Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Remarks at the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, 19 September 2023

20 September 2023

Minister: Good afternoon everyone. I am delighted to join you at the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit. You have just heard from Jacinda Ardern who says she comes from a small country. We are even smaller. We are 5.8 million people, but Singapore will fit into Lake Taupo, in North Island of New Zealand. That is how small we are.


The theme of this segment “Revive our Oceans” is a special and very apt one for me and my people from this small maritime city state called Singapore. Our history, our people, our economy are inseparable from the waters around us. The other point you need to know is that in the case of Singapore, our trading volume is three times our GDP. I dare say no one else in this audience has that ratio. So, when we say the sea and the maritime routes are essential, are lifeblood, it is not just a talking point, it is a real thing.


The survival and the prosperity of people on islands all over the world are dependent on the vitality of the sea and how we live and make a living. It applies to us because even for those of us who are in the sea, we could also be sea-locked if we do not have access to the sea routes which our trade, prosperity and peace depend on.


The ocean provides food, jobs, livelihood, and as I said just now, global trade. The big concern now is the impact of climate change and its impact not just on sea levels, and again, I will need to remind you for Singapore, one quarter of our land has been reclaimed from the sea, which means by definition, it is not very high above sea level. Just based on the current projections, we would face threats. Quite apart from sea level rise, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events – floods, droughts, and all of the above – also pose existential threats to island states like mine.


Today, we also witness the thing which you do not see, the increasing acidification of the sea. That means less oxygen for marine life, and that must ultimately mean less food for human beings as well. Preserving our oceans and maintaining livelihoods is not something that is mutually exclusive. In fact, it is part of a virtuous cycle.


Let me just highlight three points. First, the global movement towards decarbonisation and digitalisation of the maritime sector. This is a mouthful, but just stop to think about it; decarbonisation and digitalisation of the maritime sector, in fact, is a great opportunity. Shipping emits 1 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. There is much potential for abatement. Green and digital shipping corridors are being set up to be vital nodes in what we hope will be a trailblazing metaphor. But we need to have these corridors to show that it is possible to decarbonise and still be economically viable.


One such corridor that is being established is between the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, the Port of Los Angeles, and the Port of Long Beach, which was established in April 2023, as part of what we call the green shipping challenge that was launched by both the US and Norway last year. Besides supporting the transition to lower and hopefully zero emission fuels by ships, these green and digitally empowered shipping corridors will spur growth opportunities for businesses as they look for opportunities to pilot and to scale low emission technologies for maritime port operations and for trans-oceanic shipping.


The second point I want to make is related to international law. The conservation and the sustainable use of our oceans must be conducted under the aegis of international law. In particular, for us, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is paramount. It is, in our view, the ultimate legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. Recently, we achieved a new Treaty. We use the acronym, “BBNJ” which stands for “Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction”. This is an agreement under the aegis of UNCLOS, which is a major step forward in the governance of the global commons.


It is a historic agreement. It creates rules for the sustainable use of resources in the high seas and the deep seabeds in the areas beyond national jurisdiction. It recognises the common heritage of mankind, and that these resources belong to everyone. We are looking for fair and equitable use of these resources without damaging the oceans and being fair to future generations.


I am proud that a fellow Singaporean, Ambassador Rena Lee, served as the President of the Intergovernmental Conference that was able to bring the whole world to land at this new Treaty. Given the state of the world that we are confronting today, to be able to arrive at a consensus and to arrive at a Treaty is a significant achievement. This is also a reaffirmation of the relevance of the United Nations and of multilateralism, and a reminder that now more than ever before, we need a rules-based international order – one that is fair to all countries, big or small, and one that is also fair to the current and future generations of mankind. I am glad that I will be one of the early signatories for the BBNJ Agreement, I hope to sign it tomorrow, and I want to encourage all of you to put pressure on your own politicians to sign on to the BBNJ Agreement as well, not just for the sake of an agreement, but for what it represents.


My third and final point is that every country has a role to play. Singapore may be small, but we are doing our part for ocean conservation and for green shipping. Besides setting up these green shipping corridors, we are also sharing our development experience and extending technical assistance to fellow developing countries. Singapore is a proud member of SIDS, Small Island Developing States. We have to seek safety in numbers and raft our futures together. The Singapore Cooperation Programme has conducted over 60 ocean-related courses with more than 1,200 participants from 120 countries and intergovernmental organisations. We will continue to pour resources, bandwidth and attention into this effort.


Let me conclude. There must be collective commitment and a firm resolve at all levels amongst the public, private and the civic sector, to work together to achieve a more resilient, sustainable and fairer tomorrow. We look forward to hosting the Earthshot Prize Awards on the 7th of November 2023. I hope I will see many of you in Singapore shortly. Thank you all very much.



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Photo Caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan‘s Remarks at the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, 19 September 2023

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


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