Singapore Budget 2019: Preparing for climate change over long term, making Singapore a global city and home for all

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat pointed out that it is very difficult to project spending needs so far ahead, although the different ministries have done some preliminary estimates. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Government will be investing in infrastructure in a big way, and developing long-term plans to protect itself against the impacts of global warming, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Feb 18).

But individuals must also change their way of life and work towards a more sustainable future.

"As a low-lying island nation, there is nowhere to hide when sea levels rise," he said.

"To protect ourselves against climate change and rising sea levels, we will have to invest more."

"Together with existing infrastructure needs, our total bill for infrastructure will increase significantly," he said.

Mr Heng pointed out that it is very difficult to project spending needs so far ahead, although the different ministries have done some preliminary estimates.

"We will continue to do our best to look forward, develop fiscal plans well in advance, and put in place the right approach to finance such long-lived major infrastructure. Each generation should contribute its fair share," he added.

The Government's Climate Action Plan, launched in 2016, has seen low-lying roads near coastal areas raised.

Changi Airport Terminal 5 is also being built 5.5m above the mean sea level.

There are also pilot projects involving dikes and new reclamation methods on Pulau Tekong - to shed light on how to deal with rising sea levels.

Mr Heng said the carbon tax being applied to this year's emissions is an important signal to companies and households to adopt energy-efficient practices.

And the Zero Waste Masterplan, which will be launched in the second half of the year, will look at better management of food waste, e­-waste, and packaging waste including plastics, among other issues.

But individuals must also change their way of life and work towards a more sustainable future, he noted, by adopting the 3Rs: reducing consumption, reusing and recycling.

Building a more sustainable environment not only makes quality of life better, but creates opportunities as well.

"Just as we closed the water loop, we can now turn our attention to closing the waste loop," Mr Heng said.

Start-ups are already tackling the challenge - UglyGood and Tria, for instance, have been working on innovative ways to convert food-related waste into useful products, he said.

UglyGood transforms organic waste into useful products, such as natural cleaners and animal feed, while Tria's proprietary packaging options can be rapidly turned into compost.

Praising the National Parks Board for its "excellent job" in greening the island, he said that in Singapore's dense urban environment, air quality and greenery were especially important.

The more than 40 per cent green cover here makes a difference to both the air and the living environment.

"Our beautiful living environment can also be enhanced through the smart use of technology, as a part of our Smart Nation efforts," he added, giving as examples pneumatic waste collection, the use of district cooling in the Marina Bay area, and environmentally friendly buildings.

"Today, our shining little red dot can hold its own on the global stage," he said.

But he added that Singapore's development plans must be far-sighted and must include the country's need to be well-connected within and with the world.

Within Singapore, there are now about 230km of MRT lines, a figure which will rise to about 360km in the 2030s, when major MRT projects such as the Cross Island Line are completed.

To enhance global connectivity, airport and sea port capacities are being enhanced.

"This will strengthen our role as a key node within Asia and to the world," he said.

"Connecting to future growth, knowledge, and cultural centres in Asia and beyond will not only benefit Singaporeans, but also add to the connectivity and vibrancy in our region."

Mr Heng said the long-term transformation of the city must start with Housing Board estates, where most people live.

"Many cities have large tracts that slip into disrepair over time - we must avoid that. We must strive to make every town in Singapore green and liveable, by rejuvenating them systematically over time."

Singapore's public housing policies had been uniquely successful because of long-term planning, he said.

Touching on the URA Master Plan 2019, he said it would guide the country's urban development over a 10 to 15-year time frame, ensuring that limited land could meet the needs of current and future generations.

"Today, we are not just building new flats. We are improving the quality of life for Singaporeans, through the rejuvenation of our public housing estates."

There is the Home Improvement Programme (HIP), which helps resolve common maintenance problems of ageing flats such as spalling concrete.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Programme is for block and precinct improvements, and the Remaking Our Heartland initiative is a blueprint to renew and further develop existing HDB towns and estates.

Over the longer term, there is the HIP 2 and the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme.

"These are plans that will keep our living environment first-class over the coming years," Mr Heng said.

HSBC's regional head of infrastructure in Singapore Jim Cameron said the Budget reaffirms Singapore's commitment to maintaining core infrastructure spend in sectors such as airport and rail to maintain the economic competitiveness of the country.

"The Budget also reinforces the importance of climate change considerations in future development, both in terms of building climate resilience into large scale infrastructure projects such as Changi Airport and the importance that Information Technology will play in the Government's ambition to showcase Singapore as the leading global Smart City where efficient urban functionality results in best in class sustainable planning and operations," he added.

However Mr Tay Hong Beng, head of real estate at KPMG (Singapore), said while green buildings are highly relevant to Singapore's sustainability initiatives, the Budget "does not provide any impetus to directly stimulate the demand and supply for green buildings".

"It is only when we are able to establish a direct correlation between building sustainability and its occupancy, rental and valuation that greening of buildings can be driven by market forces rather than a top-down approach by the Government," he added.

Read Mr Heng's full speech.

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