DPM Heng Swee Keat at "Living in Harmony with Nature and Wildlife: A Dialogue with Dr. Jane Goodall"

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 28 November 2019

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)'s "Living in Harmony with Nature and Wildlife: A Dialogue with Dr. Jane Goodall" on 28 November 2019.


Dr Jane Goodall
Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and
UN Messenger of Peace

Dr Andie Ang
President of the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here this evening. To join so many of you who are keen to learn more about our environment, conservation, and living in harmony with nature!

Let us first extend a very warm welcome to Dr Goodall back to Singapore. I have heard a lot about your many achievements and I am glad to have the chance to meet you for the first time and to hear from you.

Tribute to Dr Jane Goodall and JGIS

Dr Goodall's research on chimpanzees in the 1960s and 70s overturned what we understood of them, and pushed the boundaries of what we believed possible in the animal kingdom. Dr Goodall achieved these breakthroughs against the odds, challenging the conventional wisdom as a young woman in a male-dominated field.

Over the years, the scope of your work has grown, from scientist and researcher, to advocate for conservation and the environment. The Jane Goodall Institute, which you founded in 1977, inspires people all around the world to live more sustainably, in harmony with animals and nature. The Singapore chapter of the Jane Goodall Institute was set up more than ten years ago. In fact, it is because of the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), or "JGIS", that we are here tonight. Please join me in giving a round of applause to the JGIS and all the volunteers who have made this evening’s dialogue possible!

Biophilic City in a Garden

A key objective of the Jane Goodall Institute is to "inspire individual action, by people of all ages, to help animals, other people and to protect the world we all share". This is aligned with our vision to transform Singapore into a "Biophilic City in a Garden".

In Singapore, we are fortunate to have inherited an appreciation that human development and care for the environment can, and must go hand in hand. Each generation is deeply aware that we are stewards of our resources, including our environment, and we have the responsibility to leave something better for our children and grandchildren.

This appreciation of sustainability and stewardship was cultivated by our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team. When they first took over full internal self-government in 1959, our land and waters were highly polluted. I remember as a kid, smelling the stench of the Singapore River long before I could see it! In those early years, despite the many pressing problems we had to solve, Mr Lee and his colleagues did not ignore the squalor and pollution that our people was living in. Mr Lee believed very strongly that a "blighted urban jungle of concrete would destroy the human spirit", and therefore pushed hard for the greening of Singapore, and the cleaning up of our polluted waterways. In 1963, he launched the first nation-wide tree-planting campaign, followed by the "Garden City" programme in 1967, and efforts to clean up the Singapore River in 1969.

In the decades since, generations of Singaporeans have built on this strong foundation. We have expanded and nurtured our historic green spaces, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Botanic Gardens, and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. We created new green spaces for our people to enjoy, and to acquire an appreciation of nature. Earlier this year, we opened the Lakeside Garden at Jurong Lake Gardens, our first national garden in the heartlands. Some of the wildlife that lived in these green spaces have become famous. For instance, the "Otterwatch" Facebook page posts regular updates on the otter family's movements and progress, and in 2018 our otters were even featured in our pre-Budget video.

Over the years, we set aside land in our land-use masterplans, and carefully integrated green spaces in our planning and design. Despite our population growth and economic development over the years, Singapore today is among one of the world's greenest cities. Over the next 15 years, we intend to further expand our green spaces from 7,800 hectares to almost 9,000 hectares. This is part of our evolving vision for our country to become a biophilic "City in a Garden".

Living harmoniously with nature and wildlife

As a biophilic City in a Garden, we need to learn to live harmoniously with nature and wildlife, which is the theme of today's panel discussion. Unlike other, larger countries where green spaces are located away from our cities, as a small island nation, our green spaces are interwoven with our homes, workplaces, and neighbourhoods. This makes our city very green and liveable. In fact, there are more than 40,000 species of flora and fauna on our little island and this is documented in an encyclopaedia – Singapore Biodiversity – that was published a few years back. Our small and highly urbanised space is well integrated with our green spaces, one that is shared with our native wildlife.

NParks has been working very hard with other government agencies and partners outside the government to minimise the impact of development on our biodiversity. For example, NParks is building a network of crossings that we hope will allow our wildlife to move safely between natural spaces. The largest and most obvious to the human eye is the "Eco-Link @ BKE" which connects the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. I am sure many Singaporeans would have seen it. But there are also many smaller, less obvious connections that may be harder for us to spot such as underground culverts and rope bridges. Hopefully, our native fauna will have less trouble spotting such crossings, and use them to travel safely all across the island!

In addition to these physical solutions, NParks has worked closely with nature groups such as the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) to educate the public on how to coexist harmoniously and safely with wildlife. For instance, JGIS, together with NParks, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, NUS and the Nature Society of Singapore, is also part of the Raffles Banded Langur Working Group. Your field surveys to map and understand these rare creatures can help save them from extinction.

Climate change

In working to conserve nature and our biodiversity, we need to pay special attention to the threat of climate change.

As PM Lee said at this year's National Day Rally, climate change is an existential issue for all of us. He spoke about the adaptation measures needed – such as building polders and seawalls.

Beyond these physical infrastructure measures, we also need to ensure that our mitigation efforts are more robust. In this regard, the Jane Goodall Institute's approach is instructive – efforts to manage our impact on nature must be built on a sound understanding of science, including human behaviour. Life on earth is deeply inter-connected. Damage to one part of the eco-system can quite easily create ripple effects elsewhere. Therefore, when we read that climate change is changing the habitat of our flora and fauna, we should recognise, and seek to understand more deeply, how these seemingly remote changes affect us, too. But at the same time, we should also recognise, and take hope from, how adaptable Mother Nature is. But it is a very fragile planet. In this way, we will understand more deeply the impact of our actions on our future, and be able to make better decisions for our collective future. For instance, the more fully we understand the prospective economic and social impact of a project, and its potential environmental impact, the better we will be able to make our decisions and modify our plans. In doing all these, we must think long-term – and not just go for expedient measures.

Working together

This conviction is also important for us as individuals. After all, many of us understand intellectually that changes to our diet and lifestyle can reduce our carbon footprint. But, whether or not we act consistently on this knowledge depends on the strength of our conviction.

Often, we get discouraged because we feel that our personal efforts are too small, on their own, to make any difference. But there is great power in the collective effect of many individual efforts. As Dr Goodall reminds us, “every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

I share her convictions. A shared sense of ownership and stewardship are key.

Therefore, I am very happy that the public is partnering NParks on many initiatives, including: Two major biodiversity surveys of the Southern Islands and Central Catchment Nature Reserve that will begin in 2020, where NParks, in partnership with the academic community and nature interest groups, will conduct biodiversity surveys to map the species of flora and fauna in these two areas; and updating the Singapore Red Data list, which serves as a common reference on the conservation status of our native flora and fauna species. This helps guide our conservation strategies. The list was last updated in 2008, so this is a timely update! These are just two of an entire suite of volunteer programmes where members of the public can partner NParks to care for our environment. Over the next five years, NParks will launch a new initiative where our people can get involved in designing new parks and upgrading existing ones. I encourage those with a keen interest in nature – like all of you here in our audience today – to participate.

Working together with the next generation

I am very heartened that so many younger Singaporeans are already very active in raising awareness about environmental issues.

The Government will support you in developing your passion. Earlier this month, I attended the Community Garden Festival, and announced that NParks is stepping up its efforts to help younger Singaporeans cultivate a passion for the environment. We will start young, by helping pre-schoolers learn about nature both in and outside the classroom. This will continue during the primary and secondary school years. At the tertiary level, we will also enhance the formal curriculum in landscaping, horticulture and ecology, for interested students to translate their passion into reality, and understand how to balance competing needs in society.

The Jane Goodall Institute's "Roots and Shoots" programme complements these efforts. You empower youth to: Identify challenges in their community, collaborate with community leaders and experts to develop a plan, and take action through youth-led projects and service campaigns. In fact, because of this programme, some of our students have even become "Ambassadors for Nature" with NParks, and help to educate their family, friends and neighbours about caring for our environment.

All these initiatives nurture and exercise a sense of shared ownership, and will allow us to tap on a wide diversity of ideas, and translate them into action. This is in keeping with the spirit of our Singapore Together Movement.


Dr Jane Goodall's example is an inspiration and encouragement for all of us on the impact that one individual can have. I invite everyone present here today to partner us in our journey. As we continue to grow our biophilic City in a Garden, and create a more beautiful and vibrant home for future generations.

I wish you a very fruitful dialogue with Dr Jane Goodall.

Thank you!