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When we look back at this period in five, 10 or 20 years and reflect upon this global pandemic, what will we remember? The debates on the best approach to curb the virus or the distribution of vaccines? Probably not, although these questions very much occupy our minds these days. Our memory is too ephemeral, our times too short-lived.
Two experiences will hopefully linger. First, to grasp what exponential growth actually implies. And what dramatic consequences it can entail in a pandemic as well as in a climate crisis. For decades, researchers have been reporting and warning about the dangers of exponential growth.
The second experience from this pandemic is that we are not helpless if we act resolutely and jointly. With the help of science and common sense, mankind is able to deal with global challenges. It was only a matter of months before effective vaccinations where made available.
It is this “Yes we can!'” spirit that we need on our way towards carbon-neutral societies. Or towards “Energiewende”, as we call the transition to renewable energies and ecological transformation in Germany.
The past months have increased my confidence that we will succeed. During the German EU Council presidency last year, we accelerated the speed towards Europe's goal to be the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. The German Parliament confirmed last week the German Federal Governments Climate Change Act (CCA) that enshrines in law the goal of achieving greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045.
“The CCA provides a framework for the years and decades to come,” explained Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety Svenja Schulze.
The previous target of 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is raised to 65 per cent and set at 88 per cent by 2040. When looking for partners beyond Europe, Singapore's Green Plan (SGP) and the strong Singaporean-German economic partnership create an excellent starting point to play a significant part in this transformational process. An additional impetus are the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines adopted by the German government in September last year.
In the wake of geopolitical rivalries threatening free trade, a systemic competition between democracy and authoritarianism and frenzied economic growth fuelling climate change, we have understood that we must invest more in the Indo-Pacific region, also politically.
This said, the familiar Asia of business - open, dynamic, interconnected - has never lost any of its importance nor attractiveness. Germany now conducts one-fifth of its foreign trade with the countries of the Indo-Pacific.
By diversification, overdependence on a single market or source of essential goods or a single supplier can be avoided, and the significant potential of the entire region better harnessed.
In the interests of future generations, the aim of an ambitious bilateral as well as regional trade agenda must be to ensure that growth in the region is environmentally friendly and socially compatible.
The “Germany Singapore Business Forum Connect”, joined by Minister for the Environment and Sustainability, Ms Grace Fu, and Ms Schulze, will create a venue to share plans of both countries to support sustainable development, and facilitate conversations on the opportunities arising from the green transitions. Breakout sessions will focus on pressing issues already in industry-focus.
Firstly, to tackle the increasing amount of plastic waste, the Plastics Recycling Association Singapore has been set up in spring of this year. This German initiative provides the framework for a Centre of Excellence for recycling. This project is exemplary of what we want to achieve as part of the guidelines and will serve as a model for countries in the region.
European experts and companies will work together with local counterparts and government institutions in the plastic recycling arena with the eventual goal of turning Singapore into a regional hub of excellence in plastics recycling.
WASTE REDUCTION GOALS
Currently, only less than 5 per cent of plastic waste generated in Singapore is recycled. Of that amount, only 7 per cent is processed locally. The initiative ties in with Singapore's new producer responsibility scheme for plastic and its waste reduction goals on its way to become a leader in sustainable waste management.
Secondly, there is no doubt that the radical transformation ahead will change profoundly how we build cities and live in them. Our successful academic-industrial 2+2 initiatives jointly funded by A-Star and the German Ministry for Education and Research will continue to focus on innovative uses of technology for smart urban mobility or the circular economy.
Naomi Hanakata, German-Japanese urban researcher and assistant professor at the School of Design and Environment of the National University of Singapore, and her team are among those closely studying German model projects to develop a holistic approach towards sustainable and equitable urban futures.
Integrating energy intelligence into our urban grids and working with adaptive planning strategies will help to master decarbonisation, decentralisation and foster the capacity of our energy landscapes to become sustainable on all fronts. German companies stand ready to work on solutions for resilient cities and smart infrastructure.
There is even more. Hydrogen as a source of energy is another promising way out of the climate crisis. A gigantic future market is about to evolve with consequences for global power structures, energy security, restructuring of trade flows and the protection of access to food and water.
If oil was the “black gold”, hydrogen will be the invisible “gold of the future”. Seizing this opportunity and minimising risk is what Germany intends to achieve by its “hydrogen foreign policy”. We want Singapore to be a partner in developing such technologies and become part of the global network for carbon-free technologies.
Adopting innovative processes via these initiatives will generate competitive advantages in the future economy and good job opportunities in line with our joint switch to a “green economy” and add to the roughly 45,000 jobs already provided by 2,000 German companies operating in and from the island.
Together with our European partners, we also advance a joint Indo-Pacific approach in the EU. Thus our partnerships can continue to draw on the bloc's innovative and economic strength as well as its regulatory power.
Just under 30 years towards climate neutrality is not much time to master the technological, political, economic and societal changes needed. But let us remember how we have managed to mobilise resources in the fight against the pandemic.
We are not only the first generation in history that has managed to handle such a pandemic effectively. We are also the last generation in history that can prevent the climate collapse. And above all, we are far away from being helpless.
The article appeared in The Business Times on TUE, JUN 29, 2021 - 5:50 AM, UPDATED TUE, JUN 29, 2021 - 5:50 AM