Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at The Singapore Apex Corporate Sustainability Awards Gala Dinner 2017 on 8 November 201708 Nov 2017
Ms Goh Swee Chen
President, Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- Thank you, Global Compact Network Singapore, for inviting me to join you tonight.
- It is a pleasure to join you to recognise organisations that have shown excellence in sustainability.
- And also to affirm your mission to forge a network of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practitioners and champions.
- We all still have much to learn and ways to improve on how we can conduct our lives and our businesses more sustainably. Efforts of organisations like GCNS are an important contribution to our collective ongoing journey towards sustainability.
Why Sustainability Matters
- Why should we care about sustainability? It is a matter of survival, and of stewardship.
- With climate change making itself felt through more extreme weather events, with an impact on water sources, crops, habitable environments and people’s livelihoods, sustainability is a matter of survival for humankind.
- Climate changes poses a real threat for small island states like Singapore. We are vulnerable to rising sea levels, higher temperatures and extreme rainfall.
- Sustainability is also a matter of survival for businesses. Studies show that sound sustainability standards lower a company’s cost of capital, and result in better operational performance. Investor demands and customer expectations are increasingly favouring sustainable businesses.
- Sustainability is also about what we leave behind after our time. We have a duty of stewardship to future generations.
- Each generation’s duty is to invest in, shepherd and grow our collective wealth of knowledge, creations and relationships – to pass on to the next generation, for them to build upon in their turn, so that each successive generation can have a good life, move up, and create and do good to benefit all.
- This duty of stewardship calls for us not only to be discriminate about our consumption of the planet’s limited resources, but also to put in place forms of usage and governance that make it a way of life for all of us to think and act of the long term.
- Businesses, too, have a duty of stewardship – to their shareholders, their employees, their customers and their community.
- Sustainability is also, in fact, very Singaporean.
- When I reflect on it, it strikes me that our biggest champion of environmental sustainability is probably Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
- He believed that “a blighted urban jungle of concrete destroys the human spirit” and that “we need the greenery of nature to lift our spirits”.
- In the 1960s, amid the urgent demands of housing, health and education, he launched the first initiative to transform our small island nation into a Garden City. To achieve that, we cleaned up the Singapore River, planted thousands of trees, and enacted laws against pollution.
- Through Mr Lee, the Singapore way and the sustainable way were intertwined.
- And we continue to act on our commitment to sustainability. The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB) outlines our national vision and plans for a more liveable and sustainable Singapore.
Global Concerns and Efforts
- Today, there is a worldwide call for collective action.
- The international community has set ambitious goals in the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
- Last year, the G20 Heads of State for the first time agreed that there was a need to “scale up green finance”. Several states have taken steps to green their financial systems.
- Underlying these global efforts is a shared recognition that sustainability is multi-faceted and requires all of us to row together.
- In Asia:
- The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has made sustainable infrastructure a priority.
- China is continuing to invest heavily in sustainable development, with the country’s energy agency expecting to invest 2.5 trillion yuan (approximately S$500 billion) into renewable fuel by 2020. In June, the State Council in China announced five pilot zones for green finance, along with five tasks, such as promoting green credits and setting up government service channels for green industries.
- Our ASEAN neighbours have also initiated their own sustainable development plans.
- Indonesia has launched a Roadmap for Sustainable Finance, which aims to increase both the demand and supply of sustainable financing products.
- Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn is overlooking the construction of a number of reservoirs and water conveyancing systems.
- Cambodia has developed a National Environment Strategy and Action Plan (NESAP), which identifies policy tools and financing options for sustainable natural resource management.
- When the ASEAN Environment Ministers met in Brunei two months ago, they reaffirmed their commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development, and presented the 4th ASEAN Environmentally Sustainable Cities Awards – to recognise city-level environment sustainability.
Singapore’s Contribution to the Global Mission
- Singapore must seek to do our best and learn from others. We have some strengths, which we can build upon to make a meaningful contribution to the global mission.
- One area where we can do so is in the sustainable urban solutions space. One of the recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is to make Singapore a living lab for innovative urban solutions, and also to be a model city in sustainability. There are very interesting projects happening.
- For example, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) aspires to be the greenest campus in the world, aiming for a 35% reduction in energy, water and waste intensity by 2020 (from 2011’s baseline). Their EcoCampus initiative transforms the campus into a test bed for research projects in cutting-edge green technologies. It integrates R&D, demonstration and deployment of sustainable solutions in one location.
- Terminal 4 opened last week. It is part of the Changi Airport Living Lab Programme, where Changi Airport Group collaborates with companies to test new innovative solutions, such as automation and robotics, and smart infrastructure management, in a live airport environment.
- I expect that many exciting solutions will emerge from living labs like these. And I hope to see businesses take up more of such initiatives.
- The government is committed to this cause too, and can contribute in several ways.
- First, by aggregating demand.
- The Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Housing & Development Board (HDB) are partnering on the SolarNova programme, to aggregate demand for solar energy across public sector agencies.
- Last week, HDB called for the third solar leasing tender to date, which covers the installation of solar panels across about 850 HDB blocks and 27 government sites.
- Second, the government can facilitate testing and innovation.
- NTU, EDB, and the National Environment Agency (NEA) are partnering to enable consortiums of leading corporations to collaborate on the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator – Singapore (REIDS) project.
- This is the largest hybrid microgrid test and research platform in Southeast Asia. It will test how we can integrate multiple energy technologies, such as solar, wind, tidal, diesel and storage. REIDS will pave the way towards the sustainable electrification of multi-activity off-grid communities, which are prevalent in our region.
- A third way we can contribute to the global action is through setting the right policy conditions.
- Singapore has ratified the Paris Agreement, and re-affirmed our commitment to address climate change and reduce emissions. We released Singapore’s Climate Action Plan last year, which details the ways in which we are working towards these commitments, while also preparing for the impact of climate change. And we launched our Public Sector Sustainability Plan this year, outlining the public sector’s collective efforts to go green.
- Earlier this year, I announced our plans to implement a carbon tax on the emission of greenhouse gases. This is the most economically efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will help us to achieve our commitments under the Paris Agreement. Revenue from the carbon tax will help to fund measures by various sectors to reduce emissions. We have released a draft of the Carbon Pricing Bill, and I invite everyone to share your feedback. I hope that we can work together to do our part in reducing emissions and contributing to the global mission.
- Next year, GCNS will partner with Temasek to organise a Sustainability Trade Fair. It will be the first in Asia to showcase ASEAN and Asian SMEs across different industries from the sustainable solutions sector. It will be a good opportunity to learn from others, and I hope it will catalyse much collaboration and sharing of ideas.
- To conclude, I wish to commend GCNS on the thoughtfulness with which you have framed these awards.
- The framework for the Sustainable Business category is a rounded way to approach sustainability.
- It takes sustainability beyond the environmental sense of the word, to also enfold factors such as social and economic performance, stakeholder engagement, and governance.
- And the Clean Technology category looks at the innovativeness of an idea, along with its measurable impact on the industry and how well it can serve the needs of the future.
- These awards have been framed to appreciate and encourage taking the long term view – that as stewards, we have to assess our actions today not just in terms of whether we are achieving the immediate goals, but in terms of how our action can better protect our environment and strengthen our society in the future, so that we can continue to sustain our progress.
- To the GCNS, well done on your far-sightedness.
- And, of course, congratulations to the award winners tonight.
- At the end of the day, we pursue sustainable practices not for awards, but out of a sense of conviction and responsibility. I am glad to see all of you committing to this shared mission, and hope to see businesses lead the way forward. As the former UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon said, “We have only one planet. There is no Plan B because there is no planet B.”
- Thank you, and I wish you all an enjoyable evening.