore, we exhaust the finite space left in our one and only Semakau landfill.
6 To keep Singapore going and sustainable for future generations, we must adjust how we live as a society and how we grow our economy.
a. How can we achieve economic and social development, while protecting the environment that gives us life?
b. How can we account and be accountable for our environmental externalities?
c. How do we change our societal norms and behaviours to live more sustainably?
d. What does it take to prepare ourselves to be a more environmentally sustainable and resilient country, so that we can have a better Singapore for tomorrow?
7 I would like to echo the many members who spoke on sustainability during this week’s debate.
a. Many members such as Mr Saktiandi Supaat, Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Murali Pillai, Mr Louis Ng, and Mr Shawn Huang have reminded this House that sustainability remains one of the integral issues during our time.
b. Mr Don Wee spoke about positioning SMEs to capture green economy opportunities;
c. Mr Leon Perera spoke about renewable energy and the investment opportunities it brings to the region; and
d. Ms Nadia Samdin called for collective action to support the sustainability agenda.
REFRESHING OUR SOCIAL COMPACT
8 DPM Lawrence Wong spoke about how we have to adjust our social compact – not just among ourselves, but between this generation and future generations to come.
9 In charting our model of sustainable development going forward, our social compact is our guiding light as we navigate the colossal change that climate action entails.
10 We need to re-examine and reaffirm our social compact at three levels:
a. First, the social compact between “me” and others.
i. How do I, as an individual, relate to other individuals?
ii. What is my obligation and responsibility towards others around me?
b. Second, the social compact between “my group” and other groups.
i. Everyone of us is part of a group or several groups in the society – we may be part of a for-profit business; a public sector agency; an organisation in the people sector, or a special interest group.
ii. In our social compact, what are the respective roles of our group vis-à-vis others?
iii. How should we come together to address the complex challenges of today and advance our common interests?
c. Third, the social compact between “my generation” and other generations.
i. What should my generation do, and more importantly, set aside for the future ones?
ii. What should the current generation invest in? What can we afford to let our future generations do and decide for themselves?
iii. What are the common values that thread and weave across multiple generations of Singaporeans, binding us together and making us stronger as One People?
SOCIAL IMPACT BETWEEN “ME”AND OTHERS
11 The social compact between “me” and others.
a. We live in a dense, urban environment; our choices and actions impact not just ourselves, but others around us.
12 Take our hawker centres, our community dining rooms where people from all walks of life go for their daily favourite local fare.
a. Our hawker centres are microcosms of our everyday relationships; they reflect the societal norms and accepted behaviour across all segments of society.
b. As diners, when we return our crockery and clear our tables after our meals, we are being considerate to other diners who use those tables after us.
c. When we bin our used tissue after a meal properly, we reduce the risk of infecting our fellow patrons, our cleaners and our stall holders. This reduces the risk of disease transmission.
d. As diners, we cherish and support our hawkers who serve up delicious, yet affordable food.
i. We want our hawkers to have a better living, to have a standard of living that progresses with the rests of us, and we are prepared to pay more for their hard work over time.
ii. We must also be prepared to pay more for cleaning services over time so that our cleaners can also enjoy higher wages and a better living.
iii. This helps to keep our hawker heritage alive, and encourages the next generation of hawkers to join the trade.
13 Simply said, our individual choices and actions matter.
a. Not only do they directly impact those around us, but collectively, they shape our norms, our cultures, and determine the collective tone of our society.
14 We must normalise good habits and exhibit sustainable behaviour.
a. We owe it not just to our environment, but also to one another to keep our shared home clean, green, and safe.
SOCIAL COMPACT BETWEEN “MY GROUP” AND OTHER GROUPS
15 The social compact between my group and others.
a. Our efforts are not only confined to what we do as individuals, but also when we contribute in our capacities as members of groups and organisations.
16 I have touched on dining in hawker centres; let me move along the food chain and look at retail of foods.
17 At the heart of a sustainable Singapore is all of us being more resource efficient. We need to move away from our use and throw culture.
a. The buy-use-throw consumption model is a convenient one.
b. However, it also puts a tremendous amount of stress on our resources, both in having to produce more and having to throw away more.
18 The shift to a more sustainable consumption model requires all groups in society to play a part:
a. Consumers bring reusable bags when grocery shopping and recycle the packaging of goods where possible.
b. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and schools help spread the message and educate the public in using alternative packaging for bagging garbage in the households.
c. Businesses redesign their processes to reduce the resources we use to produce and the waste that we dispose.
i. For example, to reduce packaging waste, businesses use the right materials to increase the rate of recycling, use the right design to make recycling easier, and reduce the amount of packaging materials used.
d. The Government introduce policies such as the Extended Producer Responsibility framework, and measures like the disposable carrier bag charge and Beverage Container Return Scheme.
e. Industry organises the collection and treatment of recyclables and help shape consumer behaviour by making environmental costs more visible.
19 Closing our waste loop is challenging but achievable.
a. There are costs involved, and require change of habit across all parties.
b. But as we reduce our draw on earth’s resources, we use this common mission to form new partnerships and discover creative solutions.
20 I would like to give 2 examples of how businesses, community groups and the Government collaborate to co-create and co-deliver sustainability solutions.
a. CRUST Group is a food tech start-up that works with other companies to turn surplus food ingredients, like bread and fruit peels, into beers and sodas.
i. CRUST group has partnered bakeries, hotels and supermarkets to upcycle their surplus ingredients and create new unique products, which can bring in additional revenue while reducing their own food waste.
b. Another example - the community in Tampines, with funding support from the National Environment Agency (NEA), installed a food waste digestor that converts food waste into compost and nutrients for vegetable farming and landscaping.
i. Food retailers in the neighbourhood, such as wet market merchants and supermarkets, segregate food waste for the digestor.
ii. This cuts down the resources needed for disposal:
• reducing the number of trips made by waste collector from four to one per day;
• decreasing the amount of waste sent to incinerator by 400kg every day;
• and saving the carbon emission from waste treatment.
• It also generates compost to replenish and nurture the community garden and landscape.
21 These initiatives show how our social compact is shifting in the right direction.
a. Groups pool together resources and expertise to collectively address complex issues.
b. We are encouraged by such efforts, and will continue to find ways and means to further catalyse such partnerships.
SOCIAL COMPACT BETWEEN “MY GENERATION” AND OTHER GENERATIONS
22 The inter-generational social compact — the social compact between “my generation” and other generations.
a. I started my speech by paying tribute to the work of our forefathers and stressed that we must do the same and pay it forward.
23 While the full impact of climate change may not hit us now, it is clear that we need to make the investments now to secure a brighter future for our next generation.
24 The inter-generational social compact is clearly illustrated in our approach to coastal protection. Sea level rise emerging from climate change is an existential threat to Singapore.
a. About 30 percent of our land area is less than 5 metres above mean sea level.
b. Without effective adaptation measures, rising sea levels, storm surges and extreme high tides could result in transient sea levels rising up to 5 metres. This will pose great risks to our community, infrastructure, and livelihoods.
25 The work to strengthen Singapore’s flood resilience against sea level rise is a multi-generational one. It will take many decades. It will take long-term investments in adaptation solutions and the capabilities needed to bring these solutions to fruition. These investments will need to start today and from today’s generation, if we are to successfully meet this long-term future challenge.
26 At the 2019 National Day Rally, PM Lee said that around $100 billion or more may be required to protect Singapore against rising sea levels.
a. Most of this will be spent on coastal barriers, both nature-based and man-made, and drainage infrastructure to protect Singapore against sea level rise.
b. We have yet to determine the specific solutions that we will put in place, for each segment of our coastlines. We have started the site-specific studies, starting with the stretch from the city to the East Coast.
c. What we know is that this requires steady investments over the years. The solutions will take time to place, and we need to put the initial pieces early.
27 Even as we work out and put in place our adaptation solutions, we will need the capabilities and knowledge to do so.
a. We have a new $125 million Coastal Protection & Flood Management Research Programme (CFRP), to support the development of innovative coastal protection and flood management solutions.
b. And we established the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) in 2013, 10 years ago, to understand the science of climate change and to model its effects, as the basis of our climate adaptation efforts.
28 These are the ways we see the inter-generational compact, in how the current generation does it part for future generations
29 Another example is our food security:
a. We currently import more than 90% of our food needs. We have ample supply and we have access to a rich variety of foods from all over the world.
b. However, if we look beyond the immediate term, we see the mega trends of climate change and extreme weather events, geopolitical tensions, disease outbreaks that will cause volatility to food production and place increasing pressure on our food sources.
c. This is why we have set our “30 by 30” goal – to have the capability and capacity to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs locally by 2030.
i. This is about buying insurance against systemic food supply disruption, so that future generations are in a better place with food security.
ii. This initiative, at its core, is a commitment to future generations.
30 Our journey will take years. It will require sustained contributions from the private, people, and public sectors and for all parties to stay the course.
a. The Government will do our part to support and enable our farms.
i. We will set the stage through infrastructure developments like the Lim Chu Kang Masterplan (LCKMP), which will transform the area into a high-tech, highly productive and resource-efficient agri-food cluster.
ii. We will invest, now, in infrastructure works such as land preparation, coastal protection, power and water supply and waste management facilities.
b. This is a plan that will take many decades to implement, but we can make it happen when we do this together.
i. Farmers take bold steps to increase the productivity of the farms through investing in technology.
ii. They are not starting from scratch; several are second or third generation farmers who inherit the experience and wisdom of their forefathers.
• Green Harvest is one such farm that has combined farming expertise with technology.
• As a joint venture between Kok Fah Technology Farm and Teambuild Construction Group, Green Harvest brings together their collective expertise in agriculture and construction to break new grounds.
• They have constructed Southeast Asia’s largest hydroponics glass greenhouse, which uses high-tech automation to grow vegetables efficiently and productively without the use of pesticides.
• The farm has started production since July 2022 and I have already seen some of their produce on retail shelves.
c. As our local food supply ramps up, consumers and industry buyers also step forward to provide the demand that our farms need to be commercially viable.
i. When we buy local, we are supporting our local farms and F&B businesses that use local produce.
ii. We are co-investing in our food resilience for the future.
iii. It is a symbiotic relationship – the local producers give our F&B industry certainty in supply and quality;
iv. and reduce the vagaries caused by extreme weather events;
v. The supermarkets and F&B buyers give our local farms certainty in demand thus reducing their business and financial risks.
vi. Local produce may cost more but is more reliable and fresh – attributes that are valuable to consumers and businesses.
vii. By building up our local food production today, we are gaining food security for tomorrow.
31 Building a resilient future requires investment today.
a. Our current generation must make the long-term investments in capability-building. Through research and development, we sow the seeds for a broad spectrum of innovation and technological solutions that will allow us to thrive in a more uncertain world.
i. By pursuing innovations in sustainable novel foods, or planning and building long-term for coastal protection, or investing in energy efficient water treatment technologies, we ensure that Singapore can remain resilient to climate change into the future.
ii. By pioneering the deployment of low-carbon energy in support of our net zero ambitions, we lay the foundations for building a green economy in a carbon-constrained world.
iii. By deepening our understanding of climate science and its regional impacts, we discover new opportunities for international collaboration.
iv. By collectively changing our consumption and living habits, we reduce our footprint on the environment and support sustainable businesses.
STEWARDSHIP AS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
32 We recognise that we are caretakers and stewards of a country that will endure beyond us. Even as we live in an increasingly uncertain and disrupted world, characterised by resource constraints and climate change, we are not helpless bystanders.
33 Our forefathers showed what could be done in our early years of independence.
a. It required grit and determination, and a belief that we needed to place environmental stewardship alongside socioeconomic growth and development.
b. It required investment in infrastructure and capabilities that only the future generation can draw benefit from.
c. It required making difficult trade-offs like setting aside financial resources, or transforming our industry, so that our limited resources work better for us in the long run.
d. Just like our water story, through long-term planning and careful deliberations, not only do we overcome our resource constraints, we turn our challenges into our strengths.
34 As we face the new challenges ahead, let us continue to translate our convictions into actions. When we work together, as we have in the past, we can create a sustainable Singapore in the decades to come.