DPM Heng Swee Keat at the ONERHT Foundation GAIL Sustainability Forum 2023

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 20 July 2023

Remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the ONERHT Foundation GAIL Sustainability Forum on 20 July 2023.


Ms Kaylee Kwok, Chairman of the ONERHT Foundation
Mr Azman Jaffar, Managing Partner of RHTLaw Asia
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning. I am happy to join you today to kickstart an exchange of views on sustainability, a topic of great resonance and importance not only to Singapore, but also the wider world

As we just heard from Kaylee, GAIL stands for “Greening ASEAN: Initiatives and Leadership”.

This theme, of greening ASEAN, is relevant to countries both in the region and the world.

Climate change is an existential challenge of our times.

Today, all 10 ASEAN Member States are feeling the acute impact of a changing climate, be it through heatwaves and drought, or tropical storms and floods.

These extreme weather events are destroying infrastructure, disrupting economic activity, upending livelihoods, or worse taking lives.

So I commend the ONERHT Foundation for convening this Forum for the sixth time, to raise awareness and build momentum on putting sustainability into practice among your network of partners, stakeholders and clients.

The focus of this year’s Forum – on energy, strategy and finance – is especially timely.

A study by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in 2022 identified insufficient financial resources, lack of R&D, technology and expertise, and insufficient alternative energy resources as the top three obstacles to decarbonisation in ASEAN.

Even so, given the scale and depth of the climate challenge in our region, and indeed globally, we have no time to waste.

While we may not yet fully understand the effects of climate change, nor can we foretell the future, we must do what we can, now.

Left unchecked, the cumulative effects of climate change and rising sea levels could be even more severely damaging to all life on Earth.

I am glad that citizens in ASEAN recognise this. 

In a survey conducted earlier this year across ASEAN, more than 57 percent of respondents ranked climate change as the region’s second biggest challenge, after unemployment and economic recession.

As societies, we should collectively invest in sustainability as a priority, not just because it is fashionable or generates good returns today, but out of a sense of responsibility to future generations.

Indeed, we are but temporary custodians of this planet.
Let us be responsible stewards in the way we live, work, produce and consume, so as to hand over a healthy and functioning ecosystem to those who come after us.

To be effective and responsible stewards requires taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to sustainability, with the public, private and people sectors each playing our part and working together. 

I am glad that you have brought together a diverse group – topical experts, regional practitioners, advocacy groups, businesses and investors – to discuss how we can work together to build a more sustainable world and a better future. 

Now, how then should we think about stewarding a more sustainable future for ASEAN, and for the world?
Let me suggest four interlinking dimensions, using the “GAIL” acronym.

First, Galvanise. 

In 2015, governments around the world negotiated the UN Paris Agreement and committed to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

8 years on, we are working diligently to deliver on this commitment. But there remains much to be done.

As a first step, governments should lay out a clear and deliberate vision to rally public support for a more sustainable future.

In Singapore, for example, we have published our Green Plan 2030 as a whole-of-nation sustainability roadmap, with clearly defined and concrete targets across sectors including energy, transport and infrastructure.

Several ASEAN governments have also outlined explicit targets for the achievement of net-zero emissions.

It will also be useful to have the world’s two largest economies, the US and China, cooperate in leading the world in this green transition. 

Now, in tandem, the private sector can also help to mobilise greater momentum for sustainability.

Businesses are increasingly setting out their own net-zero targets, to support national sustainability goals.
I understand that ONERHT, for instance, has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.

As Environment and Social Governance, or ESG, metrics gain greater prominence in investment and risk assessments, corporates will need to clearly articulate their core principles and metrics.

The ONERHT Foundation’s G.R.A.C.E principles – Governance, Risk management, Anti-money laundering, Compliance and Ethics – are one such good example.

Such frameworks give businesses a common base understanding from which to map out their sustainability strategies, assess the progress they have made over time, and redeploy resources and expertise if necessary.
So that’s the first “G”, Galvanise.

Second, Accelerate.

As a region, ASEAN will need an estimated US$3.1 trillion in infrastructure investment alone between 2023 and 2030 to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty and respond to climate change.

It is unlikely that governments on their own can meet such high investment demands, especially amid prevailing global economic uncertainties.

The private sector and philanthropies can therefore help to unlock new green transition opportunities by crowding in private and other forms of capital to augment public expenditure.

Philanthropic capital, in particular, can be deployed via blended finance instruments to support high-risk investments and make projects more commercially viable.

This can have a powerful demonstrative effect that sustainability can be a profitable investment theme. 

And in turn, this could draw more investment for sustainability-related projects.

Third, Innovate.

Stewarding ASEAN towards a more sustainable future will require significant innovation and technological breakthroughs, to lower the costs and raise the benefits of the green transitions required.

Within ASEAN, we can explore suitable options in renewable energy, reusable plastics, nature-based solutions and other innovations.

Besides mitigation and reducing emissions, we can also explore solutions for climate adaptation – to tackle problems relating to rising sea levels and food system disruptions. 

ASEAN Member States should invest in R&D and build closer cross-border scientific and research collaborations to harness one another’s strengths.

For example, the National Research Foundation that I chair supports the Singapore Academies Southeast Asia Fellowship. 

We have seen postgraduate researchers from the region do interesting work on emissions reduction, hydrogen storage and carbon capture.

But there is much more that we can do to meet ASEAN’s collective climate aspirations.

And this brings me to the fourth dimension, Leap.

In particular, innovations and breakthroughs must be deployed at scale to achieve tangible impact over the long-term.

ASEAN currently has a combined population of 665 million people, and this is expected to grow to 717 million by 2030 and 741 million by 2035. 

As a region, there is great potential for any new breakthroughs to be scaled up to achieve impact. 

Over the years, we have made good progress on economic integration within ASEAN, to form a single production base and market.

By making it easier for businesses to test-bed solutions and to scale up, ASEAN not only has a better chance to make the green transition but can also serve as a pathfinder. In this regard, ONERHT’s work in the region in providing a whole range of services will be valuable.  

And we must also learn from and collaborate with partners around the world, to make the green transition together. 

So, the ONERHT Foundation has taken a similar collaborative approach, bringing together different stakeholders and partners to work together. 

Today, you are taking a further step by launching the ethBe (eth-bee) platform.

This platform will build awareness and grow a community of ethical leaders under the G.R.A.C.E framework. 

Podcasts, curated content and capacity building programmes will help lay the foundation for a culture of sustainability stewardship by building greater expertise in relevant areas like carbon accounting and the assessment of domain risk.

By tapping on the ONERHT Foundation’s network of partners and clients, ethBe will also help to build a sustainability ecosystem to foster closer collaboration and amplify the impact of individual initiatives.

Such ground-up initiatives by the private sector will be useful in reinforcing efforts by ASEAN governments to mobilise greater climate and sustainability action.

In conclusion, let me reiterate the importance of treating sustainability not only as a priority for the present, but as part of the legacy that we will bequeath to future generations.

Building and preserving this legacy rests on all our shoulders – government, business, and the people sectors alike.

It is the actions we take today, individually and collectively, that will determine the kind of world we hand over to our children, and their children. 

Forums like this one today are important to bring interested stakeholders from different backgrounds and expertise to exchange experiences, cross-pollinate ideas, and to seed fruitful collaborations.

So I encourage all of us here today to make the most of the presentations and panel discussions that follow, and may you leave today with fresh inspiration on how we can be responsible stewards for the planet to build a better world and a better future.

So I wish you all a fruitful Forum. Thank you.