Barely a few weeks after the difficult announcement to increase the price for water in Singapore, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Mr Masagos Zulkifli visited USP for a dialogue with students on “A Crossroad: The Environment and International Relations”. Held on 16 March 2017, the dialogue was organised by The Sessions (A platform for encouraging discussion in the USP community. One way to do this, is through hosting discussions with interesting speakers.) Forty-five students and professors packed the Chatterbox (USP student lounge) for a discussion that stayed true to the interdisciplinary spirit of USP— the interplay between international politics and environmental issues. Minister Masagos has a wealth of experience in these two areas, given that he also previously held an appointment as Second Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2015. With much enthusiasm, participants engaged in a lively debate about issues surrounding Singapore’s role in dealing with climate change, active citizenry in saving the environment, a plastic bag levy, and of course the hike in water prices, amongst other things.
The night started off with small focus group discussions surrounding six main topics. This format is characteristic of The Sessions, so is the active participation of everyone present in generating discussion points, aided by facilitators who, on this evening, were Angela Chan (Environmental Biology + Class of 2018), Chow Tak Wei (Environmental Geography + USP, Class of 2018), Lai Wei Xuan (Life Sciences + USP, Class of 2018) and Chow Kit Ying (Political Science + USP, Class of 2020). USP students, visiting international students and professors shared their thoughts about the water price hike, the opening of the northeast arctic passage, sustainable supply chains, exporting environmental technology and the transboundary haze. The diversity of participants led to fruitful conversations about how environmental issues are contentious in the international arena.
Minister Masagos then took the floor to share his views in a segment moderated by Imran Shah (Pharmacy + USP, Class of 2018). Amongst many things, Minister Masagos illustrated the history of Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources as being one of its kind in the world, with the mission to ensure that Singapore maintains a clean drinking water supply and a suitable living environment, especially with increasing urban densities and a growing population. It was a timely reminder for the younger generation to understand and appreciate that while the Ministry still prioritises the availability and supply of clean drinking water for Singapore and Singaporeans, it has evolved to also take on a range of issues in environmental politics including tackling the existential problem of climate change.
On the issue of water price hike, Minister Masagos shared his personal view about how water conservation was something ingrained in him since young, e.g. he always take quick showers. He explained that the price of water in Singapore not only reflect the need to conserve water, but also the rising costs of water projects such as desalination and NEWater, and our desire to reduce reliance on foreign sources. He emphasised that both carrot and stick approaches are necessary to ensure that Singapore remains sustainable in its consumption of vital resources. Beyond that, he implored Singaporeans to “think about how we can work together with the Government” to achieve common goals. His candour in tackling the thorny water issue in a room of critical university students reflected his experience, confidence and humility.
“The candid and open discussion with Minister Masagos was insightful for us, as to the government's position on issues of the environment.”
– Imran Shah
At the end of the night, participants got a better understanding of critical environmental issues in and around Singapore. Personally, I left satisfied with learning how the government navigates environmental issues in Singapore and abroad through small-state diplomacy, inspired by the call from Minister Masagos to learn more about what Singaporeans can do for the environment; and of course, contented with the eclairs.