Parliament: Big push to grow Singapore's food and water resources to ensure survival in the face of climate change

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced an ambitious target of producing 30 per cent of the country's food needs by 2030 - or 30 by 30. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - With global warming heralding new threats, resource scarcity will be the new normal.

So the Government is throwing its weight behind efforts to protect and provide for the country's survival - in the areas of water, making the most of waste, food and climate change research - Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Thursday (March 7).

"Climate change is bringing new and wicked problems," he said in Parliament.

"It is no coincidence that we are building more desalination and Newater plants - we need to produce water almost at will, regardless of whether the rains come."

And just like the country's water success story, the same can be done in other areas, through long-term planning decades before a problem surfaces, he said, pointing out that Newater was more than two decades in the making.

"Faced with a challenge, we start small, learn from others, harness technology, invest in R&D. Keep on trying, until we get it right.

"Then we take our solutions and scale up to benefit the whole nation."

In terms of food, this means decreasing the dependence on the global food market, which accounts for over 90 per cent of Singapore's current food supply.

Announcing an ambitious target of producing 30 per cent of the country's food needs by 2030 - or 30 by 30 - Mr Masagos said that this would call for new paradigms in the sector, with a focus on state-of-the-art indoor farms.

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They would incorporate climate control and automation, for instance, and in terms of fish - closed containment systems that keep algae blooms and oil spills at bay.

"Farmers of the future will operate computerised control systems in a pleasant environment."

It was time to break away from the "take, make, use and toss" mentality and embrace the circular economy instead, Mr Masagos added.

Promising technologies dealing with waste include Singapore Polytechnic's green chemistry technology to recover precious metals in e-waste, and Nanyang Technological University's method of turning food waste into high-grade fertilisers.

In addition, the National Environment Agency is working on turning incineration ash into construction material, called NEWSand, and has developed draft standards for using treated ash for building roads, for example.

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When it comes to climate change, science will be key in guiding policies, he added, with the opportunity for Singapore to be a leader in the tropics, since there is limited knowledge on its effects there.

To this end, there will be more investment to build capability in the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, set up in 2013, and the local scientific community. This year, the centre will embark on the National Sea Level Programme to better understand sea levels around Singapore, so that robust projections and plans can be made for the long term.

Solar power will be stepped up. It could be harnessed at reservoirs, coastal areas and building facades to potentially power 40,000 four-room flats each year, an area half the size of Tampines.

At the same time, the water story is also not over.

The Research Innovation and Enterprise Council has allocated $200 million to national water agency PUB for research, and the Government has posed "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" to the scientists, he said, such as producing desalinated water with much less energy than currently needed.

Already, new technology which could potentially halve the energy required for desalination is set to be scaled up and deployed in the Tuas Desalination plant from 2020.

At the same time, people are saving more water, with domestic consumption falling from 148 litres per person per day in 2016 to 141 litres in 2018, with a target of further shaving it to 130 litres by 2030.

In all, the Government will spend almost $400 million on research and innovation in water, the circular economy, climate change and food, under the Research, Innovation, Enterprise Plan 2020 (RIE2020).

The challenges also bring with them opportunities, Mr Masagos stressed.

Pointing to Singapore's thriving water industry - with over 200 companies and more than 25 R&D centres, he said that investments in the sector in the past decade had created 14,400 good jobs and economic value-add of over $2.2 billion annually.

And plans for the water, food and environmental sectors would open up a variety of exciting opportunities for enterprises and jobs.

"We must do as our forefathers did, stay alert and nimble, and continue to plan and prepare for the long term," he said.

"We have ambitious plans for our water, waste and food sectors, but the road ahead is long and winding. We will persevere, for we are not done building a sustainable Singapore."

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