Alliance Forged at 5th Annual Global Green Economic Forum

A moderator for one of the sessions, Juliette Saly of Bloomberg Radio and Television, closed the session with a quote by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam made just a week prior:

“If sea levels rise, we have to take it seriously, or all of us will have to take swimming very seriously.”

Laughter ensued, but the underlying message was taken very seriously by the audience. It was, after all, the reason they gathered at JW Marriot Hotel on an early Friday morning.

Now in its 5th year, the Global Green Economic Forum brought businesses, academia, and government together to learn and collaborate on solutions for what has been said to be the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. With the theme of “Belt & Road Initiative – The New Asian Model of Sustainability”, the focus was on building a sustainable Asian economy in the context of China’s Belt & Road Initiative.

A memorandum of understanding was also signed between two organisations dedicated to setting companies on a greener path, Global Green Connect (GGC) and the United Nations Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS). This agreement will mean that GCNS will start promoting GGC to its members, and both will collaborate on future events and trade-fairs.

Said Wilson Ang of GCNS, “We are pleased to partner with GGC to help Singapore businesses, especially SMEs, to internationalise by connecting them with like-minded businesses and investors through corporate sustainability.”

Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, was also present to oversee the signing and to give an opening speech. In the speech, he praised Singapore’s journey on sustainability thus far, while highlighting challenges and the kind of progress the government hopes to see in the future:

“The journey towards environmental sustainability requires the active participation of businesses and consumers. Governments cannot achieve this alone. Strong collaboration across stakeholders is vital.”

“Minister Masagos Zulkifli bin Masagos Mohamed underlined the foresight and vision that the Singapore government is taking in this field”, said Christina Lee, founder and CEO of the Global Green Economic Forum. “It is encouraging to see so many stakeholders participate.”

Participants heard from experts and specialists in their fields in two sessions, each followed by a Q&A. The first, titled ‘Sustainability Matters to Investors”, focused on the recent US administration reversing course on green technology and the finance industry setting up a task force to promote climate-related financial disclosures and risks. Panelists include Helen He of IFC World Bank Group, Tan Chee Wee of OCBC Bank, and Yeo Lian Sim of the Singapore Exchange, with Juliette Saly of Bloomberg as moderator.

The second session, titled ‘Stepping up from Smart Cities to Smart Nation’, discussed about Singapore’s recent commitment to using technology to increase efficiency, and how renewable energy and sustainability plays a part in this development. Rahul Kapoor of Bloomberg Intelligence was moderator, while the panel consisted of Esther An of City Development Limited, Jake Layes of Autodesk, and Poyan Rajamand of Barghest Building Performance.

While many participants surely learnt something, and the focus on practical, actionable steps to take now is commendable, the self-congratulatory aspect in the forum with regards to Singapore’s progress in sustainability ignored and betrayed the fact that Singapore is, in many ways, conflicted in making sustainable choices and its economic growth. For instance, Singapore’s land reclamation efforts have been criticised as causing much environmental harm both from where the sand originates and locally where the land is expanded. Singapore remains an oil hub with its oil industry (operating mostly on Jurong Island) making up five percent of its GDP. Local companies like Old Chang Kee and Polar Puffs & Cakes continue to use palm oil from companies that may be responsible for the indiscriminate burnings and deforestation of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests, causing the dreaded annual haze. In this sense, local consumers have yet to be truly informed on making more environmentally conscious decisions in terms of the companies they interact with.

“Sustainability is not merely a choice, but a matter of survival”, said Tan Chee Wee of OCBC Bank in response to a question. For now, at least, the government seems to rely more on such clichés and feel-good statements than actual accountability and transparency to promote itself as a green hub. Perhaps economic growth is too strong an addiction to put aside instead of a slower paced, but greener, growth.