Water-Energy-Food Nexus-Towards Circular Economy
SPEECH BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, AT THE “WATER-ENERGY-FOOD” NEXUS – TOWARDS A CIRCULAR BUSINESS ECONOMY, ON 11 JANUARY 2022
Mr Charles Quek, Vice President (General Affairs), Singapore Water Association
Ms Isabella Loh, Chairman, Singapore Environment Council
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to join you this morning.
TRANSITIONING INTO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY FOR SINGAPORE
2 Sustainable development has been high on the international agenda since the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in 2015. This has spurred a global movement to transit towards a circular economy. With the use of global resources tripling since 1970 and material productivity declining since 2000, the concept of circularity seeks to achieve sustainable development by maximising resource utilisation while reducing and repurposing waste.
3 Without a hinterland or natural resources, Singapore recognises the critical importance of sustainable development. In fact, we have prioritised sustainability since our early years of independence through balancing economic growth with environmental protection and social inclusion. Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we have set for ourselves concrete and ambitious targets over the next decade to ensure Singapore remains a green and liveable home into the future.
4 One of our key strategies under the Green Plan is to help businesses transit towards a circular economy. We have invested in Research and Development (R&D) to support businesses in recovering materials from waste. Since 2017, the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Close the Waste Loop R&D initiative has committed $37.7 million to fund 15 projects on the treatment of priority waste streams and resource recovery.
WATER SECTOR AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
5 One of our notable achievements in circularity is in the water sector. Many of you would be familiar with the Singapore Water Story — how we have leveraged technology, innovative solutions, and developed capabilities to strengthen our water security. Today, we collect every drop of water, and reuse it endlessly. We also desalinate seawater. Despite our constraints, we are now able to ensure an adequate supply of clean and affordable water for residential and industrial use.
6 However, our challenge with water supply does not end here. Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns and how water is distributed, aggravating the uneven water stress already faced by different countries today. A report by the BBC noted that 40 per cent of the world population is affected by water scarcity. At the same time, global water demand continues to increase as populations grow, industries develop, and consumption patterns change. By 2050, global water demand is expected to be 30 per cent higher than that in 2019.
7 The impact of climate change on water will have severe downstream impact on other critical resources, such as food and energy. Globally, more than 70 per cent of freshwater supplies is currently channeled into the agriculture sector for food production. Similarly, the energy sector consumes water in its production processes. The interconnectedness of the three sectors, or the Water-Energy-Food Nexus, forms the basis of our well-being and is at the core of sustainable development. Ensuring resource resilience in these three sectors is therefore critical.
CROSS-SECTOR COLLABORATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
8 In Singapore, we are developing the Tuas Nexus, a state-of-the-art facility which will integrate and harness synergies from water and waste treatment processes for energy self-sufficiency. By co-digesting food waste and used water sludge from separate facilities, Tuas Nexus is expected to produce 40 per cent more biogas from water treatment alone, which will improve the overall plant thermal efficiency and electricity generation.
9 The water-energy-food nexus also has great potential for the agriculture sector. Food production, whether through traditional or urban farming methods, requires intensive use of water and energy. As resource constraints become more apparent with climate change, research and development in the water-energy-food nexus, where the waste from one sector becomes a material input for another, facilitates a continual supply of raw materials essential for food production. To this end, the National University of Singapore Environmental Research Institute (NERI) is developing novel technologies for efficient utilisation of space and water, while reducing the energy demand required to produce fertilisers.
10 The Tuas Nexus and research by NERI demonstrate the potential for water, energy and food sectors to synergise for resource efficiency. With water being consumed as a resource in almost every part of our lives, the water sector can benefit tremendously if it can transform itself to be even more sustainable and value add to other sectors’ resource utilisation.
11 I am glad that the Singapore Water Association (SWA) and the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) have come together to support our water companies. Through this partnership, SWA members will be able to tap on SEC’s programmes to develop new capabilities in sustainability that will be applicable within and beyond the water industry. I hope that you will explore the options available to your companies, so that you may build a competitive advantage, find new business opportunities, and drive bigger, bolder actions to achieve sustainable development and resource resiliency for Singapore.
12 Let me conclude. Sustainable development with finite resources means that we need to be efficient in our resource utilisation. A circular economy model allows us to reuse resources repeatedly, reduce the need to constantly exploit new resources and tap into new areas of growth.
13 While our water sector has been at the frontier of circularity in Singapore, there is still more potential. The Singapore International Water Week that will be held from 17 to 22 April will showcase innovations and solutions related to a circular economy. We look forward to your participation then.
14 With water as an essential resource, the sector can make a greater impact through collaborations with other sectors. The SWA-SEC partnership will equip our water companies with the skills and knowledge to value add and contribute to a wider circular economy. I hope that you will benefit from this initiative and look forward to many more sustainability champions from the water sector.