Keynote Address by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources at the Young NTUC Green Jobs Symposium and Networking 2017, 8 November 2017
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES AT THE YOUNG NTUC GREEN JOBS SYMPOSIUM AND NETWORKING 2017, 8 NOVEMBER 2017
Mr Desmond Choo,
Executive Secretary of Young NTUC and MP of Tampines GRC
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you to all of you for coming this afternoon, as we see how we can address your queries, your search for a possible career in the green industry.
THE NEED FOR CLIMATE ACTION
But first, before we talk about the green industry, let us talk about what is driving all these. What is driving this, is our worries about climate change. Because ultimately, when we talk about pollution, it has an immediate effect – it is what we breath, what we drink, what we see. It usually has immediate health impacts. But climate change is going to cause tens of millions of people to be forced from their homes. When? By the end of this century. If we look at what is happening around the world recently, the weather pattern is changing. We see this even in Singapore. For example, in July when it was supposed to be dry season, it was raining. Growing up, I remember that Singapore has four seasons too – wet and wetter, hot and hotter. And we know that it always rains in June and December. And the rest of the time is generally very dry. But for the past few years, and the last decade, it has not been so. If you look at what happened in the US recently, the hurricanes that came at the heel of one another in a matter of weeks is phenomenal. People who understand weather are really frightened.
You saw what happened to our neighbours recently. Just a week ago, in Vietnam and Malaysia, therefore we must worry for ourselves. That is why we have signed the Paris Climate agreement, because in addressing climate change, it is not about what one or two countries can do; it is what everyone must do. Therefore, we must orientate ourselves towards this fight against climate change at the international, regional, national and individual levels.
For our Ministry, we are going to take action quickly. Indeed, for 2018, we are going to declare it the year for Climate Action. We want to rally companies and every individual to understand that every bit we do to reduce the greenhouse impact on the climate matters. Even for small countries like ours. Infact, more so for us, because we are a low-lying island, and we are very vulnerable. If Penang can be inundated with just one day’s rain, which is equivalent to one and a half month’s rain, and if this phenomenon repeats itself for weeks or days, Singapore too will be inundated. A storm surge, a high tide, is a worrying phenomenon that we will see more of at the end of the century, if we do not do anything together.
Three years ago, we launched the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015, or SSB 2015. It maps out our strategies for sustainable development. For my Ministry particularly, we want to achieve what we call a Zero Waste Nation. There are a lot of opportunities there. We also talk about a car-lite society, a sustainable urban development, green energy and so forth. All these put together, is not just about making Singapore a vibrant and sustainable city, but also if you read SSB 2015, it talks about opportunity. While climate change is like a crisis, on the flip side, there is also opportunity. This green economy is the opportunity to respond to this crisis.
One such area is the adoption of renewable energy. For Singapore, this largely means solar energy. The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) launched the SolarNova programme to promote and aggregate solar demand across government agencies. This is important, because aggregating demand allows scale. There will be economy of scale, and costs will be driven down, which means it would be more viable. Indeed, in Singapore, we do not need to subsidise solar energy. Many companies have made it their corporate strategy to actually acquire renewable energy. Yesterday I met with Mr Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS, for the POSB 140th year anniversary. I was happy to hear from him that POSB is one of the first banks to be under RE100, to subscribe to buying only renewable energy, and they have enough renewable energy now to power all their branches in Singapore, and they will continue to do so. I think all these spurring of demand for solar energy, will lead to an increase in demand for skilled employees who understand how to use their skills to supply the demand that many industries in Singapore will want.
GREEN JOB OPPORTUNITIES
I hope that at the same time, it is not just about the opportunities, but how you see these opportunities. There may also be a need for a shift in what you were trained for, and where the opportunities lie, therefore the kind of skills you need to acquire. Opportunities will be offered in the job itself, there will also be opportunities in R&D, creative solutions and things you will need to support the industry, and not just the industry itself.
At the Asia Clean Energy Summit (ACES) last month, six new clean energy investments in the fields of solar, wind, microgrids and energy management in Singapore were announced. About 400 professional jobs will be created and S$500 million in cumulative business spending has been projected in the next five years. We are not talking about an end-of-century situation; we are talking about now. Now is the time for you to seize these opportunities, as there are a lot of these areas where there will be shortage, if not already felt by many of the people in the industry. I see so many young faces here, you are the kind of people they would want, people who can shift, people who can think differently. If you don’t have a young face, have a young heart. I am sure you can pick up new skills and get something done for yourselves.
The Government also recently announced the Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for the construction industry. The ITM targets to have 80,000 personnel trained in digital technology – talking about digital technology, I was just briefed about our new Deep Tunnel Sewage System (DTSS), which is very much involving digital imaging; things we did not do in the first DTSS. It is a very new approach of being able to see things ahead of time as you construct, and not make mistakes as you construct. So I think that those kinds of areas are very new areas that are very much in demand. Like I mentioned, digital technology, pre-fabrication and green building capabilities by 2025, up from 32,600 currently. Green building technology is part of the sustainability sector. It can contribute $6.2 billion to Singapore’s GDP and provide about 50,000 - 60,000 jobs
NEA has been working with the industry, union and other stakeholders to develop the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map or ES ITM. This is beyond just productivity measures. I would be announcing it soon, but it is the overall vision of what I said just now – to achieve a Zero Waste Nation vision. Although not quite visible, because all these, though essential, are all in the background. You make a mess, you go home, someone cleans up for you. It is the same thing, you make a mess, someone incinerate for you and do something about the ash. In that alone, there are so many opportunities for business, technology and R&D. And we are going to do it differently, in years to come. And, as we all know, only transformation can sustain Singapore’s competitiveness for the future. We cannot continue doing what we have been doing. The old economy, as we know, services, finance and so forth, are necessary, but are not enough to take us forward. There are competitors that are much bigger than us, like China for example. Therefore, what we need to do is to ensure that the ITMs are transformational, even for cleaning and waste management sectors. At the end of the day, we want to grow good jobs that will also develop technology that would not only let us lead in that sector, but also to be exportable.
But if you look at what NEA is doing, like I mentioned, we must also not neglect traditional economies, and that includes even the hawker trade. There are things that we are doing in the hawker trade to not just increase productivity, but to make sure that is a viable trade for even the young people to go in. There are five stalls that I know in Ci Yuan CC where young graduates have taken over and run in very clever ways. What Ci Yuan has done is to curate recipes from hawkers who are giving up their trade – one is Penang Chendol and the other is a chicken rice stall. And the people who do not want to do this work anymore, were selling fantastic hawker fare. So the entrepreneur bought the recipe and the process of producing the food, and trained young people. I know one came from Republic Polytechnic, one came from NUS. They took over this trade, tried it out, and they are still there. And they are producing really good chicken rice – I cannot taste it as it is not halal, but I know the Penang Chendol is very good. So go to Ci Yuan, be inspired, look at them, and look at possibilities. We are not just talking about green technology in the sense of technology in the high-end, but also how we use productivity measures to develop sustainable jobs.
PREPARING FOR THE GREEN INDUSTRY
Your roles in the green industry will have an impact on Singaporeans. A green economy is where every country is advancing towards – they are going very big on this. I just came back from Holland, and I saw that they are way ahead of us in the way they think, the things they do and the kinds of jobs they are producing. These are really exciting times. Have we done it before? Yes. We have done well in water technology. We were innovative, we were producing what people had thrown away through sewage, we have converted it to NEWater, made it drinkable, make it something we can rely on, when for example, our Johor waterworks was not running. Not only have we just produced jobs, our companies like Hyflux, have produced some of the biggest water plants in the world, because of what we did in Singapore. That is what we want to do in the ES ITM.
So I hope all of you will find a way into this ITM, or the 23 others that we will be announcing. I will be doing for my sector soon, and I hope that as we transform together, we also, at the end of the day, will have a better liveable environment for ourselves as well as for the next generation.