Tuesday, 3 June 2014

* Lessons from Denmark on green growth

Ten per cent of its exports are “green”, and the country aims to be independent of energy from fossil fuels by 2050. Eco labelling makes it easy for consumers to make the right choices. And when thinking of solutions to tackle challenges such as more frequent and intense rainfall, policymakers think about solving other problems at the same time – for instance, by also creating water parks for recreation.

The Danish model of sustainable development was lauded at the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit, but it did not happen overnight, said Denmark’s Minister for the Environment Kirsten Brosbol.

Denmark’s success in this area is the result of “brave political choices”, regulations, incentive-oriented policies and holistic planning, she said at two dialogue sessions. The global energy crisis in the 1970s served as a push factor towards renewable energy, and its Government has given businesses a stable framework oriented towards sustainability, Ms Brosbol added. Also, the Danes’ easy access to nature drives their willingness to protect it, she said.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said that Singapore shares some of the same policies such as pricing water right to discourage wastage, but is likely to remain an importer of food, water and energy given its size and the lack of a hinterland.

“We are not a Denmark, which has a similar population to us but several times the size on us, with their own energy sources,” said Dr Balakrishnan at a CleanEnviro Summit plenary session. “I’m afraid the good news and bad news about Singapore, is that we will always remain on that existential edge. So there’s no room for complacency but ... we will always need innovative solutions.”

A key strategy is to be efficient, said Dr Balakrishnan, flagging food recycling as one area in which Singapore is “watching very closely”. Fish reared on fish farms may be one channel for food rejected by humans, he said, adding that incineration of food waste is not efficient as the bulk of food is made up of water. “I think we will have to look at other innovative solutions to recycle food,” he said.

Food waste is an issue that Denmark is looking to reduce, and Ms Brosbol said it is crucial to work with civil society and companies. Supermarket chains can look at how to prevent food waste through the design of products, for instance.

Panellists from Sri Lanka, China and the United Arab Emirates also shared how their countries are promoting sustainability and a cleaner environment at the plenary sessions yesterday. Sustainable development and a circular economy – one that decouples economic development from the use of natural resources – is not a luxury of wealthy countries, said Ms Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Countries must have a regard for nature’s balance if they want to eradicate poverty, she said.

Asked in another dialogue about financing of infrastructure for cities – where 70 per cent of the world’s population are expected to live by 2050 – Singapore’s National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he sensed no shortage of money, but a shortage of sustainable good ideas that will benefit all sectors in a country. Political honesty is important as people tend to want more, but never want to pay more in taxes, Mr Khaw said.

Mr Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, however, felt that regulatory impediments could be a bigger factor hindering the financing of infrastructure than a lack of good ideas.

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