Speech by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon at the NCCS-C40 Co-Organised Forum "From Ambition to Action - The Vital Role of Cities in Achieving the Paris Agreement”
A very good morning, and to our foreign guests, welcome once again to Singapore. It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning for this high-level Mayor’s Forum that is jointly organised by the C40 and the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) of Singapore.
As more of the global population live within cities, cities have become a critical focal point for developing urban solutions. As one of the largest gatherings of mayors, city leaders and global urban thinkers, policy-makers, the World Cities Summit (WCS) is a useful platform for policy-makers and practitioners to discuss issues and challenges that cities face as well as collaborate on innovations and some of the opportunities that arise from some of these challenges.
Over the past few days, we have had various sessions to discuss on different aspects of innovative urban solutions and best practices. What was evident from these discussions is that there is actually no one simple “one size fits all” kind of solution that would tailor to the needs of different cities. Cities come with different challenges, they are of different sizes, at different stages of development. So I think we need to have more cross sharing of ideas in order to pick the best practices from different places to fit the needs of our own cities. Close collaboration between city leaders and stakeholders is therefore crucial to create successful urban solutions.
Climate Change and Singapore
Climate change is one key example of such a challenge in a global setting that requires such close collaboration amongst cities. Singapore is already experiencing the impact of climate change today. In 2014, we experienced a record dry spell while 2015 was the warmest year on record for Singapore. Even in the last few weeks, we had one of the hottest weather this year – just a couple of weeks ago, the temperature is still in the thirties past midnight, and that is really hot, even for Singaporeans.
We were impacted also by heavy rainfalls – so we have extremes of weather, either dry, too hot in one year, and we get extreme rainfalls in other years, and in recent years these have contributed to areas of flash flooding, even within the city of Singapore.
These unfortunately, will likely persist – extreme climate patterns, as studies have shown that our daily mean temperatures could rise by 1.4 °C to 4.6 °C towards the last few decades of this century.
While climate change affects all countries and cities, Singapore is unique in a sense that it is a city, but also a country. Our unique circumstances affect how we respond to some of these challenges. As a small, tropical island city-state – a city and a country at the same time, of just 719 square kilometres in terms of land area. If you travel from Singapore from one end to another it is about 42-43km, even in the best of Singapore’s traffic jams, you get there in half an hour, so that’s how big we are. We have to accommodate not just housing but also commercial activities, commercial centres, industries, in this small land space. We have ports – we have airports, we have sea ports, production plants, heavy industries, all within our city limits. We also face challenges in reducing our emissions because the city, the country, does have industries as well, and given our lack of access to renewable energy sources whether it is hydro-electric, whether it is geothermal, we face a lot more challenges in trying to cope with such emissions.
Fortunately, we had a head start – sustainable development has been a key priority since our independence in 1965, I would say it has become a part of our DNA as a nation. We were ahead of our time talking about sustainable development; the concept was internationally recognised only later, but we were forced by our circumstances, we know we have limited resources, we know we have limited land, so from the outset when the nation began in 1965, we have made sustainable development part of our DNA. A clean and green environment is important not just to create a pleasant living environment our people. It is also an important and crucial ingredient in attracting foreign investments. Nobody wants to be deployed to a place where they face challenges of living every day, so in terms of attracting foreign investment, a clean, safe, sustainable environment is also a pre-requisite. Therefore, as a city-state, we seek to constantly balance the need for economic growth and the need to protect our environment.
Climate Action Plan
Now we have seen global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And as a global citizen, as a player in the international forum, Singapore would like to play our part as well. You would say, well, how much greenhouse gas do we contribute as a tiny island of 719 square kilometres, maybe 0.1 per cent. So in terms of absolute emissions, even if we had zero emissions, it is not going to make a big change to the global greenhouse gas control. But I think it is through organising forums like this that we catalyse mindshare, that we catalyse change among the decision makers in other cities as well, that we hope to play a part in galvanising global action to tackle climate change.
Singapore has made a commitment to reduce our emissions in terms of intensity by 36 per cent from our 2005 levels, so that by 2030 – this is the time that we will achieve a maximum peak for our emissions, and thereafter hopefully stabilise and decrease beyond 2030. We have signed the Paris Agreement at the high-level signatory ceremony in April along with more than 170 other countries.
Singapore has recently developed our Climate Action Plan which our President Tony Tan announced at the opening of the World Cities Summit, and I am sure many of you would have heard him give his speech. The Climate Action Plan outlines Singapore’s key strategies to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions up to 2030. Energy efficiency across all sectors is and will continue to be Singapore’s key strategy to reduce emissions. Other than just reducing production, we want to tell our people to be more conscious about energy consumption as well, because we do not have a ready supply, a ready source of natural energy within our land boundaries. Most of our energy is exported from elsewhere to generate electricity. At the same time, we will continue to explore ways to generate cleaner power, and develop new low-carbon technologies for development and deployment in Singapore. Over the last couple of days you would have heard in some of the forums that we are developing the use of solar panels in our housing estates, our public housing, so that we rely on more clean energy as the years go by.
The Climate Action Plan also outlines the potential impact of climate change on Singapore and our approach to adapt to key risks such as rising sea levels, increase in temperatures and extreme weather patterns. We have already implemented some climate change adaptation measures to keep Singapore and our people safe. Over the last 30 years, we have invested some S$2 billion Singapore dollars in building and upgrading Singapore’s drainage infrastructure. This has help to reduce flood prone areas in Singapore by more than a hundred-fold.
We have also introduced suitable coastal protection measures, such as building of seawalls and raising of selected coastal roads, otherwise with the rising sea levels, you would be swimming in Singapore, like in Venice. More recently, flood barriers have also been installed to keep our essential services running well. Since 2011, minimum reclamation levels have been raised by at least one metre just to make sure that as the sea level rises over the rest of the decades, you would still have a Singapore to visit for your next few C40s.
Food security – that is another area of concern, it is another area that will be affected by extreme weather changes. Today, Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of the food we consume. As you enjoy your meal today, you will remember that all these food comes from everywhere else outside of Singapore. Because we have limited land for farming, and there will be greater uncertainty as the years go by, as climate change starts to impact the global food supply, production volumes of food globally will be reduced due to climate change. Singapore will therefore need to continue to diversity our food sources so that we can remain resilient in our food supply.
But beyond that, beyond just increasing diversification of our food supply, I see Singapore as playing a part as well, in transforming our farming sector so that we can be more productive. Even though farming as an industry is a very small part in land scarce Singapore, I think our agriculture sector is quite different from the traditional agriculture sector that you know of in your own country. We do not farm in big land plots, what we do is encourage our farmers to adopt technology to go into high technology intensive farming, indoor farming, vertical farming, so that we can do more with less, and we can try to at least have some degree of self-sufficiency and resilience in certain specific key food types, things like leafy vegetables, food fish, hens eggs. We can’t farm everything, but I think these are the items that I think we can do in an indoor setting. Local farms will need to really leverage on technology to be highly productive, and this is an area which I think we will be driving. Much in the same way as our water story, we come from an era where we are water insufficient for our own needs, and leveraging on technology, we are now water self-sufficient. We hope that with the use of technology we can at least achieve some degree of resilience in our food supply as well.
While we have bold domestic plans, Singapore also collaborates actively with international partners, such as the UNFCCC, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), ASEAN and city-networks such as the C40, to share share our experiences, to share best practices and to gain knowledge from our partners on climate change and green growth issues. We have also broadened and deepened our own technical cooperation programmes to share experiences with other developing countries. Just as we have benefited from sharing by other people to get us to where we are today, we are always happy to share what we know with everyone else. To date, we have conducted programmes for over 10,700 officials in climate change and sustainable development issues alone.
In particular, C40 has been a valuable platform for Singapore. Since joining the C40 in 2012, Singapore has benefitted by learning best practices from Mayors from other cities in the network. It is also a platform for Singapore to share our knowledge in areas such as urban planning and land transport with other C40 cities as well. Long term planning, master planning has always been something that we focus a lot on, because if you imagine you have a very small real estate, every square inch counts, you have a small apartment, you better make sure you buy the right size furniture, otherwise once you are committed to something big, there goes the rest of you space in the apartment – so we always take master planning very seriously.
As an active member, we have been contributing in a number of C40 networks such as the Connecting Delta Cities (CDC) network, the Green Growth network and the Private Building Energy Efficiency network. We have also co-organised events and workshops with C40, such as the “City-scale Climate Action Planning in East and Southeast Asia” by the World Bank, Australia Aid, C40 and our course, our own Centre for Liveable Cities. More recently, we organised a one-day programme in Singapore for delegates to understand more about the challenges of climate change adaptation as well as Singapore’s approach to addressing them in October last year.
It is clear that countries and cities can work together to maintain the positive momentum generated at COP-21 in Paris and Singapore will continue to do so. I hope the international community will continue to sustain the momentum.
Let me conclude by wishing all of you a fruitful Conference and I hope in the midst of attending all the worthwhile programmes here, you will find some time to spend and see the sights, experience the sounds, the taste of Singapore food as well, and have an enjoyable time in Singapore. Thank you very much.
Source: Ministry of National Development