This is an original article by Yao Kun and edited by Global Initiatives.
Perhaps the surest sign of Singapore’s focus on sustainability lies in the recent rebranding of the government agency in charge of the environment. In renaming the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), Singapore embraces the key term of ‘sustainability’, which has become a crucial objective for the government.
In a world where Singapore’s survival is hinged upon adaptation in a post-pandemic world, anxious about our new climate realities, this pivot towards sustainability signals a positive change for our government.
But this begs the question: What exactly has changed, and what has the government done to drive the sustainability revolution? To understand this, we take a closer look at the policies and the attitudes the government has adopted.
Sowing the seeds of change
To do this, one must first parse through the government’s policies and how they incentivize change for green and sustainable initiatives. In doing so, we observe what kinds of initiatives the government hopes will blossom, and how they will help make our economy more sustainable.
Firstly, the MSE announced that there will be more than 50,000 new and upgraded jobs in the field of sustainability in the next ten years. Of this, about 4,000 of these jobs will be made available by 2021. These jobs range from high tech agricultural jobs to ‘food and safety guardians’ at food establishments, which will help raise local food production capabilities, to improving waste management standards.
To some extent, these sustainability efforts are a reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as global food supply chains are disrupted, and sanitation standards become ever so important. The focus on job creation in the field of sustainability allows for a greater collective effort to face these existential challenges faced by our country.
Secondly, the MSE will offer scholarship grants to those who are aligned and passionate about the mission of the ministry, especially in the field of climate adaptation and climate science. With this new scholarship, the MSE signals the strong and growing sustainability industry, attracting new talents to explore opportunities within this field. In doing so, they create greater diversity, and a larger ‘hive mind’ to think and redefine sustainability efforts in the future.
Beyond the creation of jobs and academic opportunities, the MSE has also heavily invested in infrastructure development within our local businesses. For example, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has recently offered nine farms close to 40 million dollars to develop and advance new technologies within the agri-food industry.
These funds will help to defray the costs of innovation and expansion, especially as these farms introduce new and efficient ways of producing local food. For instance, the farms will incorporate the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to monitor the growth and health of produce such as Chye Sim and lettuce. While nascent in its development, the SFA aims to expand our local food production capabilities to about 30% of our needs by 2030.
Apart from the development of these farms, the MSE has also focused on building infrastructural capacity in our country. As the ministry aims to become a circular economy and a zero-waste nation, it has also continued the development of important facilities to help reduce waste and conserve water.
Perhaps the most promising of these integrated facilities is the Tuas Nexus, a do-it-all facility that can manage waste, treat water, generate electricity, and generate enough energy to power all waterwork facilities by 2021.
Developments such as the expansion of the Changi NEWater Factory are also being built with the aim of reducing the water consumption of households to 130 litres per capita per day by 2030. Elsewhere, the introduction of NEWSand will also be a facility where waste can be transformed into construction materials, while NEWOil will convert discarded plastics to alternative fuel.
These are the multifaceted initiatives planned by our government to not only become more self-sustaining, but also become a zero-waste nation striving towards a circular economy.
It would be a mistake, however, to attribute all these changes solely to the rebranding of the MSE. Indeed, the drive for sustainable change has been a focus even in the pre-pandemic world, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) expanding green financing initiatives for financial companies to become more resilient against climate change. This policy incentivizes companies in Singapore to convert their vulnerabilities into opportunities, especially in a region that is deeply threatened by climate change.
A multi-ministry approach
One must therefore acknowledge that Singapore’s drive towards sustainability is not simply the work of the MSE, but rather a philosophy imbued into the policies of all the ministries.
This is perhaps best elucidated in Mr. Desmond Lee’s first interview as the Minister of National Development, who spoke at length about pushing the boundaries of sustainability. In the interview, he conveyed that “The notion of sustainability is also a mindset” and that “Sustainability has to be a whole-of-government approach”.
Ms. Grace Fu, the Minister of Sustainability and the Environment, also conveyed a similar message when she said that “[sustainability] has always been part of Singapore’s DNA. But we will push for it to be at the heart of our plans, policies, and processes”.
It is clear, then, that the rebranding of the MSE is not just an important signifier of changing efforts, but rather of evolving mindsets. With the ministries firing on all cylinders towards a common goal of sustainability, one must not mistake these efforts as a mere fad.
Instead, one must look forward to sustainability as the ‘new normal’, especially since these policies and infrastructure become crucial in reconceptualizing how we survive as a nation to threats like the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. More crucially, it will also determine how resilient we are to external shocks in our future.
The world has become wary and cautious about the threats that our natural environment can pose to us. However, if Singapore continues its pursuit of green and sustainable initiatives, one can be sure that we are on the right path towards a more resilient, and more sustainable country. As Martin Luther King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. In the case of Singapore, it also bends towards sustainability.