SINGAPORE - Transforming trash into treasure is the way forward to safeguard the future of Singapore and the region, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli at a key environmental meeting on Friday (Jan 25).
Countries need to embrace a new form of economic growth and adopt circular economy approaches, and not be purely reliant on resource exploitation, he said.
"By transforming waste into resources, we will generate new economic value from something that would have been thrown away," he said, pointing out that new industries can emerge where skilled workers design innovative products and manufacturing processes for waste.
The conference at Marina Bay Sands saw heads of state, ministers and environment officials from 38 countries meeting to discuss environmental issues and key priorities and solutions.
Estonia's Environment Minister Siim Kiisler, president of the fourth United Nations (UN) Environment Assembly, highlighted three main priorities - sustainable and efficient resource management, smart use of environmental data, and meaningful engagement across different groups.
The forum, being held in Singapore for the first time, is the precursor to the assembly, which will be held in Kenya in March.
The assembly, one of the most important environment events of the year, will bring together nations around the world to focus on innovative solutions, and sustainable consumption and production.
Ms Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of the UN Environment Programme, noted that the approach of "grow now and clean up later" has reached its limit, and that the world needs to dramatically change the way it produces, consumes, and lives.
Key to this is innovation, she said.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who gave the keynote address on Friday, said that while a growing population means a growing demand on resources, it can also mean more people who can contribute to solutions.
To do so calls for embracing technology, getting the economics right, and working together, he said.
One of the success stories he pointed out was deployment of standalone solar systems to provide electricity to homes in India, an effort hailed by the International Energy Agency as one of the greatest success stories in terms of access to energy.
Pointing to economics, he stressed the need to fully reflect the costs of resources. In Singapore, for instance, water is priced to take into account its supply, production, and scarcity, and a carbon tax was introduced this year to put a direct price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries need to work together to share best practices, exchange experiences and expertise, and find solutions together to address global environmental challenges, such as deforestation and pollution, he added.
Ms Msuya also pointed to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's foresight in keeping Singapore clean and green.
"What was innovative then is common knowledge now," she said. "Innovation needs to be the heartbeat of the transformation that we want."
Mr Masagos said the forum was a platform for countries to work together to achieve economies of scale and accomplish more than individual countries could do alone.
He gave the example of local company LHT Holdings, which uses recycled wood and plastic in its manufacturing processes. He said LHT, which makes wooden pallets, boxes and crates, tapped on materials from the region because Singapore alone could not supply enough.
"Everything you call waste is actually a resource you can tap on and make use of," he said.