Opening address by DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Joint Opening Ceremony of the World Cities Summit at the Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit on 9 July 2018.
His Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Sri Lanka,
His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning, and to all of you who have joined us from around the world, a warm welcome to Singapore. It is a real pleasure to be here with everyone at Urban Sustainability Week 2018, which brings together three important summits – the World Cities Summit (WCS), the Singapore International Water Week (SIWW), and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS).
Achieving inclusive and sustainable cities
Let me start with a quick word about the growing and more complex challenge we face in the next 15 years, everywhere in the world. It has to do with the way in which different risks are coming together and compounding each other - the risks of poorly managed urbanisation, of climate change, of infectious disease threats, of growing young populations that are ill-equipped for the future of work, and of unequal rather than inclusive growth in many societies. They are each major risks in their own right, but they are coming together and interlocking with each other, which is why the challenge has become much larger than before.
The challenge is most severe in the developing world, especially in the poorer countries, several of which are seeing very large increases in their younger workforces in the next decade. But if the problems are not tackled effectively in any one part of the world, they will inevitably spill over into the global environment - whether through the spread of infectious diseases, forced migration or the spread of conflict and insecurity.
That’s also why it is our responsibility, wherever we are, to contribute to innovations and solutions that can be applied to solving problems elsewhere. And there is in fact great scope to spread solutions from one city to another, from one part of the world to another.
That is in fact the dynamic that the three Summits here this week aim to promote - spurring innovations in both the public and private sectors, and spreading solutions and best practices. Whether our countries are poor, rich or middle income, there is immense opportunity to learn from each other, to ensure a more sustainable environment, effective investments in human capital, and urban planning that encourages cohesive rather than segregated communities.
Spreading Innovation Globally
We have to take innovations from every source – from scientists, governments both federal and local, private enterprise, as well as NGOs and other civil society organisations. And find ways to multiply every workable innovation and adapt them to different local conditions.
Take for example, Professor Rita Colwell, whose pioneering research into the cholera bacteria discovered that it occurs naturally in the aquatic environment. Professor Colwell is this year’s LKY Water Prize laureate. She and her team have helped transform the way we seek to control cholera, and improve water safety and the lives of millions of people around the world. Prof Colwell was also the first scientist to show how global warming increases the risk of infectious diseases.
Another interesting example: from Ambikapur, a city in Chhattisgarh, a state with the highest poverty rate in India. The city leveraged on community efforts to tackle the problem of solid waste, and turn waste into an income-generating resource. Solid and Liquid Resource Management centres were set up across the city, run by women from low-income homes, to sort out organic and inorganic waste, and resell compost or recyclable products in the market. It became both a financially self-sustaining and environmentally friendly project. Its success has spurred similar programmes across Chhattisgarh and other states.
Here in Singapore, we are constantly looking out for new solutions to environmental problems that we can adapt or integrate. A good example of integration is our new mega facility in Tuas, which comprises a wastewater treatment plant and a waste-to-energy plant. We will name this facility the Tuas Nexus to reflect our thinking around the water-energy-waste nexus.
Each plant will incorporate best-in-class technologies to improve their energy efficiency and produce cleaner discharge and emissions. But we have gone a step further to bring these technologies together in a way that works best for us, especially given our land and natural resource constraints. We have combined the two plants into a single facility and integrated their operational processes. For example, used water sludge from the wastewater treatment process will be co-digested with food waste from the waste-to-energy plant to increase biogas generation. This will raise land productivity, and use circular economy principles to reduce our emissions and maximise resource recovery.
Water is also a good example of how we have grown our efforts in Singapore to help stimulate and share innovation around the challenges and opportunities facing cities. Today, we have 200 companies and 25 public and private R&D Centres with over 14,000 people working on water.
There is also much potential in the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, or ASCN, that we launched earlier this year. It is a collaborative platform of 26 ASEAN cities which are working towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development.
Developing community engagement and initiative
Beyond making the most of technology, it is also critical that we empower communities and develop the social capital that helps ensure that urban innovations have broadly felt benefits.
Medellin in Colombia is a well-known example of how the city government engaged multiple stakeholders in its projects and interventions to develop urban inclusivity - including the hillside escalators, cable cars and other public transport modes that especially benefits its lower-income neighbourhoods, and the multi-use public amenities like amphitheatres and sports facilities that are accessible to all.
Seoul, who is this year’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate is another strong example of city leadership that has worked through the community:
The Seoul Metropolitan Government set up citizen committees and smart digital platforms such as the mVoting system, to allow participants to voice their opinions, deliberate issues and build consensus for city-level solutions.
The Seoul Plan 2030 – Seoul’s urban master plan – has also involved a representative 100-member Citizen Group in shaping the future vision for the city. At the local level, Seoul citizens also take part in setting the agenda through neighbourhood or dong community planning programmes.
In Singapore, community involvement and consultation is part and parcel of the planning process. We are also developing new ways for local stakeholders to work together. An initiative now being developed is Virtual Singapore - a digital twin of the entire physical Singapore, mapped out in 3D and based on real-time dynamic data. It has many potential uses. For example, in visualising how local upgrading projects will change the landscape, and to ensure that we plan for barrier-free routes for senior citizens. JTC Corporation is also developing planning tools in Virtual Singapore that will enable it to involve stakeholders more actively in the design of our industrial estates, including the road networks and public transport amenities. The full Virtual Singapore platform will be ready by the end of this year, initially for use by government agencies, before being progressively made available to companies and the public over the next few years.
We have much to learn from each other. Between countries and cities rich and poor, and between the public and private sectors, the community and civil society. I wish you all productive exchanges over the coming week, as you deliberate and share best practices on how we can develop innovative and cohesive urban communities globally.
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