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Opening Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of Future Economy Council at the 5th Singapore Sustainability Symposium (S3)

02 May 2018

Professor Subra Suresh, President, NTU


Professor Alexander Zehnder, Chair, Sustainable Earth Office; and

Member, Board of Trustees of NTU


Ladies and Gentlemen,


1       Thank you for having me here today.


  1. It is my pleasure to join you at the 5th Singapore Sustainability Symposium (S3) and to welcome the many guests from all over the world. It is a very distinguished group and I see you have a very packed agenda.


  2. This symposium, S3, has evolved into an international platform for thought leadership on urban sustainability solutions. It is a meaningful effort by NTU and partners to bring together, focus, and synergise the important work from a diverse range of stakeholders and disciplines.


  3. Now, we must continue to do more.We have designated 2018 as the Year of Climate Change.We recognise that tackling climate change requires consensus and collective effort from all parts of society. Earlier, we heard from Prof Subra about making NTU into an Eco Campus, and that is a great effort.


2       Singapore has been striving for Liveability and Sustainability for several decades now.  From the overcrowded slums, polluted rivers, traffic congestion and public health woes that plagued Singapore in our early years, we have transformed.


  1. We have tripled our population (from less than 2 million to 5.6 million today) and similarly, density has tripled in just under 50 years.


  2. Today, we are among the densest countries in the world. Despite being a highly urbanised and dense city, Singapore is also among the most liveable cities as assessed by various international city indices.


  3. We have been able to achieve this through good long term integrated planning and governance.But we cannot take this for granted.


3       Singapore is not just an island of 720 sqkm.  If we include our sea space, our total territorial space is about 1,400 sqkm. That is the finite space that Singapore has. We do need to take good care of this precious resource and keep it clean, the air fresh, waters unpolluted and teeming with life. The stewardship of this is the joint responsibility of all who live and make use of this place we call Singapore. And I may add, the stewardship of this planet is for all of us who live in this planet.


4       The theme of today’s conference is “Incentives and Motivations for Sustainability” is very meaningful. In fact, for Singapore, the motivation for sustainability is very clear, even right from our early years of independence. Sustainability is not a matter of choice for Singapore, it is a matter of survival and the only way we can ensure that Singapore can continue to thrive as a city-state. We have been fortunate that our founding fathers had the foresight to put in place policies and plans that put Singapore on the path to sustainability.


  1. I am glad that today’s conference will discuss these themes. We have to continue to ensure that Singapore remains sustainable and liveable for generations to come. This becomes increasingly challenging given our land and resource constraints and as we continue to grow and develop further.


  2. Let me talk about the collaboration that will have to transcends national boundaries.


ASEAN efforts


5       Regional efforts should be part of the global effort to address climate change. As the ASEAN Chair this year, we will work with ASEAN members to renew the region’s commitment to global climate action.


  1. Singapore will convene a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action (SAMCA) in July, in conjunction with the Singapore International Water Week, CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, and the World Cities Summit.


  2. We will also hold a back-to-back expanded meeting (E-SAMCA) between ASEAN+3 countries, the President (Fiji) and President-Designate (Poland) of the UN Climate Change Conference, and the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) Executive Secretary.
    1. This meeting will serve as a platform for constructive dialogue and send a strong signal of our region’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.


6       With ASEAN expected to grow faster than most other regions this year, there is a particular imperative – indeed, opportunity – for us to find ways to ensure that growth and sustainability go hand-in-hand in our region.


  1. We see positive efforts among our ASEAN members in their sustainability journey. Last year, ASEAN member states agreed to explore the possibility of developing a harmonised approach to measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV) greenhouse gas emissions as a first step towards further regional collaboration on carbon markets.Robust MRV will be important to transparent and accountable climate action.


  2. Just recently at the 32nd ASEAN summit, a concept note outlined a proposal to establish the ASEAN Smart Cities Network.This Network is a collaborative platform where up to three cities per ASEAN country work towards a common goal of smart and sustainable development.


  3. How can Singapore further contribute to this collective effort? Let me share a few thoughts on this.
    1. First, we can adopt a more regional and global frame of mind in our R&D work – in sustainability, of course, but also in all fields of R&D – where we innovate and develop solutions that are important to Singapore and also meaningful to the world.
    2. Second, the business community can support, create and propagate sustainability innovations and practices that are practical and help businesses fulfil their own survival and stewardship priorities.
    3. Third, we can pursue green financing to motivate and enable greater sustainability.


  4. Let me touch briefly on each of these.


Research and innovation


7       For a start, in our R&D work on sustainability, we should think beyond Singapore, to our region and beyond. Sustainability innovations, technologies and practices that we develop here must have the relevance and scalability to be applied in different parts of the world.


8       For research and innovation, we have dedicated substantial resources to build knowledge and grow the talent pool. The National Research Foundation’s (NRF) urban solutions and sustainability (USS) domain supports urban solutions that include enhancing transport and liveable spaces, and optimising energy inputs to treat used water, desalinate seawater and produce NEWater.   What can we offer out of our own failures, breakthroughs and lessons that can benefit our neighbouring countries’ sustainability efforts?


  1. We can accelerate the translation of R&D into commercial use and industry adoption. For example, we have the Separation Technologies Applied Research and Translation (START, supported by NTU, EDB, PUB and NRF) for water technologies such as membranes. It is set up as a national-level facility to bridge the translation gap between laboratory findings and full-scale products. There are also similar efforts for energy-efficient buildings and waste-to-energy test-bedding.


    Building a business community rooted in sustainability


    9       The second way that Singapore can contribute to our collective effort is for the business community to foster a business culture for sustainable practices to take root and thrive. I am glad there are several initiatives to encourage this.




    10     Sustainable practices need not necessarily equate to higher overhead costs. Studies have shown that sound sustainability standards lower a company’s cost of capital, resulting in better operational performance. Increasingly, there are investor and consumer expectations of sustainable business practices. These are positive trends for the environment and economy.


    Green financing


    11     The third way we can contribute to our region’s sustainability effort is to promote green financing. Green financing seeks to encourage investments in sustainable developments, and Singapore is a position to advance this, given our stable regulatory environment and prior groundwork.


    1. For example, in 2015, the Association of Banks in Singapore introduced guidelines for Responsible Financing, where banks are expected to assess their clients’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks as part of credit evaluation processes. These guidelines have helped formalise sustainable lending practices and mainstream governance considerations in our banks’ overall business practices.


    1. MAS launched a Green Bond Grant Scheme last year to defray the costs of obtaining an external review for green bonds of up to S$100,000 per issuance.
      1. Last year, we saw green bonds issued by both local and international companies - City Developments Limited, DBS bank, the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency, as well as Manulife Financial Corp. This is a good start and I hope to see the momentum sustained.


    Government’s commitment to the cause


    12     The Singapore Government is committed to the cause, both within and beyond our shores. The Singapore Sustainable Blueprint (SSB) outlines our national vision and plans for a more liveable and sustainable Singapore. We have also ratified the Paris Agreement, pledging to reduce emission intensity and passed the Carbon Pricing Bill during this year’s Budget. Our carbon pricing will incentivise emissions reduction for all parts of the economy. Furthermore, as more countries impose tighter limits on carbon emissions, companies that adapt early will be more competitive.


    13     Our agencies have worked with partners to research and test-bed sustainable technologies, such as in alternative energy and waste management. The Public Sector is also working on green initiatives.


    1. We have launched Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme (a multi-agency effort led by MND) to prioritise and focus R&D on areas of national concerns, so that we can have a highly-liveable city that is sustainable. NEA’s Closing the Waste Loop initiative encourages collaboration with institutes and private sector to tackle issues of waste management.For example, they are looking at resource and value recovery from the key waste streams of plastic, food and electronics.


    1. NTU, EDB and NEA have partnered to enable consortiums of leading corporations to collaborate on the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator – Singapore (REIDS). Housed on Pulau Semakau, one of our offshore islands. It will test the integration of energy technologies from sources such as solar, wind, tidal, diesel, storage.It will also test the suitability of waste-to-energy and power-to-gas technologies to provide more affordable energy access for off-grid communities in Southeast Asia.


    1. The Public Sector itself has launched the Public Sector Sustainability Plan 2017-2020 to take the lead on our nationwide Sustainable Singapore Movement. This entails embarking on innovative initiatives and projects, such as government-wise green procurement of electronics and paper products, and food waste recycling in public sector premises.


    14     Collectively, we have taken steps to create an environment that not only incentivises sustainability, but puts resources and attention into innovation, learning and sharing for greater sustainability.


    NTU’s new institute


    15     In this light, I am therefore especially pleased about the new NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH).


    1. It is an appropriate name for an institute – reminding us that the purpose of all our efforts in science and technology, and in R&D, is to benefit humanity.


    1. The NISTH aims to help us better understand how technological advances impact societies, cultures and human behaviour.
      1. Amongst its key areas, it will look into how the nature and speed of innovation can affect our societies, and the potential ethical implications. This will prompt us to consider whether and how to manage and regulate these activities.
  1. Last year, I spoke at the Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS) Apex Corporate Sustainability Awards, where we affirmed businesses that have shown excellence in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.


  2. A recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) & NUS report (Sustainable Banking in ASEAN: Addressing ASEAN’s FLAWS (Forests, Landscapes, Climate, Water, Societies)) also recognised our local banks for their efforts in integrating sustainability concepts into their business strategies and including responsible financing in their public disclosure.
  1. SGX recently also implemented sustainability reporting for listed companies. This “report or explain” requirement will be useful in guiding sustainable business practices. Such positive developments encourage SMEs to adopt best practices and big companies to take the lead.







16     I have shared a few ideas with you, to catalyse further discussions. I am confident that your discussions will generate many more useful ideas. The future of sustainability is for us to imagine together, the practice of sustainability is for us to create together, and the fruits of sustainability will be for us to enjoy and protect together. I wish you a fruitful symposium. Thank you.