Sustainable Cities, Liveable Communities: NUS Environmental Policy Forum 2023
By Tessa (Managing Editor)
NUS Environmental Policy Forum 2023
Sustainable Cities, Liveable Communities
On Friday, 14th April 2023, the NUS Environmental Policy Forum (EPF) was held at the NUS Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium from 7pm to 9pm.
Against the backdrop of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 (SGP2030) and growing interest in environmental policy and issues among youth, the second iteration of EPF was organised by the Environmental Policy Division of the NUS Students’ Political Association (NUSPA). Helmed by Project Director Neha Hegde, the team comprising Alisha Ganesh, Chloe Wong, Lutfil Goh and Tessa Foo, under the guidance of NUSPA President Abdul Qayyum and Vice-President (Policy Planning) Illam Kathir, worked tirelessly to pull off the event.
The theme for EPF 2023 was “Sustainable Urban Living”, focused on the intersection between sustainability and contemporary urban infrastructure and lifestyle. This year’s forum aimed to catapult students towards realising the connection between their areas of interest and the wider environmental cause; allow the ministry to hear from diverse perspectives that could hopefully influence the approach taken to policy making; and provide a platform for youth to hear from leaders on what is being done and voice their opinions.
Figure 1: Participating in the Q&A session
In line with NUSPA’s objective to encourage political awareness and active discussion of current affairs among youth, EPF 2023 brought together a plurality of voices from policymaking, academia and civil society to participate in a closed-door dialogue. The distinguished panel consisted of Guest-of-Honour, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment and Manpower; Ms Sadaf Ansari, Architect and Senior Lecturer at Ridge View Residential College; and Ms Terese Teoh, President of Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA). The panel dialogue was moderated by Ms Audrey Tan, Science Communication and Outreach Lead at the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions and Tropical Marine Science Institute.
Figure 2: (from left to right) Ms Sadaf Ansari, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Ms Audrey Tan and Ms Terese Teoh on stage
Participants enjoyed complementary Halal bentos and eco-friendly beeswax food wraps as a door gift, supported by REACH, the government feedback and engagement unit under the Ministry of Communications and Information.
The audience included undergraduates from NUS, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), as well as Junior College students and representatives from environmental groups.
Panellists discussed hot-button issues such as greenwashing, the role of indigenous practices in policy development and economic trade-offs in pursuit of sustainable solutions, as well as the integration of Sustainable Urban Living into the SGP2030.
Key Points of Discussion
The evening kicked off with a lively discussion on the issue of greenwashing where panellists weighed the economic benefits of a resale market for pre-loved or secondhand goods . They ultimately came to the consensus that greenwashing misleads consumers and is harmful to the sustainability movement as a whole, given companies’ vague and deceptive promises regarding their green practices.  The need for more transparent legislation or auditing processes was emphasised to ensure that companies are not greenwashing their products. 
2. City in Nature
Residents of Singapore have complained about disruptions of urban wildlife species in their daily lives, including incidents of otters killing koi fishes.  However, there are also plenty of flora and fauna that are pleasant to the senses.
To foster harmonious coexistence between humans and the environment, building respect and appreciation for nature through education is paramount. Environmental education in schools can be broadened to include environmental humanities, shifting away from an anthropocentric lens to resource and land use to a more ecocentric approach. This would complement existing curricula that disseminate scientific knowledge on climate change. 
3. Green Economy
To support the sustainability transition, Singapore will need ‘green skills’—which is knowledge in nascent technologies like hydrogen fuel, and in services such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) consulting and green finance. In 2021, more than 450 roles across 17 sectors were identified to require green skills.  These needs are likely to grow as decarbonisation efforts accelerate.
Firstly, to remain competitive amidst the emergence of green jobs in the market, youth were encouraged to continue upskilling themselves. Secondly, on the grounds that the climate crisis affects all sectors of society, and undergraduates major in diverse disciplines including but not limited to environmental studies, political science, engineering, computing and business, upon becoming working professionals, youth can leverage their knowledge and skill sets to advance the sustainability transition in their respective fields.
4. The role of indigenous practices in policy development
A forum participant asked how global governments could tap into indigenous practices in developing sustainable policies. Given that indigenous communities often serve as custodians of the land, it is vital for governments to provide platforms for these groups to contribute their know-how in ecosystem and biodiversity conservation.  In response to the question, a panel member raised the case study of Nepal’s successful forest restoration by locals, and how its lessons are applicable to policymakers and practitioners in translating global commitments into concrete action. 
5. Economic trade-offs in pursuit of sustainable solutions
“How might policymakers square the green interests of the population with the interests of the corporate sector?” and “Are these green ideas in conflict with capitalism?” were some of the questions that highlighted a tension between environmental gains and economic trade-offs.
Opinions were divided amongst the panellists. There was the view that these do not have to be mutually exclusive priorities. For example, Singapore could potentially use its market power as an internationally-acclaimed business hub  to push for decarbonisation of the shipping sector.  Nonetheless, a concession was made that even the most well-designed environmental policies generate winners and losers. To cushion the impacts faced by certain industries and workers, policies could offer compensation and boost public support for more ambitious plans. 
Adopting a long-term approach to this issue might prove beneficial. Although climate resilience efforts (coastal and flood protection) would be costly for Singapore in the short run, amounting to a projected $100 billion over the next 50 years,  in the long run, low-lying Singapore would be safe from rising sea levels, making it a worthy investment.
What can individuals do?
1. Catalyse action on the ground
The immediacy of the climate crisis necessitates urgent action. Participants were encouraged to contribute within their communities by volunteering for environmental causes. Get involved on campus today: https://sustainability.nus.edu.sg/get-involved/
Individuals may also initiate ground-up projects, through avenues such as the SG Eco Fund,  Sustainability Exchange,  or the Youth for Environmental Sustainability Programme. 
2. Read up on environmental issues and adopt a data-driven approach
To avoid merely virtue signalling and championing causes superficially, individuals can read articles, books, reports or other factually accurate material on climate change to inform themselves. By adopting a data-driven approach, individuals can translate their sentiments into tangible impact and become the force of truth in their communities.
SYCA breaks down climate policy and scientific jargon in an easily digestible manner through their primers. They also host events throughout the year to promote environmental awareness. Join SYCA’s Telegram channel to receive the latest updates: https://t.me/+VJc8HZicaJ1jMTBk
3. Engage with government stakeholders
On the basis that individuals know best what they would like to see in their neighbourhoods and communities, participants were encouraged to exercise agency by participating in consultations with public officials on environmental issues, and not hesitate to voice out any ideas or suggestions they might have. Whether an idea is right or wrong, a discussion about it will result in fruitful learning.
By bringing together experts from diverse domains, EPF 2023 hoped to inform youth on what is currently being done and inspire them to innovate on what they can bring to the table in future. Climate change is an intersectional issue, and by including those who have been traditionally disenfranchised from discussions on climate policy, we hope that our participants (and readers) are empowered to take action in their own communities, making the collective shift towards a greener future.
The Environmental Policy Division (EPD) is the newest division under NUSPA, established in 2022 amidst greater interest in environmental policy and issues among NUS undergraduates. Following through on NUSPA’s mission to promote political awareness and active citizenry, EPD provides an opportunity for youth to deepen their understanding of environmental policies by participating in initiatives with like-minded peers for a healthy exchange of ideas, opinions and solidarity.
Tessa is a second-year Political Science major who is a Managing Editor at The Convergence. She believes in the importance of raising political awareness and interest among the youth, hopefully inspiring them to mobilise and take action on the issues that concern them. She seeks to research and write informative articles on current affairs, taking a nuanced approach to her work. Tessa is always down for a cup of iced matcha latte, much to the protests of her wallet. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing netball, or going for an evening run.