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Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at World Cities Summit 2022 Mayors Forum

Opening Address by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-In-Charge of Social Services Integration, Singapore, at World Cities Summit Mayors 2022 Forum on 31 July 2022


Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1.      Good afternoon, and a very warm welcome to the 11th World Cities Summit (WCS) Mayors Forum.

2.      Our last Mayors Forum was held in 2019, before the pandemic and how the world has changed greatly since then.

3.     But what remains the same is the vital role that cities and city leaders play, in rallying communities together for a better future because cities continue to be important centres for economic, social, and technological progress and they are home to so many people, all over the world.

4.      That is what makes the Mayors Forum so unique and valuable as a platform because it brings leaders together, not just at the federal or regional level but also at the city level, to discuss local, city and municipal issues - practical matters, on the ground, that directly impact people’s lives.

5.      Today, we are privileged to have more than 60 leaders from cities around the world, to share their insights with us. Earlier this morning, I had the chance to meet with some of the delegates. We come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, but we share common challenges, and we found so much to learn from one another.

Theme: “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Emerging Stronger”

6.      The theme for this year’s WCS is “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Emerging Stronger”. It represents our ambition – not just to survive shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic but to bounce back even stronger and more resilient than we were before.

7.      We continue to face challenges in the near-term. Though many of us are taking steps to move beyond COVID, we remain alert to potential new variants. At the same time, geopolitical tensions remain, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues. While many of us are grappling with inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the looming threat of a recession.

8.      But even as we confront these immediate challenges, we must also keep an eye on longer-term trends. Trends that will shape our collective future profoundly, for better or for worse, depending on how we respond. We need to mitigate the risks, and seize the opportunities that arise, to prepare our cities and societies for the journey ahead.

9.     Today’s discussions will focus on two of these major trends – digitalisation and decarbonisation.


10.     First, on digitalisation. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital tools in many cities. We have learned to connect with others virtually, much more often.

11.      Digital technologies can now do so much – from automating certain tasks, to collecting and analysing large amounts of data but to unlock the full potential of digitalisation at a large scale, and build truly “smart” cities, it takes more than just the technologies alone. It is also about how we integrate these technologies into our wider urban systems, across different users, and support them with the right plans and policies.

12.      For example, the Port of Rotterdam uses common digital platforms to provide real-time data to its many stakeholders – shipping companies, agents, terminals and other service providers. This improves coordination and optimises port calls, by allowing vessels to sail “just in time”. The port could thus remain fully operational throughout the pandemic, and also reduced its emissions. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb will share more about Rotterdam's digital strategy later.

13.      In Singapore, we are also working hard to become a Smart Nation, supported by the three pillars of a Digital Society, a Digital Economy, and a Digital Government. The idea is to mobilise all our stakeholders – citizens, businesses, Government agencies and more – to pick up digital skills and make full use of digital technologies in every domain – to solve problems, enhance productivity, and most importantly, improve the lives of our people.

14.      For example, when the pandemic hit, we quickly developed a suite of digital tools to support our response. These included a mobile app called TraceTogether, which allowed us to detect and quickly inform users who had close contact with a COVID patient. Later, we integrated the app with our databases, so that users could use it to demonstrate their vaccination status. Such digital tools supported the roll-out of our public health measures, and helped to keep our people safe.

15.     But digitalisation also has its risks, which need to be managed. One concern is cybersecurity.

16.     Bilbao, for instance, provides a free Wi-Fi network to its residents, which can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The city is thus building mechanisms to identify and block such threats, and guide residents in dealing with them. The city also provides training on online risks, through programmes developed jointly with residents.

17.      Another important concern is ensuring that everyone can keep up with the changes brought about by digitalisation.

18.     In Singapore, for example, we are actively supporting different groups who may need more help in their digital transition, such as our seniors and food hawkers. Mayor Low Yen Ling will elaborate on this later.


19.      Besides digitalisation, another major trend that we all face is the existential threat of climate change.

20.      The world needs to decarbonise quickly and drastically. According to some estimates, cities account for 75% of global carbon emissions, so we bear a large responsibility to help the world decarbonise.

21.      In line with the Paris Agreement, many countries have set out strategies to reduce their emissions and even achieve net-zero targets. Many cities have done the same, taking into account their specific circumstances. In Singapore, we have raised our climate ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by or around mid-century.

22.      These are ambitious plans, and the key challenge will be in navigating the many trade-offs that may arise – between more sustainable growth and faster-paced growth; between more substantial sustainability efforts and their potentially higher costs; among others.

23.      Yet in negotiating these trade-offs, it may also be possible to find win-win solutions, and unlock new opportunities.

24.      For example, Melbourne’s Emissions Reduction Plan aims to reach net-zero by 2050, while creating new jobs, spurring more innovation, and reducing domestic energy bills. We hope to hear more from Lord Mayor Sally Capp, as well as other cities at this Forum, on how you are charting your decarbonisation pathways.

25.      In Singapore, we have launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our whole-of-nation movement for sustainable development. It covers almost every aspect of life in Singapore, across five pillars – City in Nature, Energy Reset, Green Economy, Resilient Future, and Sustainable Living.

26.     We are pushing hard on many fronts at the same time – setting aside more land for nature parks; deploying many more solar panels on top of buildings, on reservoirs and water bodies; phasing out cars with internal combustion engines and encouraging more public transport use; recycling a lot more; and growing more sustainability-related jobs and educational programmes.

27.     This requires significant coordination and collaboration across the public, private and people sectors, and whether we will succeed depends on whether we can galvanise everyone in society to do their part.

28.     Many other cities are actively involving their people to drive their sustainability efforts.

29.     In Yokohama, the Yokohama Eco School draws on citizen participation to offer seminars, activities and projects that encourage eco-friendly lifestyles. Perhaps we can hear more about this from Director-General Toru Hashimoto later, as well as from other city leaders, on your sustainability efforts.

A People-Centric Approach

30.     Ultimately, in digitalisation, decarbonisation, and all the other things that we do in our cities, we stand the greatest chance of success if we can bring our people together, and work toward a common goal.

31.     To do this, we need to build trust with our people, involve them in our plans, and put them at the heart of our efforts because cities are not just about technology and infrastructure – fundamentally, they are about people.

32.     The UN-Habitat’s work embodies this spirit. Through their “People-Centred Smart Cities” flagship programme, for instance, they are providing strategic and technical support on digital transformation to governments worldwide. We look forward to hearing more about UN-Habitat’s work from Dato Maimunah Mohd Sharif later.

33.     In Singapore, we are embarking on the Forward Singapore exercise, to engage and partner Singaporeans in refreshing our social compact – our shared understanding, throughout society, about the roles and responsibilities that different stakeholders share.

34.     Not just what the Government should do, but also what individuals need to do, families, businesses, community organisations, religious groups, and others; coming together to agree on how we each need to contribute and support one another, as we move forward together. Not just today, but also into the future, and across different generations of citizens, from our seniors, to our youths, and future generations not yet born.


35.     As we begin our Mayors Forum discussions, I hope that we will all share candidly about the challenges that we face, and the steps that we have taken to address these, so that we can learn from one another’s perspectives, through helpful and practical discussions.

36.     Let me also just highlight that our Centre of Liveable Cities is launching the WCS edition of their Urban Solutions publication today. This explores what it might mean for cities to emerge “stronger”, and what shifts this may require in terms of their design, financing, and operations.

37.     This edition also features our 2020 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate and Special Mention cities. You can find a copy of this publication at your seats, and we hope you will find it useful.

38.     I look forward to a rich and insightful discussion. Thank you.