Opening Speech by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim at the Better Air Quality 2010 Conference on Air Quality in a Changing Climate
Ms Janette Sadik-Khan
Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation
Mr Robert O’Keefe
Chairman, Clean Air Initiative – Asia Center
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I am honoured to join you today at the Better Air Quality 2010 (BAQ 2010) Conference, organised by the Clean Air Initiative – Asia Center, in partnership with the National Environment Agency, Land Transport Authority, Singapore Tourism Board, World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
People Want Clean Air
2. People all around the world want fresh, clean air. Indeed, studies have shown that clean air is vital for good health and general well-being. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO)1 estimated that more than 2 million premature deaths each year can be attributed to the effects of air pollution.
3. The trouble is, man is also mainly responsible for much of the pollutants that are emitted into our atmosphere, such as from slash and burn agricultural practices, and burning of fuels for power, industrial production and transport. Air pollution is therefore one of the key issues that many countries are grappling with.
4. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation pose added challenges that cities, in particular, have to tackle. In 2008, half the world’s population live in urban areas. This is projected to reach 70 per cent by 2050, with much of the growth concentrated in Asia and Africa. Asia alone is projected to gain 1.8 billion more urban dwellers by 2050. In addition, 11 of the 19 existing mega-cities (cities with population above 10 million) are located in Asia, with 5 more expected by 20502.
5. The convergence of people, ideas and capital through urbanisation has been a powerful economic force that has transformed societies. In his book, Whole Earth Discipline, American author, Stewart Brand, takes a contrarian view from some environmentalists and argues that urbanization is not necessarily bad for the environment either. For one, he notes that packing more people in cities mean that more space can be left for nature. Cities also help transform agricultural practices through innovation, thus helping to reduce unsustainable practices such as slash and burn.
6. Our experience here in Singapore has been that with foresight, careful planning and good execution, it is indeed possible to strike a balance between economic growth and environment protection, and create a liveable and lively city for current and future generations.
7. When Singapore gained independence in the 60s, industrialisation was a key anchor for creating employment, stability and growth for our young nation. However, we were determined to do so whilst avoiding the ills that industrial towns and cities in those days were beset with, cognisant of the fact that this 700 square kilometre island was all that we had to call home.
8. Stringent measures were thus put in place, overseen by an Anti-Pollution Unit that reported directly to the Prime Minister. From the planning stage, such as locating pollutive industries away from residential areas, down to mandating and enforcing strict emission standards, we have been careful to calibrate our air pollution control measures to strike a fine balance between supporting economic development and ensuring a high quality of life. These measures have served Singapore well over the past four decades, as can be seen by our good ambient air quality record. I am proud to say that for most years, except when we were affected by transboundary smoke haze, our local Pollutive Standards Index (PSI) readings were in the ‘Good’ range for about 90 per cent or more of the days, with the rest in the ‘Moderate’ range. Many who have been here and abroad have also complimented us for our clean air.
9. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. New challenges continue to emerge even as our national circumstances and our people’s expectations change over time.
Global Response Needed for Our Changing Climate
10. A key challenge that we and the global community need to tackle is climate change. In its 4th Assessment Report released in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “future climate change may cause significant air quality degradation by changing the dispersion rate of pollutants; the chemical environment for ozone and particle pollution generation; and the strength of emissions from the biosphere, fires, and dust.”
11. The effects of climate change will affect all nations, and Asia will not be spared. With the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol coming to an end soon, many had hoped that the Copenhagen Climate Conference last December would be able to deliver a fair and equitable agreement that sets the world on a more sustainable path. However, this was not realised, owing to the complexity and deep ramifications that resolving the issue entails. Much more effort is needed for the international community to cut through the Gordian knot and map out a way forward. Singapore will continue to support and help move the negotiation process.
12. Notwithstanding the impasse, we are moving forward to do our bit in response to the climate challenge as a responsible member of the global community. In so doing, we continue to build upon our past efforts to make Singapore the best home to live, work and play. In fact, many of the measures put in place to mitigate the impacts of climate change also have a positive impact on improving air quality.
13. In this regard, a Sustainable Singapore Blueprint was released in April 2009. The work of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development, the Blueprint sets out a national framework and strategies to guide and ensure that Singapore continues on the path of sustainable development in response to local and global challenges such as climate change, in its next lap of growth in the coming 20 years.
14. One of the key goals in the Blueprint is to achieve an economy-wide energy intensity reduction of 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, through measures such as promoting energy efficiency and increasing public transport usage. Specific air quality targets have also been set. We aim to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels from 16 microgram per cubic metre (µg/m3) to 12µg/m3 and cap sulphur dioxide levels at 15 µg/m3 by 2020, and to maintain them at these levels till 2030 even as economy continues to grow.
15. Seeing how climate change and air pollution knows no boundaries, we are also actively engaging our regional partners on these issues. In fact, just a short while back, the people in this region were reminded yet again of the challenges of tackling transboundary smoke haze pollution, caused by forest and peatland fires from unsustainable land clearing practices. The countries in the region are cooperating to tackle the problem through bilateral and regional mechanisms such as the ASEAN sub-regional Ministerial Steering Committee on transboundary haze pollution. International partnerships, such as Norway’s US$1 billion deal with Indonesia to manage the latter’s forests more sustainably, are ways in which other countries can help curb carbon emissions and air pollution from forest degradation and deforestation.
Better Air Quality Requires Our Concerted Effort
16. Access to clean air will continue to be one of the key requisites for a liveable city, among others such as housing and employment; access to fresh water, health and safety; and availability of educational and recreational amenities. This requires the concerted effort from all stakeholders.
17. Governments will need to continue providing policy framework and overarching programmes to support city plans and actions for reducing emissions and sustainable development. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media play an important role in raising public awareness. The private sector is no less important in doing their part to protect the environment. Universities and research institutes are indispensible partners as they are at the forefront of technical solutions to tackle air pollution and climate change. Individual citizens also have a part to play through simple measures such as reducing energy usage and taking public transport.
18. On the broader global front, countries will need to evolve their own approaches to improve air quality and mitigate climate change, in consideration of their different geographical configurations and cultures. Although there is no “one-size fits all” solution, it is imperative that each of us do our part, whilst contributing to the global effort to address the challenges in maintaining good air quality and mitigating the effects of climate change.
19. In this regard, I am happy to note that this conference has brought together policy makers, civil societies, academia, experts, private sectors, international organisations and media from around the world, and especially Asia, to discuss and exchange ideas on achieving better air quality against the backdrop of a changing climate. I am confident that it will galvanise us to take even greater strides to ensure that even as we grow our economies, we take active steps to reduce the impact of our development on natural resources and the environment, for our present and future generations.
20. In closing, I wish all our overseas friends an enjoyable stay here in Singapore, and for all the participants, a successful and fruitful conference.
21. Thank you.
1World Heath Report 2002, Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2002.
2World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2008
Source: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources