Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment at the World Sustainability Forum on 14 September 2023
Professor Tan Tai Yong, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences
Professor Robbie Goh, Provost, SUSS
Associate Professor (Practice) Yeo Li Pheow
1 It is a great privilege to join you at the World Sustainability Forum. I would also like to say a big hello to all the friends who are joining us virtually.
2 This year’s World Sustainability Forum is held in Singapore for the first time, and also in Basel and Toronto. This global focus is appropriate because the effects of climate change can be felt worldwide, and presents an existential threat to all of humanity.
3 Indeed, Switzerland, Canada and Singapore have all experienced the impacts of rising global temperature. A Swiss weather balloon had to climb to an unprecedented 5,300 metres before temperatures fell to 0 degrees Celsius. This surpassed the previous record of 5,184 metres, which was set just a year ago. Since surveys began, the zero-degree line has risen between 200 to 700 metres, depending on the season. The zero-degree line is a key meteorological marker. Its rise demonstrates how the global water cycle has been impacted by climate change. Canada has been affected by an ongoing, record-setting series of wildfires beginning in March. According to scientists, these fires were made at least twice as likely by climate change. Singapore, too, has not been spared. In fact, we experienced the highest recorded temperature of 37 degrees Celsius in the last 40 years in May this year. And this decade is the warmest decade that we are experiencing.
4 What this shows is that climate change does not impact us in silos. Rather, it impacts all of us, which underscores the importance of partnerships, both domestically and internationally, to tackle climate change.
Supporting Climate Science
5 As a global community, we must continue to support the science of climate change, so that we can better understand its effects, and how we can mitigate or adapt. We are happy to have Associate Professor Winston Chow elected to the IPCC, or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is just one way to show how Singaporeans are making an impact globally, and also having that connection to the rest of the global community. The IPCC prepares the Assessment Reports about the latest state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and risks, as well as options for mitigating the pace of climate change. As IPCC’s Co-Chair for Working Group II, Prof Chow will contribute towards international efforts to assessing the impacts, adaptation and vulnerabilities related to climate change.
6 The work that the IPCC does helps us with knowledge accumulation, to understand the regional and local impacts of climate change. In Singapore, this has been the focus of the Centre of Climate Change Research Singapore (CCRS) since it was established in 2013. More recently, CCRS is completing our Third National Climate Change Study (or V3), incorporating the latest findings from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.
7 These findings will produce an updated set of localised projections of key climate variables, such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, winds and sea level, for Singapore and the Southeast Asia region up to 2100 and beyond. This will be used to guide Singapore in many important areas, such as understanding the localised impact of climate change, as well as developing and reviewing our climate adaptation policies and plans. Internationally, Singapore will also be progressively sharing V3 data through platforms such as the climate impacts assessment tools of the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to enable users to conduct more detailed assessments of the impact of climate change on agriculture. Countries in the region can share information and equip themselves better in understanding the effects of climate change. We have been offering these data through various ASEAN platforms and many of our counterparts have indicated interest to understand the impact of climate change from the IPCC, brought down to the Southeast Asia region.
Developing Climate Strategies
8 Understanding the impacts of climate change informs our climate strategies for areas such as heat stress and coastal protection.
9 As temperatures rise, it is important that Singaporeans are well equipped to protect ourselves and our loved ones. My Ministry launched the Heat Stress Advisory to help our general population make more informed decisions on undertaking prolonged outdoor activities, so that they can minimise the risk of heat stress and heat-related illnesses. For our attendees from Singapore, I encourage you to check the myENV app for the Heat Stress levels when planning for outdoor activities. Please share with your friends and family about the Heat Stress Advisory, and encourage them to download the myENV app! Sometimes in Singapore, we take our weather for granted because we are always in the tropics and the range of temperatures is consistent. But there are new factors that require us to be more sensitive to the weather, and we need to have the humility to acknowledge what the weather can do to our well-being. It is good to be more sensitive, to read up about weather forecasts, and to have that sense of awareness that can help us navigate through different weather conditions. Make it a habit, as you do in other countries, to pay attention to weather forecasts before you go out in Singapore.
10 Last week, I attended the launch of our Coastal Protection and Flood Resilience Institute, or CFI. We had earlier announced PUB, Singapore’s Water Agency’s, new $125 million Coastal Protection & Flood Management Research Programme and establishment of a Centre of Excellence to conduct coastal science research. CFI Singapore will facilitate the development of knowledge to support the various workstreams that PUB has embarked on to protect our coastlines, and harness expertise from our Institutes of Higher Learning.
Driving Sustainable Solutions through Partnerships
11 You may ask, does SUSS have a role? You definitely have a role, because when you look at adaptation, community and societal responses are absolutely important. Engineering solutions will not be effective unless communities embrace it, unless societies are able to live with the new adapted environments. In this process of change and getting ourselves ready, it is important for us to look at issues such as behavioural change for heat stress. We want this adaptation to be an inclusive one, and the societal aspect of it – to study the impact of all these adaptations on society, on humans, on communities, is an important part of our research programme.
12 Now that I have shared about the “brainy” topic of climate science, we need to go to the “heart” of the issue – how can we rally the community to work together to drive sustainable solutions?
Rallying the Community
13 In Singapore, we recognise the need for a Whole-of-Nation approach to rally the community and promote sustainability. To this end, my Ministry launched Go Green SG in July this year to strengthen partnerships and galvanise collective action for environmental sustainability. More than 160 partners organised over 300 activities, programmes and experiences for over 70,000 participants.
14 And it is not just the Government that decides how Singapore tackles climate change. Our people, too, have a say, and we need all hands on deck. As part of our Forward SG movement, we have engaged over 2,200 Singaporeans from businesses, non-governmental organisations, schools and the community. A key theme of the conversations was the challenges and trade-offs that Singapore must balance when it comes to environmental sustainability.
Partnerships to drive sustainable solutions
15 Besides rallying the community, partnerships are key to drive sustainable solutions that will have social and community impact – the focus of our forum today. For example, we have partnered with researchers to advance science-based solutions, to issues such as urban heat in Singapore, more closely. The Cooling Singapore 2.0 project led by the Singapore-ETH Centre is developing a digital model to simulate our urban climate and assess the effectiveness of various heat mitigation strategies. This enables us to understand urban heat in Singapore better and identify cost-effective heat mitigation strategies.
16 Our SG Eco Fund supports ground-up solutions for a greener and more sustainable Singapore. For the most recent grant call, about 80 sustainability projects were awarded $2.4 million.
17 The broad range of projects will help us to move towards our climate and Green Plan goals. Carolin Barr, who will be speaking next, is the founder of susGain, a recipient of the SG Eco Fund. The SG Eco Fund supported susGain to develop a 6-week gamified app challenge to champion schools to act on their commitment to reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose. I hear that the school communities have learnt a lot and had much fun through the activities, both in school and through the app. It is heartening to see many others like susGain, coming forward to go green in their own ways. If you have an idea for a project that supports environment sustainability and involves the community, I encourage you to apply for the SG Eco Fund, and be a part of Singapore’s growing sustainability movement. This is really a good space for SUSS, where the science has to meet the people. We need a very fundamental change in mindset when it comes to protecting the environment. SUSS, through your faculty and students, has the ability to impact in getting the ground to be ready for this movement, to get mindset change and behavioural change.
18 In conclusion, we can all make important contributions for sustainability. As individuals, we can encourage our friends and families to make simple changes to our everyday habits, such as by setting the air conditioning temperature to 25 degrees Celsius. Researchers can consider how to communicate your findings to the public more effectively, and pay greater attention to engaging the community. The example of susGain is really about communication and through gamification, causing change in behaviour. Businesses can lead the way by adopting more sustainable practices, tracking your carbon footprint and even setting a net zero target year.
19 In embracing sustainability as a core tenet of our collective vision, we can catalyse profound social and community impacts. Just as the challenge posed by climate change is multi-faceted, we need everyone on board to tackle it together. Forums like this one today can pave the way forward by sparking solutions for tomorrow.
20 I wish you all a very fruitful conference. Thank you.