Opening Speech by Minister Desmond Lee for the Ecosperity Week Opening Segment

Jun 7, 2023


1. Good morning. I’m delighted to join you this morning for Ecosperity Week.

a. I would like to thank Temasek for bringing together business leaders, policymakers, investors, academia and civil society to exchange knowledge and build partnerships to achieve the breakthroughs that we need to achieve our global net zero goals.

2. There is no easy solution to tackling climate change.

a. It is complex and multifaceted.

b. As a global challenge, it transcends national boundaries and requires trust and the collective action of a large number of stakeholders, across many disciplines.

c. It forces us to confront difficult questions of responsibility, equity and intergenerational justice that are hard to reach a consensus on.

3. Climate change is not a problem of the future. We are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change today.

a. Here in Singapore, we just experienced our warmest decade on record, with a recent daily maximum temperature of 37 degrees Celsius, matching a 40-year high. 2022 was also one of our wettest years in the last 42 years.

b. The impact of higher temperatures and heavier and more unpredictable rains cannot be understated. They stress our ecosystems, disrupt oureconomy andaffect food supply. They can also induce vector-borne diseases like dengue fever. 

4. The impact of these severe weather events underscore the need for us to prioritise sustainability, and act decisively, swiftly and collectively to address this climate crisis.

Role of Cities in Tackling Climate Change  

5. The topic for today’s conference is “Enabling Net-Zero Cities”. Cities play a critical role in tackling climate change given their significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

a. Cities are responsible for over 70% of global CO2 emissions today.[1]

b. More specifically, the Built Environment sector accounts for approximately 40% of global CO2 emissions. Of this, building operations are responsible for about two-thirds of emissions, and building materials and construction processes are responsible for the remaining one-third.[2] 

6. Cities continue to grow. The United Nations projects that by 2050, two out of three people will live in cities or urban centres. This means that approximately 2.5 billion more people will be living in cities by 2050.

a. To accommodate this urban expansion, Architecture 2030, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to transform the built environment to address climate change, projects that about 240 billion square metres of new floor area will be added to the global building stock from 2020 to 2060.

7. As urbanisation accelerates and cities grow, the demand for energy and infrastructure will only increase. It is therefore absolutely critical for us to find innovative ways to flatten the emissions curve brought about by urbanisation. Building net-zero cities is an imperative if we are to achieve net zero emissions globally by mid-century to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Building Net-Zero Cities

8. We will require a holistic approach to achieve this – one that considers various aspects of urban development, from energy production to transport systems to building design.

a. Let me share some examples of what Singapore is seeking to do in this area.

9. Key to becoming a net-zero city is greening our energy sources. We are harnessing greener energy through natural gas, solar power, regional power grids and emerging low-carbon alternatives such as hydrogen.

10. On solar energy, we have made good progress expanding our solar capacity.

a. Over the years, we have transformed our city into a living lab for innovative solar deployment despite our land constraints.

b. Beyond conventional rooftop solar installations such as on HDB rooftops, we have deployed solar installations elsewhere.

i. For example, we opened our first large-scale floating solar photovoltaic system at Tengeh Reservoir in 2021. It spans 45 football fields, making it one of the world’s largest inland floating systems. The energy generated provides enough power for about 16,000 4-room HDB flats for a year!

ii. Some of our buildings have also deployed solar panels on their façades. One example is Keppel Infrastructure @ Changi, which has a building-integrated photovoltaic system that maximises the amount of renewable energy generated by using vertical solar panels to capture sunlight. Together with its rooftop solar panels, the building can generate approximately 600,000 kWh (kilowatt-hour) of renewable energy per year, enough to offset more than twice of the building’s energy consumption. So, it is a positive energy building.

11. Beyond greener sources of energy, we are also looking at how to make our towns, districts and buildings much more sustainable.

12. We have been envisioning a greener Singapore of the future through districts like the Jurong Lake District (or JLD).

a. Planned as the largest mixed-used business district outside the city centre, JLD is our model district and testbed for urban sustainability solutions.

i. To promote green commutes, JLD will be a car-lite district. It will also be served by four MRT lines, with key roads designated as Transit Priority Corridors with bus-only lanes, wider footpaths and cycling paths.

ii. All new buildings in the district will be required to minimally achieve Green Mark Platinum (Super Low Energy) certification. We can expect to see more buildings that are naturally ventilated, and equipped with best-in-class energy efficiency technologies and intelligent energy management systems.

iii. Similar to Marina Bay, JLD will also be served by a centralised district cooling network which uses less energy for the same amount of cooling, thereby reducing overall emissions.

 iv. The 90-hectare Jurong Lake Gardens (JLG) within JLD has also piloted several sustainable solutions. For instance, to promote climate resilience, water-sensitive urban designs have been incorporated which help to cleanse water runoff and harvest rainwater to irrigate plants.

b. Such district-level projects enable us to demonstrate, test, and refine new technologies and solutions in real-world conditions. It is through such experimentation that we can find the most optimal set of solutions to achieve our net-zero goals.

Building Climate Resilient Cities

13. Building net-zero cities is important, but we must not neglect the need to also build climate resilient cities. This is especially critical for a low-lying island like Singapore, vulnerable to sea-level rise.

14. We have undertaken significant efforts to enhance our coastal and flood resilience.

a. The Government is actively trialing different coastal protection solutions to assess their suitability to be implemented in Singapore. For instance, we are using nature-based solutions to protect our coastlines, such as through conserving and restoring our mangrove forests.

i. Mangroves can store three to five times as much carbon compared to habitats like rainforests. They also dissipate waves and trap sediment, which help to protect our coastlines from rising sea levels.

ii. In 2019, we completed a coastal protection project at Kranji Coastal Nature Park. We will continue our mangrove enhancement efforts at the upcoming Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park, and Khatib Bongsu Nature Park.

b. We also recognise the importance of investing in research and development to find innovative solutions. The Government can support this endeavour by creating a conducive environment for the cross-fertilisation of ideas.   

i. To this end, PUB has recently launched a $125 million Coastal Protection and Flood Management Research Programme to partner universities, international institutions and industry partners to develop, testbed and commercialise urban flood and coastal protection solutions.

15. With rising temperatures, we are also doing more to keep Singapore cool.

a. Singapore is known for our extensive urban greenery, and we aim to transform ourselves into a City in Nature.

i. Beyond biodiversity conservation and the provision of ecosystem services, urban greenery plays an important role in cooling our environment.      

ii. In 2020, we launched our OneMillionTrees movement. As the name suggests, we aim to plant one million trees across Singapore between 2020 and 2030. But we can’t do this alone. So, our National Parks Board, or NParks, has worked with schools, its Friends of the Parks communities, nature groups and corporate partners to organise tree-planting events and activities.

iii. Through this partnership, over 78,000 members of the community have helped us plant over 550,000 trees. It is through the hard work of our community partners that we have a lush, beautiful and cooler Singapore.

b. Beyond urban greenery, we are also trialing other solutions such as cool paints.

i. Cool paints reduce the absorption of heat by buildings by reflecting a larger portion of the sun's radiation. By applying these reflective coatings on rooftops, walls, and other external surfaces, we can mitigate the urban heat island effect.

ii. Cool paints have the potential to improve thermal comfort, and foster healthier and more livable urban environments. We are undertaking pilot trials in our HDB blocks to further validate the effectiveness of cool paints.


16. To conclude, the impact of climate change is here and now. While the science of climate change may still be evolving and we are still learning about the full extent and interactions of its effects, we must take action today.

17. Tackling climate change is an exercise in learning by doing. We may not have all the answers, but we have the collective wisdom of all our stakeholders who are willing to experiment with the best knowledge available.

18. To enable net-zero cities,

a. Public agencies must be coordinated in their goals and actions, and mustn’t work in silos.

b. At the same time, we must work in close partnership with the private and people sectors to mobilise the industry and public.

19. Combined with clear political will at all levels, and the ability to carry out people’s support for climate change, we can make change, build net-zero cities and a net-zero future together.

a. I am confident that we can advance our climate mitigation and adaptation efforts together and create sustainable models that inspire the world and provide hope for our future generations.

b. The challenge for all of us is to build a collective political will, make change happen, because the solutions are there and what we need is determination to put them into action.

20. Thank you one again for inviting me here today. I wish you a fruitful Conference.  

[1] Source: World Bank and United Nations Environment Programme

[2] Source: World Green Building Council, International Energy Agency and United Nations Environment Programme