Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the FutureChina Global Forum 2019 on 7 June 2019 at Sands Expo And Convention Centre.
Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Chairman of Business China,
Mr Ban Ki-moon, President and Chairman of Global Green Growth Institute,
Mr Fu Hua, Member of the Standing Committee and Director General of the Publicity Department, CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning to everyone! It’s a pleasure for me to be here at this year’s FutureChina Global Forum.
The theme of FutureChina Global Forum “Sustainable Development in a Dynamic World Order” is timely.
The world is facing major challenges in sustainable development.
If not properly handled, these challenges could potentially unravel the progress that the world has made over the last few decades.
I hope that our discussions at this Forum, and more broadly across the various discussions during Temasek’s Ecosperity Week, will drive action on sustainable development.
Sustainable development is an important goal for humanity, to improve the lives of all people and protect our planet.
I am glad that in 2015, all member states of the United Nations signed up to take action towards achieving the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
While there has been progress, there is still some way to go in achieving the SDGs.
In particular, I would like to highlight two areas.
The first is the importance of taking action against climate change.
Globally, Earth’s surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth warmest since the 19th century , on top of the global warming trend.1
Sea levels have been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades.2
Countries around the world are vulnerable to climate change.
For island states, like Singapore, rising sea levels are an existential challenge.
All over the world, we are experiencing the effects of climate change, such as more intense and frequent heavy rainfall, as well as an increase in our daily mean temperature.
When I attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year, a key topic of discussion was environmental protection.
The 2019 WEF Global Risk Report warned that “of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe”.
The report ranked extreme weather events, and the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation as the top two risks.
Besides protecting the planet and the environment we live in, another key area to improve the lives of people is economic development.
Economic growth is a key pillar for development as it generates the necessary resources to invest in education, infrastructure and healthcare.
Good economic growth allows us to create better jobs with better pay, reduce poverty, and improve lives.
Companies contribute to and benefit from growth and should, in turn, invest in the communities and economies that they are a part of.
How do we build a sustainable future - one that leads to growth and development across all countries around the world, while ensuring that we protect the planet? All these efforts to achieve a sustainable future require long-term thinking. Allow me to share three ways in which we can work towards a more sustainable future:
First, form and deepen international collaborations and partnerships to tackle sustainable development challenges;
Second, enable all segments of the society – Government, businesses, and individuals – to work together to achieve sustainable development; and
Third, develop next-generation talents and leaders to build a more sustainable and brighter future for our societies.
Three Key Ways Towards a Sustainable Future
First, we must form and deepen international collaborations and partnerships to tackle sustainable development challenges. Cooperation among countries and cities will help us to strengthen connectivity and achieve longer term environmental, economic and infrastructural sustainability.
China has the largest population in the world, and its development will have a significant impact on the global environment. I am glad that China has put in serious efforts towards achieving sustainable development.
I just learnt that the UN and China just held the World Environment Day in Hangzhou.
Another example is the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC), which provides a collaborative platform for Governments, enterprises, research institutes and the civil society to shape a green Belt and Road.
Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli is a co-chair of the BRIGC. We are working with fellow co-chairs and members to support the development of a green Belt and Road.
The next example is the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area or GBA, which will bring more business opportunities. I understand that the GBA is also a focus topic for this year’s Forum.
The GBA is a significant development in China, enhancing connectivity and generating new trade and investment flows between nine Pearl River Delta cities, as well as the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.
Besides aiming to become a global innovation hub, the GBA also seeks to become a quality place to work and live through initiatives such as the adoption of an innovative, green and low carbon development model3. The Chinese Government will also place greater priority to resource conservation and environmental protection.
I just visited Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong about a week ago. I had many useful discussions with Government and business leaders on how Singapore could expand our cooperation in the Greater Bay Area and contribute to its development.
The participants of the Business China Advanced Leaders Programme also visited the GBA recently to increase exchanges and explore business opportunities.
The development of the GBA presents new opportunities in diverse areas that businesses can tap on.
For example, Singapore and the GBA can collaborate in the area of new infrastructure development.
Singapore established a Government agency known as Infrastructure Asia last year, to better connect the demand and supply side for infrastructure projects. We are partnering the World Bank, and its Singapore Hub for Infrastructure and Urban Development, to train officials, as well as with a range of financial institutions to crowd in private capital.
Infrastructure projects are long term and highly capital intensive. We have to plan and structure these projects properly, to ensure resource efficiency, economic viability and social impact over their long lifetime.
We welcome companies in the infrastructure domain, from China and around the world, to partner one another, and to work with Infrastructure Asia.
Beyond the GBA, there are many opportunities in other parts of China, which can strengthen Singapore-China cooperation and sustainable development efforts.
For example, both countries have turned the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city from a barren, saline land into a low-carbon and liveable city for residents and companies after ten years of hard work.
To achieve sustainable development, countries must also work closely together with one another. One example is the Paris Agreement, which commits countries around the world to take concrete action to combat climate change.
China has played an instrumental role in the lead up to the Paris Agreement, and has continued to exercise leadership in international efforts.
In 20154, Singapore was ranked among the 15 best-performing countries in carbon intensity. Singapore has pledged in the Paris Agreement to reduce our emissions intensity by 36% below 2005 levels by 2030.5
The UN and other international organisations are also playing their part.
For example, the Global Green Growth Institute that Mr Ban chairs, supports its member countries to achieve the commitments expressed under the Paris Agreement.
When we strengthen international collaborations and partnerships, we can better tackle sustainable development challenges.
The second way to achieve sustainable development is to enable all segments of our societies – Government, businesses, and individuals – to work together effectively. Governments alone cannot drive sustainable development.
In Singapore, the Government has introduced green initiatives and measures to catalyse the private sector to pursue new green growth opportunities.
As the Chairman of the National Research Foundation, I earmarked 900 million Singapore dollars under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Urban Solutions and Sustainability plan.
We hope to partner leaders in these fields from around the world. We welcome companies to participate in this R&D effort, to tap on Singapore’s R&D networks and capabilities, to create new knowledge and solutions in areas such as food resilience, water, energy and land management.
It is encouraging that researchers and entrepreneurs are continuing to harness technological innovations to improve our living environment.
In January this year, I opened Singapore’s first new-build net-zero energy building, the SDE4 in the National University of Singapore. This is a good example of how we can leverage knowledge and technology to improve building performance.
Another example is Sky Greens, Singapore’s first vertical farm, which has devised technologies that produces five to ten times more vegetables than conventional methods on the same land area. Sky Greens currently has a pilot project in China. When we think about the need for China to put aside a certain amount of arable land, technologies like these not only provide for food security but also allow a country like China, and of course Singapore, to make use of our land even more efficiently.
The pervasive use of technology can also help us go green. I spoke with some students yesterday at a seminar, and several of them told me that they have been increasingly reading less hard copy newspapers and books. Instead, they are reading these online. The availability of digital contents can help us save the environment too.
Singapore has implemented a carbon tax this year, to send an economy-wide price signal to incentivise the reduction of carbon emissions in an economically efficient way.
The revenue from the tax will be earmarked for worthy projects. For example, to encourage businesses to further improve their energy efficiency, the Government has enhanced industry energy efficient grants with increased co-funding support.
Given the scale of investments needed, a very encouraging development is the growth of private capital for green financing.
DBS Bank and the UN Environment on Green Finance Opportunities in ASEAN estimated that 200 billion US dollars of green investment is needed annually up till 2030 in this region alone.6
Singapore’s efforts to develop a green bond market were made possible through strong support from industry players and the collaborative efforts of key stakeholders.
For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore is glad to partner with the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, to accelerate the growth of green bond issuances in Asia. They conduct capacity building programmes to strengthen participants’ understanding of green bonds, as well as their capability to structure and issue these bonds.
I am heartened that businesses in many parts of the world, including Singapore and China, are increasingly incorporating sustainability in their core business strategies.
There will be growing demand for sustainable products and services, arising in particular from a growing consciousness amongst the younger generation that demand such products and services.
Businesses are also increasingly recognising the need to retain the trust of current generation by taking care of the interests of future generations.
Besides the Government and businesses, individuals also have a part to play.
For example, Singapore has designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste. We are adopting a circular economy approach, to keep our resources in use for as long as possible, with an aim to become a Zero Waste Nation.
Businesses and civil society groups can support more sustainable consumption and production practices.
Singapore is also actively promoting ground-up initiatives in areas such as household recycling and waste reduction.
With our collective effort, Singapore can progress towards a Zero Waste Nation.
The third way to achieve sustainable development is for us to develop next-generation talents and leaders who are committed to building a more sustainable and brighter future for our societies.
Many of us sitting here are leaders of companies and organisations. We have to balance between meeting short term and longer term needs. Building the leadership pipeline is core to this endeavour.
We need new leaders for each generation, from each generation. Nurturing future generations of leaders is a hallmark of strong leadership.
Critically, we will have to continue to inculcate in our young leaders a sense of shared responsibility towards sustainable development. Today, there is already a growing awareness among the younger generation that sustainability is critical to the world.
With youth comes energy, innovation and optimism. This will lay the groundwork for positive contributions by our young leaders to meet new challenges and contribute to sustainable development.
Therefore, I am glad that Business China has been placing emphasis on developing youths and next-generation leaders.
The inaugural Business China Youth Forum will be held this afternoon.
This brings young leaders from Singapore and China together, to build new ties and form new partnerships. The Youth Forum will discuss sustainable development, including how to utilise technology and proactively shape a more sustainable world.
In developing new talents and leaders, we must continue to strengthen people-to-people ties among them in the region.
I announced at this year’s Budget that the Government will launch the Global Ready Talent Programme, to support high-growth Singapore firms to send Singaporeans for postings in key markets.
This will provide young Singaporeans with the opportunities to gain working experience abroad and interact with their counterparts in the region.
The Business China Internship Programme also facilitates cross-border internship opportunities, to provide a platform for young Singaporeans to develop in-depth China market expertise and business knowledge through hands-on experience.
Our youths play a vital role in continuing the efforts to achieve sustainable development, and creating a sustainable future. And for our youths to succeed, we must invest the necessary resources to nurture our future leaders now.
Let me conclude in Mandarin.
 Source: Article “2018 fourth warmest year in continued warming trend, according to NASA, NOAA”, 6 Feb 2019.
 Source: National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.
 Source: “Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area” or 《粤港澳大湾区发展规划纲要》
 Source: International Energy Agency’s 2017 Publication – CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion, OECD/IEA, Paris, 2017.
 Source: National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), International Efforts.
 UN Environment and DBS Bank. Green Finance Opportunities in ASEAN. Nov 2017.
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