SINGAPORE - Climate change can wreak "catastrophic and irreversible" damage on societies and economies, so taking action to avoid such an outcome is a responsibility that businesses must take, said President Halimah Yacob on Tuesday (Sept 28).
Climate action also presents a business opportunity, she said during the launch of Ecosperity Week - a sustainability conference organised by Singapore's Temasek.
The three-day conference, which takes place in a hybrid format with some delegates gathering at Marina Bay Sands, will focus on climate solutions.
Discussions will cover issues such as decarbonisation technologies, including sustainable fuels for the aviation and maritime sectors, nature-based climate solutions, and tools that can help divert capital to meet climate goals.
Madam Halimah said: "The Singapore story is testament to the fact that sustainability and economic growth need not be mutually exclusive... That belief is also captured in the name of this event Ecosperity, which pairs the words 'ecology' and 'prosperity'."
While the consequences of climate change are widespread, Madam Halimah said South-east Asia faces disproportionate risk.
The long coastlines and densely populated low-lying areas in Asean make the region vulnerable to rising sea levels, she said. Sea level rise is a result of melting land ice and the expansion of water in a warming world.
"In a scenario where sea levels rise by 1m, at least 89 million people in the region would be living in zones at high risk of frequent coastal flooding. Typhoons and other weather events are becoming more intense and more frequent, and leave a higher human and economic toll," said Madam Halimah.
And as the world gets warmer owing to humans belching out more planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, businesses will also suffer.
The Climate Economics Index by research organisation Swiss Re Institute has warned that if no climate action is taken and temperatures rise by 3.2 deg C by mid-century, the gross domestic product of Asean economies could decline by a third compared with what it would have been in a world without warming, Madam Halimah said.
Under the Paris Agreement inked in 2015, nations agreed to take action to limit global warming to well below 2 deg C, preferably to 1.5 deg C, compared with pre-industrial levels. Climate change impact gets more severe for every degree of warming.
Taking climate action will also ensure that future generations have a liveable planet. Citing a United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) report launched last month, Madam Halimah said approximately one billion children - nearly half of the world's 2.2 billion children - live in countries identified to be at extremely high risk of impact from climate change.
But there are solutions out there to avoid such a situation.
Emerging technologies can help businesses transform, she said, citing examples such as electric cars and alternative proteins.
Electric vehicles, if charged up by grids powered by lower-carbon fuels or renewable energy, are greener than diesel or petrol-fuelled cars. Alternative proteins, such as plant-based "meats" and those made from cell culture, are also considered more sustainable than the livestock sector, which is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Madam Halimah said: "According to the International Labour Organisation, a shift to a greener economy could create 24 million jobs globally by 2030. There is immense economic value in the transition to a net-zero emissions future."
But in this transition, workers must not be left behind, she said. Help must be given to help them develop new skills needed in emerging sectors.
Madam Halimah said: "Investing in upskilling our existing workers so that they can pivot to the new opportunities is a responsibility that extends beyond the Government, and requires cooperation from businesses, labour organisations, and the individuals themselves."
She added that Singapore was well aware of the need to balance economic development with environmental protection and social inclusion, even as it developed.
"As the country industrialised post-independence, we did so with sustainability in mind. Even as we built public housing, pursued manufacturing investments and developed our professional services sector, we planted trees along our roads, cleaned up the Singapore River and set aside nature reserves," she said.
Recently, the Government also launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030 to chart the nation's sustainability journey, Madam Halimah said.
As climate change is a global problem that needs to be addressed with a multi-lateral, rules-based approach, Singapore participates actively in global climate negotiations, she added.
Madam Halimah said: "We can play our part as a fair broker in forging consensus at international discussions on climate change. I am confident that what we do here in Singapore does matter and can influence others."
Speaking during the opening of Ecosperity Week, Mr Lim Boon Heng, chairman of Temasek Holdings, welcomed delegates back to the conference. The annual event, now in its seventh edition, was not held last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This event will explore new ideas and forge partnerships as we seek to tackle another big crisis confronting humanity, the looming, climate emergency," he said.
"Even as countries learn to cope with the health and economic crisis arising from the pandemic, we must step out and step up our efforts against climate change, or I should say, climate emergency."