SINGAPORE: There is room for growth in the sustainability sector, with new job opportunities set to arise, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Tuesday (Aug 18).
Speaking at a virtual dialogue session titled "Climate action: Emerging stronger from a crisis", Ms Fu said the sustainability sector was a "very exciting" one with many gaps to be filled.
"I think this is a very exciting area. I came into this ministry not knowing how exciting this area is," said Ms Fu, who recently took over this appointment.
Previously Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Ms Fu now helms the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, formerly known as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
"There's actually areas of gaps. And when you notice there's gaps, you know that you need to fill the gaps, and I think that's exactly where we think that this is a new sector where jobs are going to grow - and good jobs as well," said Ms Fu, responding to a question from moderator Ms Jessica Cheam on careers within the sustainability sector.
Ms Cheam is the founder and managing director of Eco-Business, an environmental news website which organised the session.
The minister elaborated on specific areas of environment and sustainability-related sectors which could see growth in opportunities.
"Just start at the very level about climate change - we need climate scientists, we need people who understand engineering, who understand drainage, who understand how to protect our shoreline," said Ms Fu.
"Look at waste - we need people to tell us how to extract valuable waste as much as possible out of our waste streams, whether it's food, whether it's metal, whether it's paper, whether it's plastic," she said.
"The more we are able to extract value out of it, the more recycling makes sense," she said, adding that there is then less of a "trade-off" between environmental and economic objectives.
Food science could be another area of growth, said the minister.
"The area of food science also is tremendous - we are looking at increasing the food production capacity of Singapore, in many folds, many, many folds over the next 10 years," she said.
"It is where intensive urban farming is called to action. And I'm sure the sector is looking for many, many technicians, many scientists in this area."
Giving the example of cleaners, Ms Fu also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much Singapore relies on labour in some sectors.
"It has shown us that we need to be more resilient. We need to let each one of them do more with less physical strength, but more equipment, more mechanisation. So again, that's a whole new area of improving productivity using digital (means) to help us do our work better," she said.
"MAXIMISING VALUE" FROM WASTE
In the wide-ranging dialogue, Ms Fu also tackled other questions including one on the possible increased usage of single-use plastics as a result of the pandemic.
Noting that there are many types of single-use disposables - which range from masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to takeaway containers - and a corresponding increase in demand, Ms Fu said that there is sometimes a "trade-off" between public health and hygiene versus the use of plastic.
"I think for us, the main thing is about waste streams, how do we treat the waste stream? We like to have a way so that the waste is treated with minimal impact on the environment," she said.
"Secondly, how do we extract most resources out of the waste stream so that we can recycle as much as possible? In Singapore, I think we all know that because we incinerate hundred per cent of our waste, we harness the energy content from our plastics. But is that the best that we can do? I think not."
READ: IN FOCUS: 'It is not easy, but it can be done' - The challenges of raising Singapore's recycling rate
Singapore will need to "maximise the value" from its waste stream, said Ms Fu.
But first of all we should "use as little as we can", said the minister, although she acknowledged that given the current pandemic some disposable items are needed.
"In the case of a pandemic, we need the kind of PPE, we need the kind of gloves - we can't help it. That's, you know, something that we need to think about it," she said.
"But I'm sure our healthcare institutions are also thinking about how to have supply resilience also - on the mask and on on the PPE and all the other disposables. So that has to come into the consideration - how can we use as little as possible."
The second aspect is how Singapore can treat waste "as best as we can" to get as much out of it as possible.
"Secondly, then how do we treat the waste as best as we can, get as much out (of it) as we can," she said.
"Use as little, getting as much out as we can and minimise the impact on the environment. I think that will guide us going forward."
In addition to Ms Fu, the other speakers involved in the dialogue were Sembcorp Industries' group president and CEO Wong Kim Yin as well as Mr Bradley Busetto, who is the director of the UNDP Global Centre on Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development.