June 5, 2018
10 min read

Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing's Keynote Speech at Ecosperity 2018

Transcript of Minister Chan's keynote speech at Ecosperity 2018 is reproduced below.

Click here for a video of the Q&A which took place after his speech.

Chairman of Temasek Holdings Mr Lim Boon Heng,

ED and CEO of Temasek Holdings Ms Ho Ching,

ED and CEO of Temasek International Mr Lee Theng Kiat,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.         A pleasure to join you this morning. Thank you to Temasek for organising this platform for us to discuss approaches to build sustainable societies.

2.         Ecosperity - as we know, is a combination of two words - ecology and prosperity.

            a.   A unique term coined to highlight how we can and must pursue both sustainability and prosperity at the same time.

            b.   The two concepts are not and should not be mutually exclusive.

            c.   Economic progress can and must be done in ways that do not compromise long-term sustainability. This has always been Singapore’s approach.

3.         The growth of economies and cities have been closely intertwined in history and throughout the world today. 

            a.   Cities are not just an aggregation of people.

            b.   Cities are hubs for talent and ideas for progress. 

4.         However, many people see cities as a bane, and if not, the biggest threat to the environment. Today, more than half of the world’s population already live in cities or urban areas. 

            a.   By 2050, this figure is expected to rise to almost 70 percent.[1]

5.         So the question that confronts us is this- how can we overcome the challenges brought about by rapid urbanisation- especially in the areas of water, energy, urban-design transport and food security?   

            a.  So instead of seeing this as a bane to civilisation, we can have a different perspective and more importantly a different outcome. 

            b.  With thoughtful planning, cities can be the most efficient way for us to organise populations for production and living, as well as in mitigating the impact on the environment.

6.         Singapore - as a small city-state with finite resources, will have our fair share of challenges- perhaps more than many others. 

            a.   For us, sustainability is not a choice.

            b.   It determines our way of life and our future generations.

            c.  Climate change is today’s key sustainability challenge.  The transition to a low-carbon future is a significant move that our economy and society have to make. For this reason, Singapore has designated 2018 as our Year of Climate Action to raise awareness and spur individual and collective action.

7.         Singapore aspires to be a “living lab for sustainable solutions”. 

            a.   If Singapore with our finite resources can overcome our challenges, it gives hope to all other cities in the world.


Singapore Minister for Trade & Industry Chan Chun Sing delivering the keynote speech at Ecosperity 2018


8.         Our commitment to sustainability is an ongoing story. 

            a.  There are both physical and non-physical dimensions to our story.

           (1)   The physical dimensions include water, energy, urban transport and food.

           (2)   In the non-physical dimensions, we talk about healthcare, social integration and education, amongst others.


9.         Let me start with our water story.   

            a.  When I was a child, in the 1970s, we were taught that we have two main sources of water.

          (1)   Imported water from Malaysia, under two Water Agreements signed in 1961 and 1962.

          (2)   And our own local catchment made up of three local reservoirs – we now know them today as MacRitchie, Upper Seletar and Lower Pierce, and these were all built by the British.

            b.  Today, we have four National Taps.

          (1)   Our local catchment area, now comprise 17 reservoirs and two-thirds of Singapore’s land area.

          (2)   Imported water from Malaysia – has only 43 more years to go before the second Water Agreement in 1962 expires in 2061. Our first water agreement in 1961 has lapsed in 2011. Our alternative sources, however, have more than made up for the water provided for in the first Water Agreement, way ahead of time.

          (3)   Ultra-clean, high-grade recycled water, or NEWater, as we call it in Singapore, forms out third national tap. NEWater is expected to meet up to 55% of Singapore’s future water demand by 2060.

          ​(4)   Desalinated water, which is expected to meet up to 30% of our water needs by 2060 forms the fourth national tap. The NEWater and desalinated water taps are weather resilient sources that are key to our water sustainability.

10.       We will continue to plan ahead to support our future water demand in good time, taking into account the vagaries of politics, technological changes and climate change.

11.       While we are still a nation facing water scarcity, we have turned this challenge into an opportunity.

            a.  Today, Singapore is an emerging Global Hydrohub - known for our advanced water management technologies.  Singapore is host to 180 water companies and more than 20 research institutions. The water sector provides 14,000 jobs and contributes $2.2 billion in value-add to the economy.

            b.  We also exporting our expertise in water sustainability solutions around the world.


12.       But our water story cannot stop here.

            a.  Our vulnerability and dependence on weather-dependent water sources have been converted in part to an increased dependence on energy supplies.

            b.  So this is something that we must carefully manage, and take steps towards strengthening our energy resilience. PUB, our national water agency, has been pursuing R&D to reduce the energy needed to treat water and to produce desalinated water.

            c.  For example, we are exploring electro-deionisation technology to bring energy consumption down from the 3.5 kilo-watt-hour-per-cubic metre to less than 1. We are also exploring more energy-efficient membranes based on biomimicry.

13.       Currently, we have seven power generation companies. And imported natural gas accounts for 95 percent of electricity generation here. We need to once again challenge ourselves –  how can we reduce or diversify our reliance on external energy supply, particularly fossil fuels, and to reduce our carbon footprint?

14.       In the last 50 years, we converted two-thirds of the land area in Singapore into water catchment areas. Can we in the next 50 years, convert a significant part of our surface area in Singapore into energy collection surfaces? I don’t mean just two-dimensional land area, but three-dimensional surface areas.

            a.  We are land constrained.  There is a limit to how much land we can commit to collecting solar energy. But there are three things that we are closely watching. Firstly, if technology improves and the skins of all of our buildings and core structures can become solar energy collectors, we will have a very different scenario.

            b.  Second, if the amount of energy that can be collected per square metre of surface area achieves a breakthrough- we will again, have a different outcome.

            c.   Finally, solar energy is intermittent and not stable, not even in tropical Singapore. Breakthroughs in energy storage will be the third critical area for us to closely monitor.

15.       If these conditions are possible, imagine what it means for our reliance on external fossil fuel supplies?

            a.  Today, we are already testing out solar panels on water surfaces, and on the roofs of buildings. For instance, PUB has a test bed of 10 floating solar energy systems at Tengah Reservoir and we are studying deployment at four more reservoirs.

            b.  We are also finding ways to improve the efficiency of solar energy production, through raising panel efficiency, improving solar forecasting accuracy, and investing in energy storage solutions. With greater efficiency, we may not perhaps need so much surface area.

            c.   If this becomes a reality, we will revolutionise the way a city produces, distributes and consumes energy.

            d.  And maybe one day, our children will be an exporter of breakthrough urban energy management solutions.

Urban Design and Transport

16.       Transport is a big challenge for many urban conurbations.

a.            But transport is a consequence of urban layout and planning. 

b.            Singapore faces similar challenges, given the historical path in our development.

17.       If we look at the Singapore map, we will easily understand how the residential and commercial nodes developed over time created a tidal effect in our transport demand.

            a.  For example, in the morning, we generally see traffic flowing generally from North and East, towards the South and West.

            b.  And the reverse in the evening.

            c.   This is not the most optimal way to organise and use our transport resources.

18.       But in the next few decades, we will have the opportunity to refresh our approach and redistribute our residential and commercial nodes across the entire island of ours.

19.       Part of this plan will see the creation of more decentralised commercial nodes beyond the CBD. We are already transforming the Jurong Lake District and the Woodlands North Coast as regional centres in the Western and Northern parts of our island respectively- creating more jobs closer to home, reducing the demand for transport.

20.       The re-location of Paya Lebar Airbase to Changi too, will allow us to redevelop the entire Eastern part of the island with reduced height constraints.

21.       As for housing, we can perhaps gradually remove the age gradient across all the existing towns.  Every town can be a microcosm of Singapore’s age profile. This will allow more families to stay nearer to each other - reducing the demand for transport, because each town will have different flats types with different age profiles catering to the needs of different groups of Singaporeans.

22.       These are all exciting plans that we can look towards as we rebuild Singapore for the next century and for a more sustainable future.

23.       As the demand for road infrastructure decreases, the space that we can correspondingly commit to ensure quality living will increase.  Today, the amount of land we commit to roads is almost similar to that we commit to public housing.

24.       Beyond human traffic flows, we are also embarking on projects to see how we can optimise our urban logistics flow, both in terms of time and space, to optimise the use of our transport assets and networks.

25.       I have always been very interested to find out how an item entering Singapore – be it via air, land or sea –finally reaches the hands of the consumer? 

            a.  I suspect in most cities - the item would have traversed the city a few times before landing in the hands of the final consumer. 

26.       If a city’s logistics and supply chains can be made more effective and efficient, it will also reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and increase our quality of life.  If we can use fleets of data-enabled autonomous vehicles to de-conflict by time and space- the usage of roads between logistics and people, we will have a very different urban layout and a very different transport situation.

27.       To do this, Singapore must be prepared to continue to pilot smart transport solutions for both people and goods.

            a.  Electric and autonomous vehicles, as well as smart grids, can be part of a new concept for urban transport solutions for emerging or established cities.

28.       There are three other aspects of urban design that we must focus on to build a better city.

            a.  First, urban structures are big carbon emitters. The move towards designing greener buildings will significantly reduce the carbon footprint and energy demand. But in Singapore, we want to go beyond green buildings. We want to design green precincts, where micro climate studies can help us further reduce the demand for energy for cooling and improved air circulation.

            b.  We have piloted and achieved success for District Cooling solutions. We believe that this is the way to go for greenfield sites. Our next challenge is to find breakthrough solutions to apply District Cooling concepts economically to existing urban centres.

            c.  Finally, Singapore is thinking ahead for the next 100 years, to see how we can protect our country from possible effects of climate change and the rise in sea level. Our land reclamation plan has taken this into account.


29.       Having discussed water, energy, urban design and transport, let me move on to food- the next critical agenda item for Singapore.

30.       We import practically all our food, and are highly vulnerable to potential disruptions in the global food supply chain. So we must continue to explore ways to diversify our food sources.  Beyond that, new technologies also enable us to explore highly-productive, high-density urban farms within Singapore. 

31.       This goes beyond ensuring food security for our people. The growth of the Asian middle class and demand for quality and safe food products also represents tremendous business opportunities for us. The question is - how do we meet this burgeoning demand in a sustainable manner, while capturing the economic opportunities?

32.       We will apply technology to urban high density farming, to provide not only more efficient means to grow food, but also new ways to grow high quality, premium food and consider to export to other countries.  

            a.   Our various initial pilots have achieved some promises.  We intend to scale up our pilots and achieve efficiencies of scale in the next phase.

            b.   We will use innovative business solutions to deliver fresh, safe and high quality produce to consumers in Singapore and beyond- this is the farm to fork challenge. This will be our next big challenge and opportunity.

Non-Physical Dimensions of Sustainability

33.      Ladies and gentlemen, sustainability for a society must go beyond the physical dimensions. It must also address the well-being of the people that we are sustaining.


34.       Healthcare and healthcare costs are critical challenges for many societies.  Healthcare costs will continue to escalate because of the demand for and supply of higher quality healthcare services.

35.       How a society plans ahead to sustain its healthcare needs will define the future of the society. This is the reason why the Singapore Government spares no effort to ensure that we have a sustainable healthcare system.

36.       There is no magic formula. All policies must constantly be tweaked to ensure relevance. However, there are some fundamental principles that we abide by:

            a.  First, putting in place the right pricing mechanisms to allocate resources.

            b.  Second, budgeting ahead and setting aside sufficient resources to build capacities and capabilities.

            c.  Third, focusing help on those who need it most and encouraging responsible demand.

            ad  These are the basis upon which we design our public healthcare system and its associated pricing structures, to provide the greatest help to those with the greatest need, in order to ensure everyone can afford the healthcare they need.

Social Integration

37.       Social Integration and mixing is often neglected in the development of many societies. Some societies have a more homogenous population base. However, Singapore- unlike many others, has a multiracial, multi-religious base. 

38.       We do not take for granted our people will not succumb to the natural human instincts to prefer to mix with people who are similar to them – be it in terms of race, language, religion or social economic status.

39.       So we must do more to ensure that every town and every precinct is a microcosm of Singapore.  We want to have a good mix of housing, with people from different backgrounds living and socialising together.  Ultimately, we must avoid the formation of any social enclaves in Singapore- just as how we avoided the formation of any racial enclaves in Singapore.

40.       Hence, we will further refine the design of our public housing precincts to allow for greater social mixing between people of different economic backgrounds.  This is especially important as society matures and social mobility and social mixing weaken.


41.       Finally, a sustainable environment can only come about and be supported by a population that can fulfil their potential and embrace their responsibilities towards the future generations. 

42.       To this end, education and continuous training must be part of every society’s agenda.  This is also Singapore’s priority.  Again, we must put in an unequal amount of resources to lean forward for the less privileged so that everyone can have a good start in life, starting from pre-school.

43.       Clearly, building a more sustainability future is the right thing to do, but why does it not necessarily come naturally to more people?

            a.  You will be familiar with the usual criticism that it is very difficult for many democracies and listed companies to do what is right, as many are driven to focus on the short term results.

44.       To overcome this, I believe we must start with a clear and shared definition of success.

Importance of stewardship in securing long-term sustainability

45.        If our definition of success is about the here and now or about the short term gain, the short term returns - we won’t go very far in this endeavour.

46.       But if our definition of success is about enabling the next generation to fulfil their potential, to do justice to their blessings and surpass the accomplishments of our generation, then we are more likely to succeed.

47.       To build a better and more sustainable future, we need that sense of stewardship - of wanting to leave behind a better and more enabling environment for our future generations.

48.        To be good stewards, we need to build systems and teams that can stand the test of time. Let me elaborate.

Building strong systems

49.       First, we need systems that can answer to our immediate needs and yet meet our evolving challenges.

            a.  Systems that are agile and able to adapt to new circumstances- but therein lies the challenge.

            b.   It is not easy as once systems are established, we tend to want to keep the status quo.

            c.    It takes discipline and courage to constantly ask ourselves if our systems are still relevant and adapting.

Building strong teams

50.       More than just systems, we also need to build strong teams in order to leave behind a better environment for the next generation.

51.       Even as Singapore becomes more prosperous and successful, we must continue to attract a fair share of good people for public service. 

            a.  People with the right values, people who do not just go for the popular and easy options. 

            b.  ​People who do not shirk their responsibilities to the current generation, but see the need to also be accountable to the electorate who are not yet born or able to vote.

52.       Bringing in individuals who are capable and committed is necessary but not sufficient. They must also be able to work well together as a team with a sense of shared purpose and mission.

            a.  To be a team that is always guided to do what’s right for our people and country, for the long haul.

            b.  To be a team that is able to put the nation’s cause above self and put the nation’s priorities before their own.


53.       Ladies and gentlemen, in wrapping up my speech, I believe we can build a more sustainable society for ourselves if we bear in mind the following 1-2-3-4 approach:

            a.  One shared definition of success – enabling the future generations to do even better than us.

            b.  Two key enablers – building adaptive systems and strong teams with diverse skillsets but of the same values;

            c.  Three non-physical dimensions of societal sustainability that cannot be neglected - healthcare, social integration and education. 

            d.  Four physical dimensions of sustainability that speak to how we manage our water, energy, urban design and transport, and food supplies.

54.       If we get the order of our answers right, I am confident we can overcome our challenges to leave behind a better environment for the next generation.

55.       Singapore knows keenly how precious little we have.  But we are also conscious of how blessed we can be if we harness our resources well to master our destiny. We are confident that we can be the “Living Lab for Sustainable Solutions”. 

56.       We invite you to join us in this endeavour to defy the odds of history – that a small country with no conventional hinterland can not only survive, but thrive sustainably.  Thank you.



[1]  Source: United Nations, “World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas”, 2014.


Q&A with Minister Chan