Embrace technology to improve development of sustainable infrastructure: Indranee Rajah

Despite significant efforts by governments around the world to catalyse sustainable financing and investing, Covid-19 has strained already limited financial resources, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - With more data, financing sources and better use of the right technology, it is now possible to plan, design, construct, upgrade and maintain all types of infrastructure so that they are more sustainable, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.

Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for National Development and Finance, said that despite significant efforts by governments around the world to catalyse sustainable financing and investing, Covid-19 has strained already limited financial resources.

"To ensure that the development of sustainable infrastructure continues to advance in tandem with population and economic growth, we need to prioritise projects and embrace technology to support growth areas that align with the trinity of national interests, regional needs and global trends."

She was speaking on Monday (Nov 8) at the inaugural meeting of the Asia Sustainable Infrastructure Advisory Panel, which she chairs.

The meeting of the international panel of experts provides a platform for the public and private sectors to exchange views on global trends and best practices on sustainable infrastructure in Asia.

The meeting is being held in Singapore on Nov 8 and 9 in hybrid format at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands. There are three public discussions involving 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.

Ms Indranee noted how the private sector can provide innovative solutions and infuse sustainable practices into logistics, supply chains, digital infrastructure and climate mitigation.

For example, she said, local start-up and logistics operating system firm Portcast introduced machine learning and predictive artificial intelligence to track, predict and quantify cargo delays, as well as forecast demand for containers.

During a panel discussion, geotechnical and civil engineering professor at Cambridge University, Lord Robert Mair, said that the importance of technology can be seen in the evolution of infrastructure building processes.

Instead of pouring concrete on-site under difficult conditions, components are now increasingly made in factories, assembled and then delivered to the site. This increases quality and reduces waste, he said.

"We are also looking to use more low-carbon concrete and other materials - again, all very relevant to sustainable infrastructure," he said.

He added that there are now sensors to monitor the whole life of infrastructure assets. This enables countries to improve the design and management of infrastructure, which, in turn, leads to more sustainable infrastructure.

Mr Lim Chze Cheen, director of the Asean Connectivity Division at the Asean Secretariat, described plans for sustainable infrastructure under the Master Plan for Asean Connectivity 2025.

These include establishing a rolling priority pipeline list of potential Asean infrastructure projects and sources of funds; establishing an Asean platform to measure and improve infrastructure productivity; and developing sustainable urbanisation strategies in Asean cities.

He observed that supply chains in the region vary in their levels of exposure and vulnerability, and the ability to re-route components and having flexible production dynamically across sites keep production going in the wake of a shock.

"However, this will require robust digital systems, as well as analytics capabilities to run scenarios based on different responses. So investment in these areas will be critical," he said.

Mr Tong Yew Heng, chief executive of NetLink Trust - which builds, manages and operates fibre network infrastructure - said that countries such as Singapore, New Zealand and Spain have high levels of fibre broadband penetration, and this has a lot to do with government policies and incentives, as well as the level of private investment and market competition.

Investing in broadband or fibre requires significant capital expenditure over a long period of time. For this to succeed, a long-term digital infrastructure plan and private-public partnership funding are important, he said.

He added that when it comes to fibre broadband roll-out, there is much existing infrastructure already in place, and this should be reused to the furthest extent possible.

"This will speed up the roll-out and reduce the cost of investment, and is actually also a more sustainable way of investing because it will lower the impact to the environment," he said.

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