Opening Keynote Address by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the 10th Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources on 9 June 2023
1 Good morning. I am pleased to join you for the tenth edition of the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources (SDSWR). SDSWR has become one of the region’s premier platforms for a discourse on current and pressing issues in the agribusiness and forestry sectors.
2 When the SDSWR debuted in 2014, there were questions raised about the environmental and sustainability practices in ASEAN. Over the years, our discussions at SDSWR have helped to catalyse action and cooperation towards making the agribusiness and forestry sectors in our region more sustainable. This year we will focus on the growing opportunities that come with a green transition in climate action.
El Niño Looms
3 Climate change has brought about more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns. Since April, Asia has experienced blistering heatwaves and historic high temperatures. Temperatures in China, Vietnam, Thailand and Laos broke new records. Likewise in Singapore, we experienced the highest recorded temperature of 37 degree Celsius in the last 40 years in May. According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), global temperatures will likely reach new highs in the next five years, with a 98 percent chance that at least one of the next five years will be the warmest ever.
4 How will these sweltering conditions impact us?
We can expect disruptions in food production due to erratic yields, including outbreak of diseases such as the ongoing outbreak of bird flu and swine flu in parts of the world. This will have knock-on impacts on food prices, and livelihoods of people who are dependent on food and agricultural production.
We can expect more frequent power and water shortages. This will disrupt our social and economic activities. And lead to a vicious cycle of higher power needs due to greater use of air conditioners and water treatment equipment.
We can expect more forest fires from prolonged dry spells, and air quality impacted by these fires.
We can expect more cases of personal injury and loss of lives due to heat injuries. To help Singaporeans better protect themselves and their loved ones, my Ministry will implement a Heat Stress Advisory framework in the near future to guide us on how to plan our activities, what actions to take to protect ourselves and what attire to wear for outdoor activities for the forecasted weather conditions. Details on this advisory will be made available in the coming weeks.
5 Whilst we adapt and adjust to the warmer conditions to come in the next few months, we must not take our feet off the pedal of climate action. Staying within the 1.5 degree limit of global temperature rise is nothing short of an existential priority as time, tide and temperature await for no one. All of us can and must contribute to climate action.
6 Beyond heat, we must also remain vigilant against the risk of a return of transboundary haze. We have been lucky to enjoy haze-free conditions in Singapore for the past few years, partly due to favourable weather condition. But this condition is not expected to continue.
7 Last week, the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) announced the start of the dry season for the Southern ASEAN region, which notably began much earlier compared to previous years. The Meteorological Service Singapore also announced that there is a 70 to 80 percent chance of an El Niño event occurring this year. Similar forecasts have been issued by the meteorological agencies in the region.
8 As a region, we need to be extra vigilant against the widespread outbreak of land and forest fires, such as those experienced in Northern ASEAN earlier this year. The threat of transboundary haze is not an ASEAN challenge alone. Since Tuesday, northeastern United States and parts of eastern Canada have been experiencing transboundary haze as a result of wildfires in Northern Quebec.
Certainty in Uncertain Times
9 How do we address these challenges that lie ahead? I will make three suggestions: knowledge, leadership and partnership.
10 First, knowledge acquisition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a global scientific panel that helps us understand climate change projections and impacts, and on the pathways and solutions to mitigate and adapt to the change. Through good research and scientific evidence, we can find ways and means to address the climatic challenges that we face in the years ahead.
11 Singapore has been contributing to the IPCC process and is prepared to do more. We have nominated Associate Professor Winston Chow from the Singapore Management University to serve as the developing country Co-Chair for IPCC Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, for the upcoming Seventh Assessment Report (AR7) Cycle that will commence this July. Having spent more than fifteen years researching climate adaptation and urban vulnerabilities, and contributing to the IPCC as the editor of AR6 report, Professor Chow is no stranger to the international scientific arena on climate. We are also collaborating closely with the WMO and its members. Our Director-General for Meteorological Services Ms. Wong Chin Ling has been successfully re-elected to the WMO Executive Council, as a representative of the South-West Pacific region.
12 Another area where climatic data and science is of interest to us is in food production, as part of our target to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030. The 30X30 Food Story aims to bolster our food security as we develop capacity and capability in climate-resilient agriculture practices in Singapore. We are rethinking and reshaping food production in Singapore through technologies such as climate resilient seed varieties, resource-efficient and circular urban farming concepts, biosecurity and disease management, and novel foods trials and regulations. Local companies such as GoFarm, ComCrop and Sustenir Agriculture are pushing the boundaries of nutrition and sustainability through hydroponics technology, use of solar energy and energy efficient technology, and water conservation technology.
13 While knowledge and science help us frame issues, leadership requires us to act, particularly in making the hard decisions, dealing with trade-offs, and having the courage to do what is right, in a timely manner.
14 ASEAN has been doing this as part of its commitment to a haze-free region. Yesterday, I hosted colleagues from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand for the Twenty-Fourth Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution. We have been convening this meeting annually to prepare for the dry season in our ASEAN subregion. We had a good discussion and recognised the various measures that have been put in place across the region to prevent and respond to the threat of land and forest fires.
15 As Chairman of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, Singapore has worked with ASEAN colleagues on developing the New Roadmap on ASEAN Cooperation for Transboundary Haze Pollution, the New ASEAN Peatlands Management System, and the ASEAN Investment Framework. These will help guide the region to develop strategies and partnerships, as well as demonstrate our resolve to achieve our vision of a haze-free ASEAN region.
16 As ASEAN Chairman, Indonesia has also led the way in taking steps to transform the region. Initiatives such as the Forestry and Other Land Use Net Sink 2030 testify to Indonesia’s continued resolve in combating deforestation and climate change. Singapore appreciates the strong leadership demonstrated by Indonesia as ASEAN Chair. We will work closely with Indonesia at all levels to prevent an outbreak of fires in our region, and stand ready to provide technical support if required.
17 Finally, the green transition requires global and regional partnerships, notably in operationalizing Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to set up high-integrity carbon markets, and introduce needle-moving low-carbon technologies and solutions, such as hydrogen.
18 Singapore is actively establishing partnerships to enhance our adoption of renewable energy. We signed an agreement to import renewable hydropower from Laos – our first renewable energy import – through Thailand and Malaysia. This is the first multilateral cross-border electricity trade involving four ASEAN countries. We hope that it serves as a pathfinder to more of such regional cooperation initiatives to support the global energy transition.
19 Green and transition finance is another dimension that will benefit from partnership. We must do more to reduce the barriers of capital flow to facilitate investments in this direction. One of such ways is in aligning our green taxonomies. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is working with its regional counterparts to progressively develop an ASEAN Taxonomy for Sustainable Finance to define and facilitate sustainable and transition activities in six focus sectors as a start, which include the agriculture and forestry sector. Version 2 of the ASEAN Taxonomy was recently published in March 2023 and include new features such as a coal-phase-out criteria - a global first for a regional taxonomy.
20 This week has been an exciting series of sustainability and climate dialogues in Singapore, starting with the Singapore International Water Week Spotlight, Ecosperity, followed by the ASEAN Sub-Regional Meetings on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and rounding up with today’s Dialogue.
21 Allow me to share two personal reflections. We are certain of climate change.
We are certain that human activity is the main cause of climate change. We are also certain that collaborative action is needed. This is why dialogue with global and regional partners, such as this, is pertinent in forging consensus and cooperation.
In order to have meaningful, long-lasting and impactful collaboration, we need to build trust and confidence among all stakeholders, so that we can better understand and accommodate the differing national contexts, perspectives and views from different segments of society. Only then can we forge global and regional agreements that can effectively address a global commons problem.
22 Allow me to leave the stage with an encouragement to all of us here. We know we have a serious problem, and that we are already late in addressing it. This is the time where human creativity, ingenuity and wisdom must not fail us as the livelihoods of our future generation is at stake. Therefore, we have act now.
23 With that, I thank Professor Tay and his team at the SIIA for convening the 10th edition of the SDSWR and look forward to hearing from our speakers and panellists on their perspectives.
24 Thank you.