Challenges in sustainability could unravel global progress over past decades: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat highlighted the need for economic growth which generates resources and helps reduce poverty, adding that companies should give back to the communities and economies they are a part of.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat highlighted the need for economic growth which generates resources and helps reduce poverty, adding that companies should give back to the communities and economies they are a part of.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Taking action to mitigate climate change and ensuring economic growth are two key challenges that, if not managed well, could unravel the progress the world has made over the past few decades, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (June 7), as he outlined three ways countries can work together for sustainable development.

In a keynote address at the annual FutureChina Global Forum at Marina Bay Sands, he noted that countries around the world are vulnerable to climate change, with the earth's surface temperature last year being the fourth warmest since the 19th century and the rate of sea levels rising more quickly in recent decades.

He also highlighted the need for economic growth which generates resources and helps reduce poverty, adding that companies should give back to the communities and economies they are a part of.

Mr Heng outlined three ways that countries can tackle these challenges: By forming and deepening international collaborations; enabling all segments of society to work together; and developing next-generation leaders to further the cause.

"Cooperation among countries and cities will help us to strengthen connectivity and achieve longer-term environmental, economic and infrastructural sustainability," he said.

He flagged China's efforts as an example, noting the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition, which allows governments, enterprises, research institutes and the civil society to shape a green Belt and Road.

Another example is the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA), which boosts connectivity, generating new trade and investment flows between nine Pearl River Delta cities, as well as the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions.

 
 
 

Besides aiming to become a global innovation hub, the GBA seeks to be a "quality place to work and live" through initiatives like the adoption of an innovative, green and low carbon development model, Mr Heng said, adding that the Chinese government will also place greater priority on conservation and environmental protection.

"The development of the GBA presents new opportunities in diverse areas that businesses can tap," he said. "For example, Singapore and the GBA can collaborate in the area of new infrastructure development."

"Infrastructure projects are long term and highly capital intensive," he added. "We have to plan and structure these projects properly, to ensure resource efficiency, economic viability and social impact over their long lifetime."

Countries must also work closely together, he said, citing the Paris Agreement which commits them to take concrete action to combat climate change.

A second way to combat the sustainability challenges is to enable all segments of societies - governments, businesses and individuals - to collaborate effectively.

"Governments alone cannot drive sustainable development," he said.

He cited how Singapore has introduced measures to "catalyse the private sector to pursue new growth opportunities", such as by setting aside $900 million under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 urban solutions and sustainability plan.

He added that the pervasive use of technology can help countries go green as well, and the carbon tax implemented here this year sends "an economy-wide price signal to incentivise the reduction of carbon emissions".

"There will be growing demand for sustainable products and services, arising in particular from a growing consciousness among our people, especially the younger generation that demands such products and services," said Mr Heng. "Businesses are also increasingly recognising the need to retain the trust of the current generation by taking care of the interests of future generations."

Finally, countries and businesses have to invest in developing next-generation leaders to build a more sustainable future, said Mr Heng.

Noting the importance of balancing between short- and long-term needs, Mr Heng said that "building the leadership pipeline is core to this endeavour".

But it is not enough to ensure a leadership pipeline, and countries have to strengthen ties among them in the region as well, he added.

"Our youths play a vital role in continuing the efforts to achieve sustainable development, and creating a sustainable future," he said. "For our youths to succeed, we must invest the necessary resources to nurture our future leaders now."

Former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, in his opening speech, also noted the importance of taking action against climate change, given that it is happening more quickly.

“If we as a global community effectively address the issues related to climate change, we would also address the majority of sustainable development goals,” said Mr Ban, who is now president and chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute.

He stressed the amount of time and energy spent working with leaders in government, business and civil society to set 17 sustainable development goals that were endorsed in 2015 by all UN member states, who committed to achieving the goals by 2030. He also highlighted the need for countries to commit to alleviating poverty.

Mr Fu Hua, director-general of publicity at the Communist Party of China’s Guangdong Committee, noted the uneven development across different regions in China, adding that narrowing this gap is an urgent task.

He added that openness is key to sustainable development, and Guangdong province has done so by seeking deeper cooperation with other countries.