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Island ingenuity: How small states can lead the sustainability charge (II:II)

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By Alex Hong

· 10 min read

This is part two of a two-part series. You can find part one here

Small island nations are threatened by climate change, but they also have a great opportunity to lead the way in sustainability. This commentary examines the opportunities and problems city-states like Singapore confront as they work towards their net-zero goals. It explores technical solutions such as climate-smart agriculture, green buildings, and the integration of renewable energy. It highlights the value of strong legislative frameworks, community involvement, and regional cooperation in addition to technology. Small island governments can become pioneers in sustainability and systems integrators by growing successful initiatives like Singapore's green construction programmes and encouraging knowledge sharing among ASEAN members. It will take creative finance solutions, global backing, and a move towards a circular economy to fully embrace this role.

Success ultimately depends on cooperation, an openness to new ideas, and a common vision of a time when small island states prosper not in spite of, but precisely because of, their dedication to sustainability.

V. Scaling up success: From Local Ingenuity to Regional Transformation

The entire region might profit from the best practices and solutions created by SIDS. In order to promote regional cooperation and scale up successful programmes, this section will look at some specific tactics.

Green building knowledge transfer:

  • Capacity building programs: Through capacity building initiatives aimed at ASEAN countries, Singapore, with its well-established green building grading system (BCA Green Mark Scheme), may contribute experience. Green building concepts may be widely adopted in the region if architects, engineers, and legislators were trained in sustainable construction procedures.

  • Impact: ASEAN countries can lower building energy use and reap substantial economic and environmental benefits by following Singapore's lead.

Regional waste management systems:

  • Waste-to-energy collaboration: The restricted landfill capacity poses a concern for many SIDS. Building regional waste management systems can benefit from Singapore's experience with waste-to-energy technologies. Programmes for knowledge transfer could give other ASEAN countries the best practices and technical know-how needed to put comparable solutions into effect.

  • Benefit: In addition to addressing trash disposal issues, a regional waste-to-energy network can provide clean energy and help ASEAN become a more sustainable region.

Sustainability hub network:

  • Knowledge Exchange Platforms: With an emphasis on resource efficiency and innovation, SIDS are able to create a network of "Sustainability Hubs" throughout the area. These centres would serve as venues for capacity building, knowledge sharing, and cooperative research. With its robust infrastructure for knowledge management, Singapore can be a key player in promoting regional relationships and knowledge transfer.

  • Outcome: The establishment of a network of Sustainability Hubs is expected to expedite the dissemination of optimal practices and cultivate a cooperative milieu for addressing local sustainability predicaments.

These scaling-up tactics demonstrate how SIDS have the capacity to spur a more comprehensive sustainability revolution in ASEAN. SIDS may guarantee the transmission of their local triumphs to regional advancement by pooling their experience and encouraging regional cooperation.

VI. Accelerating success: fuelling the sustainability engine

SIDS are incredibly capable of spearheading the sustainability movement, but a number of crucial elements must come together for them to succeed. This section examines important factors that can hasten the ASEAN's transition to a greener region.

International support:

  • Green financing and technology transfer: the technology and financial means to carry out extensive sustainability programmes are often lacking in SIDS. Accelerating progress requires international support in the form of technology transfer collaborations and green financing structures. Access to these resources for all ASEAN states, not just the SIDS, can be greatly aided by developed countries and multilateral organisations.

  • Example: Developing nations can receive financial assistance for climate action programmes from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Facilitating fair and equal access to GCF resources for all ASEAN countries is vital in order to promote regional sustainability.

Innovative financing mechanisms:

  • Public-private partnerships and green bonds: The amount of money needed for a regional sustainability transformation may be beyond the reach of traditional funding methods. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) and green bonds are two examples of creative financing methods that can draw in private capital and quicken the development of projects.

  • Model: Singapore is well-versed in using PPPs for infrastructure development and is a known regional sustainable finance entity. Sharing best practices for designing and carrying out PPPs can promote their application to sustainability projects throughout ASEAN.

Transitioning to a circular economy:

  • Minimizing waste and maximizing resources: Making the shift from a linear "take-make-dispose" economic paradigm to a circular economy is essential to sustainable development. This entails reducing the amount of trash produced, making the best use of available resources, and producing long-lasting and recyclable products. With its emphasis on resource efficiency, Singapore can contribute significantly to the promotion of circular economy ideas throughout ASEAN as a knowledge partner.

  • Initiative: The "Zero Waste Nation" initiative in Singapore seeks to enhance recycling rates while lowering garbage output. By exchanging best practices, this project can help other ASEAN countries make the transition to circularity more streamlined and effective.

The international community, regional governments, and the business sector can establish an atmosphere that supports innovation, opens up funding, and quickens the region's transition to a sustainable future by tackling three important issues.

VII. Singapore: a sustainability icon and systems integrator for ASEAN

Like Singapore, other ASEAN Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have particular advantages that put them in a position to lead the area not only in sustainability but also as critical systems integrators. Because of its background in resource management, policy development, and green urban planning, Singapore stands out as a particularly good example.

A model for sustainable development:

  • Green urban planning: With its energy-efficient buildings, vast public transit systems, and compact city design, Singapore has emerged as a global leader in sustainable urban planning. Other countries in ASEAN looking to build sustainable cities can learn a great deal from this experience.

  • Case study: With its integration of green spaces, municipal cooling systems, energy-efficient buildings, and pedestrian infrastructure, Singapore's Marina Bay district is a prime example of sustainable urban development.

  • Resource management expertise: Singapore has placed a great emphasis on resource efficiency because of its limited natural resources and land area. Its knowledge in renewable energy, waste management, and water conservation may be vital in pointing other ASEAN countries in the direction of a more sustainable future.

  • Example: Singapore's vast network of desalination plants guarantees a steady supply of freshwater, which is an important lesson for ASEAN's water-scarce SIDS. Water security will become a contentious issue that requires regional countries to cooperate in order to eliminate conflicts due to the scarcity of this life-sustaining resource. 

  • Policy innovation: Implementing effective environmental policies is something Singapore has demonstrated in the past. The policies can be effective use cases for ASEAN member countries to adopt and execute, such as the carbon tax and the Green Mark Scheme for buildings.

  • Highlight: A regional framework for categorising sustainable operations, drawing green money, and encouraging sustainable investment throughout ASEAN has been established by the latest development of the ASEAN Taxonomy (Version 3), which is being led by Singapore.

Leading by collaboration and facilitation:

  • Technology transfer and regional projects: Within ASEAN, Singapore can serve as a conduit for the transfer of technology and expertise. Singapore can expedite regional progress by pooling its expertise and working together on sustainability projects.

  • Model: Regional cooperation on sustainability projects can be modelled after Singapore's cooperation with other ASEAN countries on renewable energy projects, like cross-border electricity grids. Singapore has always been a willing partner to help ASEAN member countries achieve parity in terms of development and the sharing of ideas so that the region can emerge stronger and more resilient.

Sustainable finance champion:

  • Icon for green investment: By drawing green investments and directing them towards sustainable projects, Singapore has become recognised as a global centre for sustainable finance. Throughout ASEAN, investments in sustainability initiatives can be encouraged and facilitated by utilising this expertise.

  • Initiative: In 2022, Singapore issued its first green sovereign bond, a sign of its dedication to bringing green capital to the table and a model for other ASEAN countries pursuing related paths.

Trusted administrator and management expertise:

Beyond financial support, Singapore can assist ASEAN countries in navigating the challenges of a sustainable transition by offering reliable administrative and management experience. This knowledge will be essential in enabling the conversion of raw materials into sustainable products, benefiting both the local economy and the global marketplace.

Singapore has the potential to be a significant driver of positive change in ASEAN by utilising its experience, knowledge, and leadership in sustainability. Singapore and other SIDS can steer the region towards a more sustainable and affluent future by working together, exchanging expertise, and developing innovative policies.

VIII. Conclusion: leading by example, building a greener ASEAN

ASEAN and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are at a turning point in their development. They have a rare chance to become leaders in sustainability, but they also confront existential risks due to climate change. Through their adaptability, concentration, and current advances, SIDS have the potential to become not only important systems integrators for the region but also role models for sustainable development,

A call to collective action:

  • Achieving a sustainable future for ASEAN and SIDS requires collective action from all member states. The countries with their leadership and expertise, can guide and facilitate this process by:

  • Sharing best practices and knowledge: ASEAN and SIDS nations can guarantee the replication of sustainable practices that are successful by implementing capacity building programmes and knowledge sharing activities.

  • Fostering regional collaboration: Working together on initiatives like waste management plans and renewable energy grids can hasten the achievement of regional sustainability objectives.

  • Advocating for supportive policies: Nations have the ability to promote regional regulations, including carbon pricing and green procurement requirements, that encourage sustainable behaviours.

The pillars of success:

  • The success of this collective effort hinges on several key pillars:

  • Innovation: In order to overcome resource restrictions and achieve sustainability goals, it is imperative to embrace new technology and investigate creative solutions.

  • Circular economy: Long-term sustainability requires switching from a linear economic model to one that maximises resource utilisation and reduces waste.

  • Knowledge exchange: Progress must be accelerated by encouraging open communication and the sharing of best practices between SIDS and other ASEAN countries.

The ideal state for island nations:

  • The ultimate goal for SIDS and ASEAN is to achieve a state of:

  • Resilience: The capacity to tolerate the effects of climate change and environmental deterioration and to adapt to them.

  • Self-sufficiency: Reducing dependency on outside sources and promoting independence in vital sectors such as food and energy production.

  • Thriving Green Economy: A strong and sustainable economy powered by clean technologies, innovation, and efficient use of resources.

Recognizing comparative advantage for regional good:

  • Recognising each country's unique advantage, regional organisations such as ASEAN must value and respect the initiatives of its member states. With cooperation based on these advantages, ASEAN can create a more sustainable future for each and every one of its members.

In summary, SIDS have the capacity to drive an environmentally conscious ASEAN. These island countries have the potential to set an example for the area in terms of resilience, self-sufficiency, and shared prosperity by embracing innovation, cooperation, and a circular economy.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Alex Hong is the Executive Director of Digipulse Data and strategic advisor. He is the Chief Sustainability Coordinator of the Youth Networking Business Committee (YNBC). Alex is LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) in Singapore 2022 and represents the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia.

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