MSE in process of working on and revising sustainability guidelines for public sector: Grace Fu

MSE in process of working on and revising sustainability guidelines for public sector: Grace Fu

Grace Fu
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu speaks on CNA's "The Climate Conversations" podcast. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Sustainability and Environment (MSE) is in the midst of working on and revising its sustainability guidelines for the public sector, said its minister Grace Fu.

"We hope that with that guidelines, more public agencies will be thinking about sustainability, will be really imbibing this sense of sustainability into their work, into the way that they procure, into the way that they build new infrastructure," added Ms Fu.

Ms Fu was speaking on Monday (Nov 16) on CNA's The Climate Conversations podcast, which looks into the issues related to the science and impact of climate change, as well as the policy, technology and finance behind climate action and adaptation. This edition of the podcast was published on Friday.

LISTEN: Grace Fu on why she hopes to be a climate change champion | EP 14

The revised guidelines will follow the Public Sector Sustainability Plan 2017-2020, which was launched in June 2017. As part of the plan, targets for the public sector included reducing electricity and water consumption from financial year 2013 levels by more than 15 per cent and more than 5 per cent respectively by 2020.

'We want to be out there, we want to be innovative, we want to invest in capability and capacity so that not just in MSE but in other ministries, and even more broadly in all other ministries to also start taking on a sustainability hat."

Previously the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Ms Fu now helms the MSE, formerly known as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

READ: 'Immediate priority' for new environment ministry is a cleaner Singapore amid COVID-19: Grace Fu

Ms Fu noted that sustainability is a "very important topic" which deserves a "robust debate" in Parliament.

"I think we have a very active group of MPs (members of parliament) in our GPC (Government parliamentary committee).At the same time, I'm beginning to hear voices also about greater sustainability in our decisions. So I hope to engage the MPs more rigorously, and maybe more comprehensively on this topic," she said.

"It is a very important topic, because it involves the way that we live and involves heavy investment. So I think it deserves a robust debate in Parliament."

At the same time, Ms Fu highlighted the importance of civic society in the push for sustainability.

"If you look at this area of sustainability, there are so many aspects that (are) going on, that I think no one can claim to have the solutions to every problem that we have. And actually, technology is actually moving quite quickly in some areas," she said.

"And while this is evolving, the civic society, the science community, for example, is really shaping how we are behaving, how we are buying, how we are consuming as well. And ... this is where I think the Government is so happy to work with all parties, all stakeholders to come up with a social norm that cannot be guided by policies - like how we buy, how we consume - it cannot be dictated by a policy ... This is where I think civic society has a lot to play."


Even as Singapore continues in its overall climate mitigation efforts, it remains a good place to do business, albeit in a sustainable manner, said Ms Fu.

Earlier this month, Shell Singapore said that it plans to repurpose its core business and halve its crude processing capacity at its Pulau Bukom oil refinery, as part of an overhaul in its journey towards a low-carbon future.

As part of the transition, Shell will cut 500 jobs by the end of 2023 at the Pulau Bukom site, which currently employs 1,300 staff, a Shell spokesperson told CNA previously.

Grace Fu (2)
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu speaks on CNA's "The Climate Conversations" podcast. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

"You can see this as job loss, you can see this as a transformation that will create a new business for us. And we hope that it will be the latter," said Ms Fu.

"What are the conditions? First of all, I think we have to continue to be pro-business, but in a light carbon way. Shell knows that this is coming. Those oil majors know that this is coming because they are also leading the way towards a lower carbon economy. So they have to find sustainable business models. And they need to make that change."

READ: Shell Singapore to repurpose core business, downsize Pulau Bukom refinery in low-carbon shift

Shell's business review in Singapore follows a pledge by parent company Royal Dutch Shell to become carbon neutral by 2050, matching a commitment by rival BP as climate change looms large over the energy sector.

The company said it planned to have net zero emissions from the manufacture of all its products by 2050 "at the latest".

The goal is also in line with Singapore's ambition to halve its 2030 peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to achieve net zero emissions "as soon as viable" in the second half of the century.

"We want to be that position, that where Singapore is concerned, we continue to be a good place to do business but in a sustainable manner," said Ms Fu. 

Giving the example of a study involving the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Shell looking at ways to better recover plastics, Ms Fu noted that Singapore wants to be the place where innovation can happen.

"We want to have that policy sandbox where new products, new regulations are needed so that we can transform our industry," she said.


During the podcast, Ms Fu also touched on what she hoped a green recovery for Singapore from the COVID-19 pandemic would look like down the road.

For one, she noted that Singapore must be a "cleaner society, not a clean society".

A cleaner clear dishes as people dine at a hawker center in Singapore as the city state reopens the
A cleaner clear dishes as people dine at a hawker center in Singapore as the city state reopens the economy amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

"I think the pandemic has taught us the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Whenever we have an infection, the first people that we send in are our cleaners to disinfect the place," she explained.

"So actually, this has taught us that this capacity and the competency in cleaning properly, deep cleaning, actually is something that we must strengthen and we must entrench so that we don't wait for another 10,15 years for the next pandemic for deep cleaning again."

Habits such as the returning of trays and used crockery as well as keeping public eating places clean would be what the ministry needs to "entrench", added Ms Fu.

"I want to really make this something that I ... leave as my mark on this ministry," she explained.

READ: Commentary: This new Ministry of Sustainability and Environment looks pretty promising

In addition, Ms Fu noted that she would want to see how sustainability could become "a kind of competitive advantage" for local companies.

"Because you have gone through this process of really drilling down on your energy usage, your water usage, your material usage, that you can be assured that you are sustainable, you are offering a good product that is sustainable for the future. And that will put you ahead of your competitor in a low carbon world," she said.

"That's going to come because we have seen the momentum when China, Japan, Korea are putting those timelines ahead of them, we know that as such a large market, they will drive the products that's going to go into that, they're going to set the standards.

"So companies like our Singaporean companies, if you're not in in that standards, you run the risk of being left behind with a product, with a plant, with a factory, with an office, that doesn't meet the standards. And that's a big risk."

Source: CNA/mt