Speech by Minister Grace Fu at the Launch of NEA Youth for Environmental Sustainability Leaders Programme on 5 September 2023
1 Good afternoon everyone, it is my pleasure to be here with you at the launch of this new programme.
2 The Singapore River has many great stories for us on the environmental front. You may know that this is also where we have a coastal protection initiative, at the mouth of the Singapore River – Marina Barrage. The Central Business District (CBD) which is just across where we are used to flood when I was young. Whenever there was heavy rain, the hawker centres just behind Fullerton Hotel will be flooded. With the Marina Barrage, you do not get flooding in the CBD anymore.
3 I am sharing this example to highlight that our sustainable development started decades ago, back in the days when economic and trading activities took place at the Singapore River. People discharged their waste directly into the river, and it was infamous for its odour. Sanitation was also a problem.
4 Since independence, we decided to protect the environment we live in, particularly for a small island like Singapore where we have limited land. Therefore, we started a decade-long, ambitious plan to clean up the Singapore River. Cleaning up the river also meant rejuvenating the area, transforming it for higher value-added jobs. We also closed up the sewage system, such that no more waste is discharged directly into the river.
5 The Singapore River is an iconic example of how ambition gets translated – through actions, policies, initiatives and programmes – to behavioural change. This whole process requires multiple stakeholders to be involved.
6 The current challenge that we face, climate change, requires us to take action. This means decarbonising, removing carbon emissions out of our daily lives and economic activities. We also need resource resilience. We are using more of the Earth’s natural resources than we are putting in or regenerating them. So how do we conserve our resources to become more resource resilient? This is where we talk about resource circularity, zero waste, producing better with less resources, and growing more with less. For us, this is also an issue of ensuring food and water security.
7 It is not just about the now for us, but for our future generation. We may not see that we have a problem with food or water today, but we want to think about sustainability from a long-term resource, and climate point of view. If the climate continues to become warmer, how do we ensure that we will continue to have sustainable development, water and food security, for future generations? How do we make sure that our green transition is socially inclusive, where all segments of society are able to progress?
8 The Singapore Green Plan has these elements – climate action, sustainable development, and resource resilience. We want to enable our citizens to be part of the Green Plan, because it requires a systemic change in a more complex world, through closer cooperation with our stakeholders.
9 We are also aware that considerations that work for other systems or societies, may not necessarily work for Singapore. Using biodegradable plastics, for example, may not be more environmentally-friendly in our context because we incinerate our waste. We need to think about our problems in our national context, and apply solutions that are best suited for Singapore.
10 That is why we are here today. Since 2021, the Youth for the Environment Day (YED) has transformed into the Youth for Environmental Sustainability (YES) Movement, to provide a more holistic platform that goes beyond just a one-day event. It is about involving more people, particularly youths.
11 Today, we are very happy that we have our youths from the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) with us. We have been engaging youths from IHLs, such as through NEA and DBS Foundation’s Hungry for Change Challenge. This initiative focuses on solving our food waste problem, enabling our food industry to be more resilient to fluctuating commodity prices.
12 Another example is the Zero Waste Testbed Initiative organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and South West Community Development Council, which also enables our youths to translate their ideas into actual projects. We want this to gain momentum because we want to see youths implementing ideas, and allow them to trial these ideas in the community for broad-based adoption.
13 The YES Leaders Programme that we are launching today has four components – Knowledge, Skills, Action and Network. It will run for six to eight months, ending with the CleanEnviro Summit in 2024, a global summit in Singapore, where some of you will showcase your projects.
14 Having knowledge grounded in Singapore’s context is quite an important part of this programme. You will get to visit some of our facilities, see and understand firsthand how things are done. You will get to pick up skills such as engagement, networking, project implementation, project management. We will also enable our youth leaders to network, not just amongst yourselves, but more importantly, with our industry partners, to give you a more holistic view about the challenges faced by the industry and allow you to get more resources. Some of our youth leaders who have been involved with us for several years will be here to guide you as your project advisors.
15 We are providing opportunities to engender action, be it in terms of facilities or resources. One example is the SG Eco Fund, which can fund some of the ideas that you may have. If you are keen to pitch your ideas or startup, we hope that this will be the start of your journey.
16 We have also been partnering with the Youth Corps Singapore under the National Youth Council for several years. It remains an important platform for us to galvanise and activate youth leadership. Some of the YES youth leaders, for example, have helped us with the Bloobox distribution earlier this year. Our aim is to activate youths’ ideas, energy and creativity in sustainability and environmental protection.
17 Before I end, I would like to go back to the Singapore River clean-up. This is an outcome of many decades of hard work by the previous generation. If you think about our 2050 net zero target, think about how old you will be in 2050. Some of you will be at the forefront of the sustainability movement, taking charge of projects and driving our 2050 net-zero mission.
18 I hope that at that time, you will look back and say, “I’m so glad that I am here today”; to have thought about the next bound of Singapore’s journey. The people who started the Singapore clean-up are no longer here; they were doing it for us. It is important for us to enable you to start thinking about our issues with greater in-depth knowledge on the constraints that we have as a country, our considerations from a policy perspective, and our social compact – our compact towards our elderly, and our undertaking towards our young – that will bring us to the next lap of Singapore’s future.
19 This is what the YES Leaders Programme is about – creating an opportunity, a platform, and giving you insights that you may not get from your school. We believe in investing in all of you here, so that you can lead us to clean up our environment, just as we have cleaned up the Singapore River.
20 Thank you, and I hope to see a lot of actions coming from all of you.