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How Singapore Became Asia's Launch Pad for Sustainable Innovation & Tech

We spoke with Damian Chan, EVP of the Singapore Economic Development Board, to learn more about how it is driving sustainability and the energy transition in the island nation.

Climate change is exerting profound and multifaceted impacts on the Global South, especially the Asia-Pacific region — exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and posing unprecedented challenges including rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and more frequent and intense extreme-weather events. Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise — which threatens densely populated cities and low-lying island nations.

Despite the growing, climate-related issues impacting the region, Singapore remains a global hub of innovation, commerce and trade. A regional leader in tech and entrepreneurship for decades, the island nation has recently gained a new brand image for its considerable efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It has fostered local and international cooperation to adopt sustainable-development practices and innovative solutions to address this region's complex and interconnected challenges.

The Singapore Economic Development Board

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is one institution that has supported exemplary work in climate-tech innovation. As a government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the EDB is responsible for strategies that enhance Singapore’s position as a global center for business, innovation and talent. Its mission is to create sustainable economic growth while creating vibrant business and job opportunities within Singapore.

The EDB is also playing an active role in helping Singapore achieve its net-zero by 2050 goals by collecting a carbon tax from companies to fund decarbonization initiatives. The organization expects its carbon-tax revenue to reach $1 billion Singaporean dollars (~$US744K) within 5 years, and is using it to provide financial assistance and funding to the following programs focusing on decarbonization:

In 2021, through EDB, Singapore’s government also announced that it would transform Jurong Island into a Sustainable Energy and Chemicals Park that operates sustainably and aims to export sustainable products for the global market — as part of the Economy pillar of the Singapore Green Plan for 2030.

The EDB has also supported the growth of climate tech startups through:

  • EcoLabs Centre of Innovation for Energy: Focuses on collaborations that can help energy technology developers explore commercial opportunities, and has established an international network of accessible test beds in companies around the world.

  • GenZero: Investment platform company that aims to accelerate decarbonization for future generations toward a net-zero world through impactful and scalable solution with the ability to drive positive impact for our planet and people, while generating sustainable returns

Sustainable Brands® spoke with Damian Chan, EVP of the Singapore EDB, to learn more about its focus on sustainability and the energy transition.

How is Singapore so driven to lead the global movement on sustainable business practice, entrepreneurship and innovation? What role does the EDB intend to play in this?

Damian Chan: The global shift towards a lower-carbon economy requires all sectors, especially the energy and chemicals sector, to transform and innovate. Singapore intends to support our climate goals by decarbonizing existing industries while growing opportunities in the green economy. EDB is working with companies to improve existing plants' energy efficiency and ensure that new plants are best-in-class. We are in active conversations with energy and chemical companies on energy-transition projects and opportunities, and we value them as partners in our energy-transition journey. Many of them have long-standing relationships with Singapore and possess the capabilities needed to innovate solutions for a more sustainable world in areas such as developing emerging low-carbon technologies, carbon capture, utilization, storage, and low-carbon hydrogen.

Singapore’s capabilities make us an ideal test bed for research in these areas, and many of these initiatives are in pilot stages with potential to scale up in future. For example, the Singapore Energy Centre — co-founded by NUS, NTU and ExxonMobil — focuses on developing and scaling new technologies in energy, as well as carbon capture and storage. Singapore’s LCER FI further reinforces our commitment toward innovation as an enabler for a more sustainable industry. S$55million from this fund has already been awarded to 12 hydrogen, CCUS projects; and an additional S$129 million have been earmarked for its second phase.

A transformed and more sustainable energy and chemicals sector will continue to remain an attractive growth sector for Singapore. Driven by a growing middle class, Southeast Asia is expected to consume 49 percent of the additions to petrochemical production capacity in the world by 2026. Demand for fuels is expected to continue rising in developing markets such as Southeast Asia till 2050. Chemicals are also essential to a low-carbon economic system, as they are needed to create lighter and more advanced plastics — which are used in solar panels, wind-turbine blades, thermal insulation for buildings, and electric vehicle parts.

EDB will continue to partner with like-minded companies in driving investments and innovation in the energy transition, and assess economic opportunities arising from green growth and recovery to invest in new growth areas. These collective efforts will enable us to pursue growth for the industry in a competitive and sustainable manner, while supporting our overall transition to a low-carbon economy.

How does the EDB support this vision and what is its primary objective in combating climate change?

DC: In 2021, EDB outlined plans to transform Jurong Island into a Sustainable Energy and Chemicals Park that operates sustainably and exports sustainable products globally. As the cornerstone of Singapore’s energy and chemicals sector, Jurong Island must pivot to remain competitive and lead the sector’s transition to capture green growth opportunities. We aim for the sector to increase its output of sustainable products by four times from 2019 levels and achieve more than six million tonnes of carbon abatement per annum from low-carbon solutions by 2050.

With the shift in focus towards a Sustainable Jurong Island, we expect Singapore to become a more attractive location for sustainable investments as they strive to meet the demand of consumers who opt for more sustainable alternatives. We have continued to see a healthy flow of investments from energy and chemicals companies that are keen to expand their global presence, grow new capabilities to capture growth opportunities in the region and transform their business to be environmentally sustainable. For example, Neste has recently expanded its biorefinery in Singapore that will produce sustainable aviation fuel; Cariflex is investing in a polyisoprene latex plant; and Arkema’s bio-factory will be built on Jurong Island to produce high-performance polymers made from sustainable materials.

With climate risks rising globally, what do you envision Singapore’s role to be in the carbon-services market?

DC: As an aspiring carbon-services and trading hub, Singapore is well-placed to seize new growth opportunities in this space and help companies build capabilities and partnerships in carbon accounting and carbon markets. Based on a study commissioned by EDB and Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Singapore can leverage its position as an established professional services, trading and financial hub; as well as its proximity to Southeast Asia to develop as a carbon-services and trading hub. The study estimates that this could create a projected gross value add of US$1.8-5.6 billion, depending on international climate-change developments. There has been a steady growth in Singapore’s carbon services ecosystem to date. EDB and ESG supported the growth and addition of at least 13 carbon-services firms in 2022, which brings the total number to over 100. This expands Singapore’s offerings in carbon management such as in carbon project development, advisory and trading.