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Speech by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Committee of Supply Debate, 12 March 2013 (Part 2)

March 13, 2013

Originally published on 12 March 2013 by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.

Infrastructure Investments Ahead of Time

 Enhancing Resilience and Managing Water Costs

1           Let me quickly move onto water. Water is an existential issue for us, and that is why the two water agreements were part of the Separation Agreement that marks our independence as a nation. We have been obsessed about water for five decades,  and our water story has been one of political will, meticulous long-term planning, technology innovation and sound economics.

2           Today, we have our four national taps and we are in a secure position. I can give assurance to this House that we will certainly be water- independent well before the expiry of the last agreement with Malaysia I can even go further than that and assure Ms Faizah Jamal that in fact, water is not going to be the limiting factor. You can produce as many babies as you like and you can build as many houses as you like, water will not be the limiting factor. We will continue to produce more than enough water for Singapore for the long-term future.

3            The second desalination plant in Tuas will be ready in July this year and that will add another 70 million gallons of water a day to our capacity. In the long run, desalination will meet about 25% of our water demand. We are also commencing on Phase 2 of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS). The DTSS is a superhighway for used water that will drain water from the western part of the island to a new water reclamation plant in Tuas, which will also produce NEWater in the future.

4            I will also just quickly address this point on the cost of water and the need for water conservation. I agree that water needs to be correctly priced to reflect its scarcity value and that it needs to facilitate long-term investments in this sector. There is a need therefore to constantly invest, and the key variable in the future for the cost of water is the cost of energy. I cannot predict what the future cost of water will be without knowing what the cost of energy will be. But what I can say, is that on our current trajectory and with the hard work that is being done by PUB, there is no need to raise water prices this year.

Sustainable Waste Management System

5              Let me now move on to waste, which Ms Faizah Jamal has raised.

We have made some changes. We have reduced the number of Public Waste Collection sectors from nine to six in order to improve economies of scale. Again, I am trying to bring the cost of waste collection down whilst recognising that the cost of energy, transport, trucks and all that is also going up.

6             We are also building a new Waste-to-Energy incineration plant to maximise resource recovery and to reduce landfill space. If I could show the picture of Pulau Semakau, you would see that we already have the area marked out for Phase II. Again, I can give the House the assurance that we are good to go until 2035. In fact, the beauty of Pulau Semakau is that it is probably the only landfill in the world that is a tourist attraction. Just last December, the Prime Minister himself went there and if you go to his Facebook page, you will find some beautiful pictures of that site. So the point is, it can be done, it will be there for the long term and it can be beautiful at the same time.

Co-creating Sustainable Growth

 Engendering greater Non-Domestic Water and Energy Efficiency

7             Dr Teo Ho Pin asked about water and energy efficiency and on an update on the Energy Conservation Act (ECA). This act requires large energy users to implement energy management practices. It will come into effect in April this year for the industry sector and will be rolled out for the transport sector subsequently.

8             We will continue to work with companies, incentivise them and provide schemes such as the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies (GREET) as well as extending the Singapore Certified Energy Manager training grant. All those will enhance capability and technology.

9             PUB will also continue to encourage non-domestic users to develop and submit Water Efficiency Management Plans to help them analyse and potentially save water.

 Conserving Energy and Water in Households

10             Let me quickly move on to households –energy and water usage. The Mandatory Energy Labelling Scheme (MELS) and the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) have been very effective in expanding the range of higher energy-efficient appliances on the market and making them more affordable. Quite frankly, people will save money in the medium to long run if they buy more energy-efficient appliances, whether it is air- conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines and the like. We also need to encourage people to look beyond the initial sticker price to the total cost of ownership.

 Reducing Household Waste

11             Let me move on to reducing household waste. Our recycling rate in households, to be honest, is still not good enough. In fact, in survey after survey, people have said they want to recycle but for some reason, this is not translated into practice. We will continue to make recycling facilities more convenient for households by enhancing recycling infrastructure in neighbourhoods. In some new HDB flats, we have even tried to pilot projects with dual-refuse and recycling chutes in order to make it more convenient, and some early data shows that this perhaps may increase recycling rates.

12            I want to agree with Ms Penny Low’s suggestion about trying to promote a less wasteful culture, and a more sharing culture. This concept about “reuse, reduce and recycle” used to be in our value system. I think all of us can remember our parents saying “Don’t waste!” But somehow, perhaps as we became more prosperous, we have forgotten that imperative. I think in the future, the era of cheap energy, cheap resources, cheap food, is going to come to an end. And we will have to rediscover the wisdom of our grandmothers of not wasting.

13            Having said that, I also support your idea that we can promote more community-generated solutions for this. I give you one example –NEA is organising a ‘Clean & Green Hackathon’ next month. Basically, we will be setting aside time and awarding prizes to people who come together and devise apps which can be used on smartphones. It is basically to create platforms for people to share ideas and to use these ideas to improve the environment.

 Sustainable Singapore

14               Let me quickly, in the last few minutes, touch on a Sustainable Singapore. There is just one point I want to make that is counter-intuitive. A very dense, well-planned city is actually the most sustainable way of life for human beings. Many people think being green means living in a rural area. But if you stop to think about it, living in a dense city is the cheapest way of providing food, water, healthcare, education, jobs, entertainment, ideas and cultural exchange, simply because you have to move around less. So in fact, the future for humankind –we now have 7 billion people, more than half of the people live in cities. By the turn of the century, 80 percent of us will live in cities –a dense well-planned, connected city which is the greenest and most sustainable way of life for the future.

15             Singapore can take the lead. One key unique feature about Singapore is that if you fly over Singapore, a lot of it is green. Almost 47% of Singapore is green. But why is it green? It is green paradoxically because we are so high-rise, because nearly 90 percent of us live in apartments. The point I am trying to make is that if you really think about sustainability in the long run, the answer lies here, and in Singapore, we are building a working model of the future.

Climate Science

16             Now of course this working model of the future has to take into account long-term threats like climate change. You ask whether we are worried about rising sea levels. Yes, we are. We are anticipating that it could go up by anywhere between 60cm to a metre, and beyond. And that is why last year, we changed our platform levels for all reclaimed land – we added another metre. So all reclaimed land now will be at least 2.25 metres above the highest-recorded sea level. This is buying insurance for the future. If it does not happen, treat it as a sandbag. If it does happen, we will prepare, and we have to prepare to adapt faster, and be aware of what is going on in science.

17             That is also why the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) has established the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) which will officially open later this month. This centre will collaborate with researchers from all over the world in order to spearhead studies. Their academic and scientific output will be the basis on which we make plans for the future. We initiated the first Climate Change Vulnerability Study in 2007 to give us a better sense of what is going on.  This study, conducted over two phases, has just been completed and we will be embarking on the next phase soon. This will be a joint project between CCRS and the UK Met Office, Hadley Centre.

Conclusion

18              So let me conclude by reiterating our core principles –that this is about human beings –our responsibility, our vulnerability, and that we are all in this together and that we have to plan for the very long term.

 19              I will like to thank all the Members of this House and Singaporeans for sharing ideas and for working so passionately with us to ensure that this beautiful, precious and fragile home of ours is sustainable and will be protected for the long run.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2013 4:25 am

    I am quite disheartened that the Minister has not argued for what more individuals and businesses can do to tackle the issue of climate change. Let me remind all of us how Singapore is faring in terms of global emissions standing. WWF released a report in 2010 showing concrete evidence that “Singapore emitted 43,454 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuels in 2010” (refer: http://www.cleanbiz.asia/story/sparkling-singapore-tops-list-asias-worst-carbon-emitter#.UU5-1DngDa4). Even the WWF’s president, Yolanda Kakabadse, mentioned that, “Singapore… is a society that maybe is one of the best examples of what we should not do.”

    I think that with such serious evidence, Singaporeans should feel even more obligated to change their lifestyles in order to tackle climate change.

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