Ho Ching, CEO of Singapore's sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, called for all businesses and organisations – be it for-profit, non-profit, societies, or governments agencies – to embrace Goal 13 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Goal 13 is about tackling climate change.
Speaking at the St Gallen Symposium Singapore Forum 2019, Ho Ching – who is also the spouse of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – talked about the three important capitals – human, knowledge, and financial – which work in tandem to create an environment of productivity, efficiency, and advancements.
She elaborated that the formation of financial or economic capital is driven by the needs of the people who want a better life for themselves. For example, by saving from an early age and carefully growing their capital to channel it back into their business to keep the cycle going.
Human capital, on the other hand, is the key to progress says Ho Ching. She was citing Dr Goh Keng Swee’s postulation that neither population size or natural resources are key drivers for economic development, rather it was human capital.
However, Ho Ching also warned of the perils of selfishness or placing individual gains over societal values. She said, “we all end up worse off when it is each man for himself, with no regard for the whole.”
She elaborates that both individual and societal values are equally important for the sustainability of any society. She added, ‘a society makes progress when there is trust…without trust, society breaks down’.
But even with both financial and human capital, Ho Ching pointed out, there is a third and very important key to progress – knowledge. The cumulative knowledge of not just singular communities but that of communities around the world, enables humans to ‘design machines, build modern cities and provide cutting edge medical care’.
Pivoting to the current era where information is available at the click of a mouse, Ho Ching notes that “misinformation is still doing harm”. Elaborating, she says “the cult of anti-vaccination is causing measles to spread again in some communities.”
She added “knowledge and fact can be lost amidst the mire of prejudices, ignorance and bigotry”.
In essence, Ho Ching said, “Financial capital needs to be activated by human capital. Human capital, in turn, depends on knowledge capital to apply financial capital effectively in the right direction. Capital in isolation is not sufficient.”
She then went on to talk about the purpose of any organisation, institution or society along three dimensions: the primary mission, people, and planet.
The primary mission is simply the core object of any organisation. These can be businesses, self-help groups, or non-profit institutions. They can be regulators, governments, or nations.
But that alone is not enough. Ho Ching suggests that is it critical that any organisation also value their human capital – this includes investing in them, training, and providing the necessary knowledge and skills that would enable them to lead.
She said, “Investment in people can never stop.” Beyond school, there is a need for continuous re-training and re-skilling opportunities to help people transition into a future that is rapidly changing.
On this point, she notes that while governments can help support basic early education, industries and organisations need to take up the mantle and play their own part in continuing to educate the workforce. She added, “even retirees should be upskilled and reskilled for the new world to remain active and engaged in their silver years.”
Finally, Ho Ching emphasised the importance of everyone pitching in to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special report that indicated we have less than 10 years to turnaround our carbon-intensive way of life and reduce global CO2 emissions by 2030, to half of our 2010 levels.
She goes on to describe the effects of global warming including the resurgence and increase of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, and zika, higher sea levels, destructive weather conditions, and the extinction of wildlife including coral reefs.
In Singapore, Ho Ching notes that the central district has gotten one degree hotter in the last five years. When compared to the increase of a quarter degree every decade since 1940s, that’s a rate of increase eight times faster than before.
Ho Ching suggests that Singapore can halve her energy usage by providing more efficient large scale district cooling systems such as the one used in Marina Bay.
She ends with a clarion call for everyone to do their part and make a concerted effort to tackle climate change by reducing Singapore’s collective carbon footprint by 2030. “Ultimately, the Purpose of our Capital – whether economic, human or knowledge capital – MUST be to ensure life can survive on Earth.”