Militaries must go 'green', help world deal with climate change: Heng Swee Keat

The Singapore Armed Forces aims to reduce carbon emissions growth by two-thirds by 2030.
The Singapore Armed Forces aims to reduce carbon emissions growth by two-thirds by 2030.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - In the global war against climate change, militaries must do their part to protect the environment, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Oct 13).

Giving the keynote address at the third Singapore Defence Technology Summit, he noted that climate change has already heightened inter- and intra-state tensions and competition over limited resources.

Demands on militaries have also increased to support humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in response to extreme weather events, he added.

"It is thus a collective responsibility for all countries and militaries to fight the common enemy of climate change."

This was one of four key shifts Mr Heng outlined for the defence sector on the second day of the summit, along with the need to build up adaptive capacity, counter asymmetric threats and tap "dual-use" innovations.

The four-day event organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) gathers technology leaders around the world to discuss issues related to the use of technology in the defence realm.

About 800 participants from 23 countries are expected to attend, including 100 in person at the Shangri-La Hotel.

In his speech, Mr Heng noted that progress has been made in getting militaries to go green.

In June this year, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation committed to work with its members to achieve a net-zero carbon goal for its troops and installations by 2050, he said.

Militaries have also been switching to sustainable fuel derived from biofuels.

The Singapore Armed Forces aims to reduce carbon emissions growth by two-thirds by 2030, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

This will involve, among other things, transiting to a fully electric army administrative vehicle fleet, with charging infrastructure to be built in camps and bases, he added.

Another key development for the defence sector, said Mr Heng, is the need to prepare better for disruptions, including to supply chains which have been affected during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One way is to partner with civilian operators to improve supply chain visibility. Companies are using artificial intelligence and Internet of Things to develop better real-time tracking of the entire supply chain.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, of spare parts or other critical components can help to mitigate supply chain risks, he added.

In the area of asymmetric threats, Mr Heng cited cyberspace as the new frontier for "grey zone" conflicts which require a "whole of nation" effort to address - involving private businesses, the research community and individuals.

He also urged the defence sector to tap innovations by the private sector.

Clear criteria is needed to decide when to buy and adapt, and when to invest and develop in-house, he said. Sandboxes can provide a useful way to test bed and incubate emerging technologies.

Such "dual use" innovations catalysed by the defence sector have found their way into civilian applications, he added.

In 2013, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a start-up called Moderna to develop mRNA therapeutics, then an unproven idea.

"The mRNA vaccine has truly been a game changer during this pandemic," said Mr Heng. "The positive spillover effects of these innovations have changed the world for the better, raising living standards and literally saving lives."