Public service will be reminded to place sustainability at its core: Grace Fu

Procurement norms under review; ministries incorporating sustainability in their plans

Singapore has long relied on diversification to keep its people fed and watered, but the pandemic has shown that this alone may not be enough, says Minister for Sustainability Ms Grace Fu. She outlines Singapore's plans to ensure resource resilience.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu makes it a point to check the thermostat everywhere she goes - and that includes the Istana.

She is checking to make sure the temperature is set no lower than 25 deg C, a go-green tip from the National Environment Agency under her charge.

"I think I've raised the temperature in Istana," she said in an interview with The Straits Times.

Ms Fu was speaking figuratively, but reminding the public service to place sustainability at its core is a role she sees herself and her ministry playing.

Already, her newly renamed ministry is reviewing guidelines to make sustainability a part of government procurement decisions.

"Anything the Government would do, from (making) investments to building (infrastructure), we will want them to consider sustainability.

"For example, if I want to build a school, university, (or make) any major capital investments, I think the public service would want to think about its carbon footprint, its energy efficiency, its water efficiency, its waste recycling facilities, for example," said Ms Fu, who took on the portfolio in the Cabinet reshuffle in July.

Sustainability is not a new concept for Singapore, she noted, citing how the Republic, which has no natural water resources, had dealt with the issue of scarcity.

Ms Fu, who was previously Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, was also Second Minister for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources between 2012 and 2015.

The sector has changed over the years. For one thing, the awareness of and momentum towards sustainable development is much stronger, she said, adding that even corporate entities are beginning to realise the importance of sustainable business.

Ms Fu, 56, said the different ministries are incorporating sustainability in their plans as well.

For instance, the Transport Ministry had earlier declared its ambition to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040.

"So unlike other countries, we didn't have a sustainability or green budget, but actually I think you can find elements of it in many, many ministries," she added.

Worldwide, there is a growing view that two crises - the pandemic and climate change - can be tackled simultaneously by rebuilding economies that are greener and more resilient, and creating new jobs and less destructive industries.

Some countries, such as Britain and South Korea, have responded to this by rolling out "green recovery" plans.

Said Ms Fu: "In Singapore I think our successive Budget amendments were very much about really supporting businesses through Covid-19 in the immediate timeframe, and also creating jobs... The ministries are now looking at ways to build up those (sustainable) capabilities."

By 2030, she hopes recycling rates will go up, research and development efforts will pay off in terms of creating new jobs and companies here, and Singapore will be a cleaner place.

"Not because we have more cleaners, but because we have fewer cleaners - that we clean better, our cleaners are treated better, and most importantly, our people themselves have clean habits," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2020, with the headline 'Public service will be reminded to place sustainability at its core: Grace Fu'. Subscribe