In-Conversation with Minister Indranee Rajah
A session at the WCS 2021 Preview on 29 January 2021, 2:30pm Singapore time (GMT+8)
COVID-19, the climate crisis, social shifts and new technologies have shaken the world. Minister Indranee reflects on Singapore’s experience with Dr Cheong and the importance of creating a green and resilient future through comprehensive city and infrastructure planning and working with the international community and citizens, so that cities can continue to thrive despite the disruptions.
- Dr Cheong Koon Hean, Chairman, Centre for Liveable Cities
- Indranee Rajah, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development
To emerge stronger and resilient, the world must create a green future
As cities and nations ponder how to arise from this pandemic stronger and more resilient, one obvious need has emerged.
Sustainability – including the urgent fight against climate change – is a cause that the world must advance, said Minister Indranee, stressing the “huge responsibility” on humankind as we are the first and only species capable of such a significant impact on our earth and its climate.
“We have the power of accelerating (climate change) and making it worse, or reversing it. When you look at it in that context, it becomes very real, and very urgent,” she said.
Even as a small nation, Singapore is “very determined” to do its part, said the Minister. The city-state has committed to an absolute peak emissions level of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. It aims to boost solar energy generation by four times by 2025, while also progressively phasing out internal combustion engines in favour of electric vehicles.
Minister Indranee urged nations to be socially responsible and to “find a way to agree” on how to act together to ensure a green future for the planet. “There are so many different conflicting demands…but I think that at the end of the day, we can agree that we want a cleaner and more sustainable planet,” she said.
Nations must continue to work together, and also work with their citizens
Nations cannot afford to turn inward looking, as the world is facing transboundary problems that require collaboration, noted CLC Chairman Dr Cheong.
The unprecedented speed of COVID-19 vaccine development was only made possible because scientists and governments quickly shared data and information, said Minister Indranee, and nations must continue to work together to ensure the stability of global supply chains for essentials such as food. Minister Indranee expressed her hope that the World Cities Summit will foster this spirit of collaboration and the mutual sharing of knowledge.
Governments must also listen to and work with the people to deliver public outcomes, as this makes a nation stronger, said Minister Indranee. Emphasising unity through the Singapore Together and SG United movements has helped Singapore fight COVID-19 through mask- wearing and the roll-out of vaccines, and also galvanised communities to volunteer, help their neighbours, and reach out to elderly and the disadvantaged.
“When the pandemic hit, it became even clearer that we have to work together as a community – government with people, and people with people…the key is that to achieve national objectives, everybody has to be on board. This idea of partnering and pulling together is how you emerge stronger,” said Minister Indranee.
The pandemic has driven home the importance of liveable neighbourhoods and community ties
With lockdowns and remote working keeping many people at home for extended periods, the pandemic has emphasised the importance of designing liveable homes and neighbourhoods with easy access to amenities, said Minister Indranee.
She shared how Singapore pays great attention to planning a “compact city” with self- sufficient neighbourhoods, so that residents can access healthcare, schools, eateries, parks, retail and their workplaces easily on foot or by public transport. Dr Cheong added that this idea of “polycentric centres” has always been a focus for Singapore, and it could be accelerated further.
Beyond the built environment, the pandemic has also highlighted our need for social connection, said Minister Indranee, noting the negative impacts on mental health that emerged when safe-distancing restrictions prevented people from meeting up. She added that this in turn has highlighted the importance of digital infrastructure, as online platforms became the only way in which people could stay connected with one another. Singapore recognises this, and as part of its drive to digitalise the nation, has launched programmes to help groups such as the elderly to pick up digital tools and literacy.
To build resilient city infrastructure, look to the ancient Roman aqueducts for inspiration
As cities strive for resilience, the planning and developing of infrastructure poses significant challenges. Asked by Dr Cheong how planners should approach this, Minister Indranee drew on the example of ancient Roman aqueducts, which have remained intact till today.
To be resilient, city infrastructure should be long-lasting and easy to maintain, sustainable, simple in concept, and not excessively costly, she said. People should also be able to live and work around it, she added, citing Singapore’s Marina Barrage – which enhanced Singapore’s water resilience by creating a reservoir, while also serving as a recreational destination – as a good example. “This kind of infrastructure serves a useful purpose, while at the same time adds to the quality of life in the city,” said the Minister. Minister Indranee added that green financing of infrastructure is key, as investors including sovereign wealth funds are increasingly paying attention to sustainability.
Dr Cheong also noted that the pandemic has shown that a change in mindset of “just in time” supply chains needs to change to “just in case”, to build self-sufficiency into systems to ensure resilience.