New international panel to advise S'pore on sustainable infrastructure

Chaired by Indranee, it will offer guidance on best practices, trends, opportunities

Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah (in pink) and Infrastructure Asia executive director Seth Tan (beside her) at yesterday's meeting at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with Asia Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory Panel members (from left) Scot
Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah (in pink) and Infrastructure Asia executive director Seth Tan (beside her) at yesterday's meeting at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with Asia Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory Panel members (from left) Scott Minerd, Keiko Honda and Cheong Koon Hean. The panel will advise government office Infrastructure Asia and hold discussions with various other platforms.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

As countries recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, there are opportunities to reset and rebuild, especially in the area of sustainable infrastructure.

This is why Singapore has set up an international panel of experts to advise on the latest trends and best practices in sustainable infrastructure, as well as identify investment opportunities, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday.

Ms Indranee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for National Development, was describing the new Asia Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory (ASIA) Panel, which she chairs and which was launched at the Asia Infrastructure Forum on Wednesday.

Joining her for a meeting at the Singapore Botanic Gardens yesterday were three of the panel's members: Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) chairman Cheong Koon Hean, Guggenheim Investments chief investment officer Scott Minerd, and Columbia University adjunct professor and former chief executive officer of the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency Keiko Honda.

The other members are waste recovery platform Anaergia's chief executive Andrew Benedek, Capella Hotel Group chairman Guy Harvey-Samuel, Cambridge University geotechnical and civil engineering professor Robert Mair, and green tech company Envision Group's chief executive officer Zhang Lei.

While the global sustainable debt market reached US$1.7 trillion (S$2.3 trillion) last year, 80 per cent of it is concentrated in developed markets such as the European Union and the United States.

Guggenheim Investments' Mr Minerd said that because the EU and US are deep capital markets, they are the first stop for anyone who wants to raise money. "But I think there will be a natural evolution over time, especially in financial centres like Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong."

Ms Indranee said the key to making projects bankable is to structure them properly. Such projects have positive effects on job creation, such as in professional services, she said.

"If you can get the sustainable projects off the ground, that would mean jobs for the engineers, quantity surveyors and technicians all down the line."

Mr Minerd said technology is important to drive down costs and achieve greater efficiency.

An example is solar energy, which for years operated at a "huge disadvantage", as it had to be sustained with hefty government subsidies. But technology has since rendered solar-produced electricity much cheaper than that from oil-fired power plants, he said.

CLC's Dr Cheong said it takes time and experimentation to make technological improvements economically viable.

When Singapore embarked on solar energy, she said, the Government subsidised the cost of solar panels. But within a few years, the price of solar panels came down significantly.

Singapore, she added, has also transitioned to integrated solutions such as district cooling for new towns like Tengah, where chilled water will be piped to homes from centralised chillers installed on the rooftops of selected Housing Board blocks. This is more energy-efficient than conventional air-conditioning.

Columbia University's Ms Honda said more has to be done to facilitate the smooth transition of existing energy supply investments to a low-carbon future. For example, it is still cheaper to run coal-fired power plants than solar-powered ones in some countries, such as the US and China.

Mr Minerd added: "People are stuck with legacy assets, and don't want to acknowledge that the investment they made in a coal facility 10 years ago may be worthless now, if they were going to start over," he said.

The ASIA Panel will hold its first formal meeting in November.

It is also planning to co-organise three public discussions with the Asean Secretariat, United Nations Environment Programme and the Group of 20's Global Infrastructure Hub, on topics such as the future of infrastructure, technology in infrastructure, and sustainable financing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2021, with the headline 'New international panel to advise S'pore on sustainable infrastructure'. Subscribe