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Honest politics key to liveable, sustainable cities

Ministers and experts in Singapore for three events on urban sustainability say bold and honest leadership is key to ensuring sustainable and thriving cities.

In the two years since Singapore last held its three bi-annual conferences focused on sustainability, more than 100 million people – about 20 Singapores – have moved into cities from the countryside, reflecting the unprecedented scale of global urbanization, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday.

Opening the three events – the Singapore International Water Week, the World Cities Summit and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore  Mr Lee noted that cities have grown in importance in countries across the world and are driving economic growth. While they are pioneering solutions to the world’s problems, new challenges have emerged, such as the unpredictable consequences of climate change.

In Singapore, “we are doing our best to develop as a liveable and sustainable city”, he said. This involves managing the consumption of scarce resources like water and energy and “pricing them properly so people have the incentive to save and not waste these resources”.

The country tries to take a long-term view, he told more than 3,000 attendees at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, by “planning over generations, implementing programmes over several electoral terms and rallying Singaporeans to forgo some immediate gains for future dividends”.

Singapore’s National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who spoke separately at the summits’ opening discussion on Monday, said of the country’s efforts: “We dare not promise paradise but we try to make Singapore an endearing home for all… I think we can be proud of some of our achievements, but a goal like this is always a work in progress.”

Commenting on strategies to create liveable and sustainable cities, Khaw urged politicians not to waste resources, keep the economy open to free trade, invest in education and skills training, and lastly, to keep politics honest.

“People want more but don’t like to pay taxes… but we need to be honest,” he said. “Every election, parties try to give as much goodies as they can with as little as they need to pay… This leads to insolvency and political cynicism,” he observed.

Speaking at the same discussion, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria called for cities to work towards “zero emission” as it is the only way to tackle global warming.

“The choice is not between going green or growth. We are pursuing green growth,” he said. He also criticized certain countries, without naming which, where government budgets spent on fossil fuel subsidies and incentives are bigger than the budget for education. 

Every election, parties try to give as much goodies as they can with as little as they need to pay… This leads to insolvency and political cynicism

Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s National Development Minister

“It doesn’t make sense. It is socially regressive… and the people who benefit the most from the subsidy are those who consume the most,” he said.

The three co-located global events taking place from June 1 to 5 is expected to attract some 20,000 delegates representing the government, industries, civic sector and academia.

About 40 ministers and more than 130 mayors and city leaders from around the world are in Singapore to discuss the latest trends and technologies and share best practices on urban solutions.

The events will also feature the largest exhibition on integrated sustainable solutions with more than 900 exhibiting companies and 29 Group Pavilions across 30,000 square metres of covered exhibition space.

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