Home > Speeches > Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at the 12th World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in Seoul, South Korea

Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at the 12th World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in Seoul, South Korea

Opening Address By Mr Desmond Lee, Minister For National Development And Minister-in-charge Of Social Services Integration At The World Cities Summit Mayors Forum On 25 Sep, 2pm, In Seoul, South Korea

Mayor Oh Se-hoon, Mayor of Seoul
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. A very warm welcome to the 12th World Cities Summit (WCS) Mayors Forum.

  1. Let me begin by thanking everyone for joining us today! This year, we are honoured to have mayors and leaders from around 50 cities participating in this Forum. We are also very privileged to be able to hold the Forum in the vibrant city of Seoul. As the 2018 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate, Seoul is known for its cultural heritage, technological innovations, and remarkable urban rejuvenation efforts. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Mayor Oh and our friends from Seoul for the warmth and hospitality.

WCS Mayors Forum

  1. The journey of the WCS Mayors Forum began more than a decade ago, in 2010. Singapore initiated this Forum when the world was just emerging from the Global Financial Crisis. We wanted to establish a platform where cities around the world could come together to address some of the most pressing urban challenges.

  1. Over the years, the Mayors Forum has grown to become an international gathering of minds and hearts – an opportunity for city leaders to have open discussions, share best practices and grow a community where cities around the world can collaborate, network, and support one another.

  1. The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate city alternates with Singapore in hosting the annual WCS Mayors Forum. This enables Mayors and city leaders from around the world to visit the Laureate city and see for ourselves the elements that make the city so successful. And therefore, I am glad that we are all gathered here, to witness and experience the vibrance and energy of Seoul – our 2018 Laureate city.

  1. I invite all of you – our Mayors and city leaders here – to take this valuable opportunity to do a few things:
    • First, share some of the remarkable initiatives that you have undertaken in your own cities to make them more liveable and sustainable, so that we can learn from you;
    • Second, please participate actively in the discussions so that we can learn from one another;
    • And third, take the time to catch up with old friends while also making new ones.
    • By the end of this Forum, I hope that you will be able to leave inspired about what more can be done at home, or potentially visit other cities to exchange ideas and continue learning!

Building inclusive cities as a liveable home for all

  1. The theme for this year’s World Cities Summit Mayors Forum entitled “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Forging an Inclusive and Resilient Future” – is particularly relevant to the post-pandemic era we are in today.

  1. While the worst of Covid-19 may be over, many cities still face long-term challenges stemming from the effects of the pandemic - like widening gaps in income and opportunities. Coupled with other major concerns like the climate crisis, geopolitical instability, slowing economic growth and disruptions brought about by digitalisation and artificial intelligence, the challenge of finding the right balance among competing needs and demands in our cities has become even more difficult.

  1. Left unchecked, these challenges could entrench existing advantages and privileges, deepening divides amongst our people. As city leaders, we need to adapt, to level the playing field and build platforms for all – and not just a privileged few – to pursue their aspirations and dreams.

  1. Our city planning as well as the social and municipal policies that we enact must pro-actively identify underprivileged and vulnerable groups, and understand the challenges that they face, to ensure that they continue to have equal access to opportunities.

  1. One such group are the elderly – who face risks such as social isolation, mobility issues, and lack of access to proper housing.
    1. Some cities are addressing this by implementing co-operative senior housing models. For example, Vienna has a senior housing project where the project’s future owners – seniors in their 50s to 80s – design, plan and decide on programming of the spaces within the housing project. They are not just recipients of care, but are also empowered to be agents of change in their own communities.
    1. In Singapore, we have different housing typologies tailored to the needs our seniors. One of them is our Community Care Apartments, where we pair senior-friendly housing with personalised care services and social programming. In essence, this is not just a home that is senior-friendly, but it comes packaged with housekeeping, healthcare, and programmes. This support seniors to age independently within the community. We are also embarking on our Age Well SG programme, to support seniors to age well in their homes and their communities, through a comprehensive nationwide transformation across the areas of transport, housing, active aging and care services. More details will be announced in Singapore, in the weeks ahead.
    1. Another group in our cities who face risks are self-employed workers who have emerged from the gig economy: in Singapore, we call them platform workers because many get work as delivery workers or private-hire car drivers on online platforms. In Singapore, like in many other cities, such workers are currently not covered by basic protections afforded to employees. To ensure that Platform Workers are better protected, the Government will be tabling a new law that will require platform operators to provide financial protection for work injury, contribute to the social security savings of workers using their platform and offer platform workers avenues to collectively negotiate their interests with these platforms.

Ensuring a resilient and sustainable future by tackling climate change

  1. Next, let me speak about the climate crisis and the important and urgent work that cities must undertake.

  1. Cities are the drivers of climate change. We also bear the brunt of its effects. Cities are becoming significantly hotter than surrounding regions, while coastal cities, where half of the world’s population resides, are particularly vulnerable to the increased risks of coastal flooding and storms.

  1. Low-lying island states like Singapore are especially concerned. The rise in sea levels is not a “future problem”. We have to act – right now - to protect our coastlines and enhance our flood resilience.
    1. In Singapore, we are actively trialling different coastal protection solutions. One such solution uses our mangrove forests, to dissipate waves and trap sediment. These help to protect our coastlines from rising sea levels.
    1. We are also investing heavily in R&D for new, innovative solutions. Our water agency, the Public Utilities Board (PUB), recently launched a $125 million Coastal Protection and Flood Management Research Programme to partner universities, international organisations and industry partners to develop, testbed and commercialise urban flood and coastal protection solutions. These solutions may also be useful in other parts of the world.

  1. Even as we step up climate adaption work, our cities also need to accelerate our decarbonisation efforts, because we contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
    1. Older buildings in our cities were often not designed with sustainability in mind, and therefore need to be rejuvenated. Like many other cities, I understand that Seoul is making big moves to tackle this issue. This city implemented a mandatory Zero Energy Building certification for commercial properties which will be phased in over time, to attain net-zero targets by 2050. At the same time, Seoul is rapidly improving the energy efficiency of its older buildings to achieve greater energy efficiency through high-efficiency boiler replacement, LED lighting replacement, and more.

  1. As city leaders, we know that we cannot tackle climate change on our own. We also do not have a monopoly on good ideas. Instead, our partners, stakeholders and the community are often a valuable resource for effective and sustainable initiatives, particularly for local issues. The role of city leaders, like ourselves, is to facilitate and encourage active citizenry.
    1. In Singapore, we launched the Green Action for Communities, which brings local communities together to plan, organise and jointly implement sustainable initiatives in our neighbourhoods. These community-led initiatives engage and rally people towards collective action for environmental sustainability. Interesting ideas have come up. For instance, some of our students suggested townwide recycling of food waste via vermicomposting. And they have helped us to organise workshops to support these ground-up efforts.


  1. As we commence our Mayors Forum, it is also important to remember that there are many other key aspects of city liveability and sustainability that we will cover during our discussions. These include,
    1. Preserving a city’s cultural heritage and identity;
    2. as well as ensuring that cities continue to be engines of innovation.

  1. Let me also take this opportunity to highlight that the Centre for Liveable Cities is launching the latest issue of the Urban Solutions publication today.

  1. This special issue showcases efforts by cities to harness technology to improve inclusivity – economic, social and environmental – so that urban life “leaves no one behind”.

  1. You can find a copy at your table, and I hope you will find it informative and helpful.

  1. Finally, let me express once again, my gratitude for our host – Mayor Oh Se-hoon and the city of Seoul for the warm and generous hospitality. Allow me to say some lines in Korean.

  1. [Segment delivered in Korean.]
    1. I would like to thank Mayor Oh Se-hoon and the city of Seoul, for the warm and generous hospitality. (따뜻하게 환대해주신 오세훈 시장님과 서울시에게 감사드립니다.)
    1. Singapore and the Republic of Korea shares a close and longstanding friendship, and I'm happy to visit Seoul again. (싱가포르와 대한민국은 오랜 기간 긴밀한 우정을 나누고 있고, 서울을 다시 방문하게 되어 기쁩니다.)

  1. Singapore and Korea enjoy strong ties through robust partnerships in areas such as climate change, green economy, artificial intelligence and many other areas.

  1. Last year, Mayor Oh led a 62-strong delegation to show support for the World Cities Summit 2022 during his visit to Singapore. Continuing our collaboration with Korea, our colleagues in Singapore have also worked closely with the Seoul Metropolitan Government to organise this year’s Mayors Forum.

  1. Seoul has demonstrated how its human centric approach to urban development has transformed the city into the inclusive and highly innovative Seoul that we see today. I hope that this will serve as an inspiration for all of us, in our discussions later.

  1. I look forward to the exchanges and sharing and I wish one and all a fruitful forum. Thank you!