DPM Teo Chee Hean at the 3rd Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific (A/P Forum)

DPM TEO Chee Hean | 25 January 2019

DPM Teo Chee Hean's speech at the 3rd Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific (A/P Forum) at Marina Bay Sands.

 

Your Excellency Maithripala Sirisena

President of Sri Lanka

 

Your Excellency Enele Sopoaga

Prime Minister of Tuvalu

 

Your Excellency Siim Kiisler

Minister of the Environment of Estonia and

President of the 4th Session of the UN Environment Assembly

 

Your Excellency Joyce Msuya

Acting Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme

 

Our Chairman, Mr Masagos Zulkifli

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources of Singapore

 

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

 Good morning, and a warm welcome to Singapore to our overseas guests. I am happy to join you at the Third Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of the Asia Pacific, or the A/P Forum.

Singapore is pleased to host this Forum, which will serve as a key preparatory meeting for the 4th Session of the UN Environment Assembly. I hope that this meeting will send a strong signal of our region’s commitment to working together to address our key sustainability and environmental challenges.

Global context

The world population continues to grow rapidly. In 2000, the global population stood at 6.1 billion. By 2018, it had grown to 7.6 billion. This will continue to increase, and is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050. The UN predicts that 68% of people will live in urban areas, up from 55% today. This translates to an additional 2.5 billion people in urban areas, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa.

We want to improve the lives of our increasing global population, by providing each person with better nutrition, better health care, better housing, better education, and better protection against the vagaries of nature. But a larger population will also consume more energy, emit more greenhouse gases, and generate more waste and pollution - if we carry on business as usual.Many of our cities are already suffocating from pollution, choked with traffic, facing water stress, challenged by solid waste disposal, and experiencing more frequent and intense climate-related disasters. Climate change has already become one of the most pressing challenges of our time, and this is felt most keenly by many of the countries who are represented here today at this forum. If we do not fundamentally change our way of life and how we use our resources, our planet may not be able to sustain all of us.

A growing population will also exacerbate other global challenges. Today, 3 in 10 people worldwide still lack access to clean drinking water, and 6 in 10 lack access to hygienic sanitation facilities. Many of our children are still not getting the education they need: over 265 million children are currently out of school and 22% of them are of primary school age. As a result, millions of people – many of them children – die every year from diseases caused by inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene, while many of those who survive do not have the education they need. Without these basic necessities, families, communities and countries cannot improve their health, education and income, which are vital to help people acquire the knowledge, skills and values needed for the global challenges that we all face.

So how can we achieve a better quality of life but without exceeding the capacity of our planet to sustain us? We need more comprehensive measures of human progress that go beyond economic indicators like GDP per capita. We should also consider more holistic indicators of quality of life such as the human development index, which is a composite index of life expectancy, education and per capita income.

Another useful framework for inclusive and sustainable growth is, of course, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) and 169 targets.These are essentially 169 ways in which we can achieve progress together and make sure that no one is left behind. Singapore participated in the voluntary national review of our SDGs at the UN last July together with 45 other countries. These reviews are useful as they help all participating countries take stock of progress, learn from one another, and strive to do better.

What can we do?

Every country and every citizen has a part to play to put us on a global path of sustainable development. While a growing population means a growing demand on resources, it can also mean more people who can contribute to the solutions that improve global well-being if we educate and organize ourselves well. Let me elaborate on three key areas that we can focus on to reinforce the points that our earlier speakers had spoken about, namely Embracing Technology, Getting the Economics Right, and Working Together.

First, embracing technology. Technology can be a double-edged sword, but it is up to us to make the best use of technology through policies to harness technology well. The Industrial Revolution in the developed countries brought great progress and economic growth, but also led to a massive escalation, for example, in the use of coal, emission of greenhouse gases and the pollution of land and water courses. However, as these countries developed, their people also desired, even demanded, a better environment, and were prepared to invest resources to achieve this. If we use technology right, it can be a valuable tool to unlock solutions to overcome resource constraints and help us achieve a better and more sustainable future. There are many successful examples in our region.

In the South and Southeast Asian region, the Asian Development Bank and the International Rice Research Institute have been using technology to develop climate-resilient rice and water-saving cultivation methods, which allow farmers to produce adequate yield even where there is a shortage of water. This has contributed to enhancing food resilience in the region. In India, the deployment of mini-grid and standalone solar home systems helped complete the electrification of all its villages in 2018. This was hailed by the International Energy Agency as one of the greatest success stories in access to energy. The delivery of electricity with modern and appropriate technology, to some of the hardest-to-reach homes in India, has opened up a whole new world of education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for many communities.

Closer to home, Singapore has been using technology to overcome our size and geographical constraints, which have limited the options that we have for alternative forms of clean energy. We are carrying out research and development into the science of cities, and experimenting with a variety of green urban solutions. We have invested heavily in solar energy, which is currently the most technically and economically viable form of renewable energy in Singapore given our tropical climate and limited land area. In 2016, we experimented with floating solar photovoltaic (or PV) test-beds on one of our reservoirs. We found that these solar panels performed 5 to 15% better than rooftop systems in our climate due to the cooler temperatures of the reservoir environment. With the favourable results, we are now conducting engineering and environmental studies to deploy floating solar systems in other reservoirs and along our coast line, including a 100 Megawatt peak commercial system at one of our reservoirs. In a land-scarce city like Singapore, our reservoirs not only serve as a key source of drinking water, but can now also contribute to our clean energy as well.

Second, getting the economics right. We need to fully reflect the cost of externalities when we price our resources, so that consumers and businesses take into account the real cost of using these resources and avoid excessive consumption or waste. In Singapore, we price water to reflect the full costs of its supply and production, and also impose a water conservation tax to reflect its scarcity value. Energy, including renewables, is priced at market cost to encourage efficient usage. From the start of this year, we have also introduced a carbon tax to put a direct price on green-house gas emissions.We will use the carbon tax revenue to provide grants and incentives to help businesses reduce their emissions and become more carbon efficient.

Some countries in our region are also implementing other strategies to send the right price signal to consumers and businesses. For example, South Korea and China are implementing an Emissions Trading Scheme, or ETS, which puts a cap on the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and lets market forces determine the price for emissions. China’s ETS will involve an initial 1,700 power companies and more than 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, making it the largest carbon market in the world. We hope that these schemes will spur more innovation among companies to reduce emissions, adopt low carbon solutions, and develop products and services for the green economy in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.

Third, we need to form partnerships and work together more closely to achieve more. Sustainability is too complex and interlinked for us to resolve on our own. At the global level, we need to strengthen multilateral cooperation and collective action, which are needed to address global environmental challenges such as deforestation, transboundary haze pollution, and maritime pollution including plastics.Fortunately, the majority of countries in the world still remain committed to a multilateral approach to addressing these global issues. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on the phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) entered into force in January this year; and the adoption of the Katowice Climate Package, last December, provided a set of agreed guidelines for the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement.

As a region, we need to work together to share best practices, exchange experiences and expertise, and find solutions together. We also need to bring all stakeholders – including the private sector, civil society, the scientific community and our citizens – together, as they can contribute different perspectives. Cross-fertilisation of ideas and leveraging one another’s expertise can help us to come up with new ideas and solutions.

We have several examples of successful collaborations in the region. The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City is one such highlight. After ten years of hard work, the barren saline wasteland in the Tianjin Binhai Area has now become a low-carbon, liveable and vibrant smart city for more than 80,000 residents and 6,500 businesses, with plans on track to grow to 350,000 residents. Singapore and the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are working together, involving many private sector players, to create a liveable and sustainable smart city in Amaravati. Singapore has also encouraged the sharing of experiences through our Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), which since 1992 has seen 123,000 officials attending our programmes, in particular our friends in the small island states.

Conclusion

Platforms such as this Asia Pacific Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities provide an effective avenue for countries in our region to share experiences and work together to tackle environmental challenges and achieve sustainable development. Ultimately, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals are about solidarity and cooperation to make our world better.They are about how we can work together to make better use of our precious resources, grow sustainably, and achieve progress in a world with a growing population, without leaving anyone behind.I am confident that our discussions at this meeting will help shape a shared vision for the region and create innovative solutions that will put the Asia Pacific on a more resource efficient and sustainable pathway for future generations.

I wish all of you fruitful and engaging discussions. Thank you Mr Chairman.

 

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Environment

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