Reflections with Grace Fu

By Jolie Fong

On 23 December 2020, Advisory organised a ProNet Engagement Evening with Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment; and Member of Parliament for Yuhua SMC. The theme was “Building Back Better A Sustainable Singapore Post-Covid-19”, where Minister Grace Fu shared her insights about Singapore’s role in advancing climate change cooperation in the world, opportunities in the domestic sustainability sector, and also her biggest takeaways about crisis leadership in 2020.

Climate change is an issue that requires global cooperation. When it comes to climate negotiations at the United Nations, every party has several alignments on different topics such as waste management, renewable energy or oil and gas. Therefore, it is very important that Singapore work at the multilateral level to achieve consensus, agreement and action. Singapore, in particular, has been an advocate and constructive mediator between various groups of countries. While we cannot tell others what to do, Singapore has the advantage of being neutral which allows us to be an effective interlocutor at these negotiations. At the regional level, we build capabilities by organising courses and seminars on sustainability and global climate regulations which help to bring our counterparts together and maintain collective focus on the topic by emphasis its urgency.

Singapore also continues to play its role as a financial center for the region. With activity in sustainable finance and green investing increasing, Singapore’s status as a financial hub helps to match the supply and demand for projects that meet sustainability criteria while also growing our carbon services sector to offer new services like consultancy and carbon trading.

Sustainability, being extremely wide and varied, has horizontal and vertical aspects. Sustainability is horizontal because it will increasingly feature in any business or industry. As investors start to demand that invested companies meet certain sustainability targets, sustainability operations in a business will become as important as other pillars such as legal, human resource and information technology. Therefore, skills within the environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework such as knowing how to read and prepare sustainability reports and understanding how to reduce emissions, energy and water will be key.

Sustainability is also vertical in that there are quite a number of up-and-coming, specialised areas that require a lot of scientific and technological expertise (e.g. IoT, optimisation, engineering) that layer on with a knowledge in sustainability. Therefore, skills in systems thinking and having a creative mindset is crucial to being able to innovate and use resources in a way that maximises value in a circular economy.

In addition to actively investing in research and development to solve problems, we also try to empower local companies to take full advantage of the support we provide by showcasing them on the global stage. Singapore participates in various global conferences such as the International Water Week, Clean Enviro Summit and World City Summit, where we allow local companies to pitch their sustainability initiatives and products. It demonstrates that Singapore is a marketplace for ideas, models and innovations, and attracts decision-makers like mayors of cities from around the world to become more interested about what our firms have to offer.

Singapore is currently working in a carbon-constrained world, with a fixed budget of land, carbon and labour. We have to look for economic activities that help us to maximise these budgets and constraints while also showing commitment to our carbon pledges. While we are aggressive in our economic pursuits, we are also conscious about the impacts that certain decisions have on climate health. Therefore, we have to continually look for rational solutions or make trade-offs that help improve our outcomes and energy efficiency.

When restructuring our economy, we have to consider how we can help our people meet their aspirations and desired lifestyles while adhering to these constraints – namely, how do we encourage inclusive growth and equal opportunity while taking care of the environment? While we are aware that environmental parameters will increasingly shape us more and more, we can instead slow down to give our companies and the public a longer lead time to adjust to new restrictions, such as by raising capital or upskilling.

I believe a leader has to be visible and communicate clearly. We often tread a fine line between overconfidence and understating the extent of the problem, and this doesn’t give confidence to the public. It is especially difficult when we have limited knowledge of the situation. During Covid-19, we had to act without much information on the virus and there was no playbook we could rely on. It was important that we get all the help we could, so if we are able to solicit from and galvanise the community, it helps us to overcome the challenge better. I personally have seen that by empowering the community to participate in crisis management, we can extend our reach and obtain a lot more resources than what the government alone is able to provide. For example, when we had the issue with the migrant workers, it was the community that came together to provide food and toiletries for them, which was something the government would have taken much longer to do ourselves. If we empower the community to organise their resources, we can actually achieve a lot more as a country.

I hope that Singaporeans, together, can improve our standard of hygiene, and social collectivism needs to be undertaken in order to improve national cleanliness. I also hope that more Singaporeans will become bigger advocates for planet Earth, so that we can leave behind a better world for future generations. We are not passing the Earth on to the future generation; we are merely borrowing it from them. We want to leave behind a better Earth, and want them to see that this generation is a responsible and enlightened one.