Speech by Minister Desmond Lee on Climate Change and Sustainability for TEDxTiE Singapore ‘Countdown’ Event

Oct 16, 2020

Good morning. I am excited to join you at the TEDxTiESG Countdown event.

Climate change poses an existential threat to our planet and all of humanity. 

For a small, low-lying city-state located just south of the equator, we in Singapore are especially vulnerable to the impact of a changing climate.

We strongly support global climate change action, including through the Paris Climate Agreement process. We are committed to capping our carbon dioxide equivalent emissions at 65 million tonnes by 2030, and we want to halve this to 33 million tonnes by 2050. We further aim to reach net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century. 

We are determined to meet these targets. Let me spend the next few minutes to broadly share just some of the work that we are doing on a number of fronts, to make Singapore more sustainable.

First, most of our energy is generated through natural gas, which we import from our neighbours. Singapore made the switch from fuel oil to natural gas as our main energy source for electricity generation several years ago. 

Today, natural gas is used to generate about 95% of our electricity needs, up from just 19% in the year 2000. 

While we are exploring ways to increase our use of renewable energy, we are an alternative energy constrained country. Because our small land size of 720 sq km, about half the size of London, limits our ability to harness solar energy, and our calm seas make it difficult to harness sufficient hydroelectric power. 

So we have had to be creative. We have not only installed solar PV on rooftops, but also on water surfaces. For instance, we have commenced construction of a 60 megawatt-peak floating solar PV system on Tengeh Reservoir. We are also building a floating solar panel system off our northern coast that will be one of the world’s largest. 

Second, we are transforming our Garden City into a City in Nature, by planting more parks and nature areas, and expanding our park connector network of walking and cycling paths. 

Over the next decade, we will also plant one million more trees in our city, as well as in our coastal mangrove areas at Kranji and Mandai. These will help enhance our air quality, lower ambient temperatures and better protect us from rising sea levels. 

Third, in our city, we are encouraging the development of more energy efficient buildings, and greening up our urban spaces. This is important because buildings account for more than 20% of carbon emissions in Singapore.

Under our Green Building Masterplan and Green Mark Scheme, there are regulations and incentives for building owners and developers to adopt sustainable and energy-conserving features in their buildings. Improved energy efficiency not only benefits our environment, but also lowers maintenance and energy costs over the long term. 

The Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises programme (LUSH) also aims to inject more greenery into our city. For example, developers of new buildings must ensure that any greenery lost on the ground is replaced vertically, such as through gardens, landscaped decks, and green roofs. 

Fourth, we are deploying electric buses to green our public transportation system. We plan to move towards a 100% cleaner energy public bus fleet by 2040. The first batch of 10 electric buses was brought into service in April this year. When fully deployed, the 60 electric buses are estimated to save nearly 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Fifth, climate change also poses risks to Singapore’s food and water security. As a densely populated city with very limited land for agriculture, we import almost 90% of our food. Because climate change can affect crop yield and food production in our source countries, we have been working hard to diversify our sources.

But we have also been working to raise our domestic food production capacity, and to do so in a sustainable way. We have a “30 by 30” plan to meet 30% of our food needs through domestic sources by 2030. 

To do this, we are using technology to optimise agricultural yield from the limited land for this purpose. We are also promoting research into nutrient-rich food products, such as meat substitutes, which can be developed with lower environmental impact.

Now, water security is an issue that Singapore had to grapple with for many decades, since we have limited water resources. We have had to depend heavily on supplies of water from Malaysia in our early years. 

Over the years, we have managed to diversify our water sources using advanced methods of water recycling and sea-water desalination. Today, even as we continue to grapple with the water challenge, we are able to meet 70% of our water needs through these two ways.  

But climate change poses additional problems to our water supply. Rising sea levels could lead to flooding, which can have a devastating impact on our water and drainage infrastructure. To address this threat, we must expand and enhance our water catchment, drainage and treatment infrastructure. 

On a broader level, we are taking steps to protect our city from rising sea levels. We are widening and deepening drains, raising platform levels for new developments, and building flood barriers at places such as train stations. 

We are building experimental polders on an island off our northeast coast that will give us further know-how to reclaim land from the sea for our use. We are also exploring the possibility of constructing barrages around a chain of islands off our south-eastern coast to strengthen our coastal defences. 

Singapore’s efforts to address climate change focus not only on prevention and mitigation, but also adaptation and innovation. But whether we succeed or not depends on the support and collaboration of all people. 

We have sought to raise awareness among people, including younger Singaporeans, about the importance of sustainability. For decades, we have run campaigns to promote recycling and water and electricity conservation. In more recent years, we have raised awareness about other issues, such as reducing the use of single-use plastics. 

All of us have a role to play to safeguard our environment and contribute to global solutions to climate change, and I invite you to join us on this journey to make Singapore more green, liveable and sustainable for ourselves and for our future generations.