The inaugural United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the new governing council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), saw representatives from all 193 UN member states gather together late last month for the first time.
The adoption of the UNEA by the UN General Assembly last year, sends out a clear message that environmental sustainability is as important as economic sustainability, and is not an afterthought. It has taken the world 40 years to give environmental issues the same status as those of peace, security, finance, health and trade.
Despite this significant milestone, the newly formed assembly presents itself as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives the UNEP unprecedented access to increased financial resources from the UN’s regular budget, with an option to raise more funds through voluntary commitments from governments. It also allows the UNEP to fulfil its mandate of coordinating the implementation of multilateral agreements and other international and regional commitments, in a more inclusive, effective and coordinated manner.
On the other hand, the slightly dramatic closure of the first UNEA is a tell-tale sign that the process still has areas for improvement. Leaving out the mention of the term ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in the final outcome document shows that wider participation could slow down any serious discussion because of diverse interests.
The 58-member governing council, the pre-incarnation of the UNEA, has previously delivered successful resolutions. The Montreal Protocol, for one, stops the global production of CFC-emitting products while the CITES Convention (or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) prevents illegal animal trading.
However, it is still too early to judge whether the UNEA will deliver similar commitments. The outcome document reiterates what was said at the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, but adds reaffirmed commitments. Unsurprisingly, some say that the inaugural assembly is little more than an agenda-setting event.
It is realistic to expect the UNEA to deliver some tangible results that impact government and businesses five years from now. In the meantime, the assembly has to sort itself out in terms of procedural structure and institutional mandate, given the increased participation.
Originally posted on: Singapore Institute of International Affairs
Originally written by Monica Kotwani for ChannelNewsAsia
The review of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint will involve a public consultation exercise over the next three to six months.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said this on the sidelines of an Emergency Preparedness Exercise that involved some 500 residents in his constituency of Cashew.
Dr Balakrishnan said that as part of the review, the public would be asked for their feedback on how to enhance the penalty regime for littering and other anti-social behaviours.
The government has been pushing for ownership among individuals where environmental issues are concerned. This year, it kicked off its Community Volunteer Scheme — where volunteers are trained to book and report litterbugs to the National Environment Agency for investigation.
Dr Balakrishnan said his ministry is also looking at amending legislation to establish the volunteer corps of environment protection officers.
Citizens in the volunteer corps will be trained and could even be issued the same warrant cards as regular NEA officers. This means they will have the powers to book and issue offenders with summonses on the spot.
This measure, as well as enhancing penalties for litterbugs, will be among the issues that will be included as part of the consultation exercise.
Dr Balakrishnan said: “The penalty regime will be part of that consultation exercise. Quite honestly, yes, we can enhance the penalties, but I don’t think that is the key. We need to educate, we need to bring people on board and we need to get people to take charge of the situation.
“That to me is more important than revising penalties, although we will of course have to do that. However, it will be a public consultation exercise, and we will do so in a consultative way.”
Dr Balakrishnan added the next eight years will be important for the hawker centre building programme, with the government’s commitment to build at least 10 new hawker centres, and renovate and refurbish 15 centres that were under the Stall Ownership Scheme.
He said: “We thought of using this period of time to engage in public consultation, to ask the public: ‘what is your vision, what do you want, what do you expect of Singapore going forward?’
“For instance, whether its hawker centres, or any other facilities, how do we ensure that it is truly green at the conceptual level and actually operates efficiently and meets peoples’ needs.”
The environment blueprint will lay out Singapore’s strategies for economic growth in a way that is environmentally sustainable.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law Mr K Shanmugam Addresses the 68th UN General Assembly
Speech on 9 October 2013
I warmly congratulate Your Excellency Mr John Ashe on your election as President of the 68th General Assembly, and wish you success during your term.
Over the last decade, the world has experienced a string of crises. Development has slowed and confidence in the global economic system has been shaken. There are signs of recovery but growth remains anaemic and uneven. Unemployment is high in many countries, particularly among the young. This has exacerbated problems like increasing poverty levels, widening income gaps, social instability and a decline in public trust in governments and institutions. Extreme poverty remains a major concern in many parts of the world.
Violence and conflict are as great a threat to global stability as poverty. The international community must respond firmly to such threats. In this regard, Singapore welcomes the unanimous adoption of UNSC Resolution 2118 on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. We strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances, which constitutes a violation of international law. We remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria, and hope that Geneva II will be convened quickly to find a political solution to end the conflict and violence. We also offer condolencesto the government and people of Kenya over the brutal attacks in Westgate Mall – a painful reminder of the need to remain vigilant against terror. All countries must unite against violence and terror in order to create an environment in which sustainable development can be pursued.
The global eco-system is also under stress from the transnational effects of human developmental activities. Human progress has come at the expense of environmental degradation and climate change. Deforestation, desertification of land and transboundary pollution ofthe sea, land and air, degrade our quality oflife and threaten human civilisation.
THE IMPORTANCE OF POVERTY ERADICATION AND SUSTAINABILITY
We cannot go on with business as usual. We need to re-think and re-tool our economies and societies, and place poverty eradication and sustainability at the centre of our development agenda. The President’s choice of “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage” as the theme for this year’s General Assembly is therefore particularly timely.
The 1987 Bruntland Commission ofthe UN defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability offuture generations to meet their own needs”. This should remain our guiding principle as we negotiate the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The UN has a critical role in the evolution of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Only the UN, with its universal membership and access to global data, has the standing to establish a new global development agenda that is inclusive, effective and adaptable. The UN has adopted an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach to gather the views of member states and harness the energy from civil society. Several mechanisms, including (i) the High Level Political Forum, (ii) the Open-ended Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, in which Singapore is participating actively, and (iii) the Working Group on Sustainable Development Financing, have been set up. We strongly encourage the UN to demonstrate leadership and weave these strands of discussion into a single, clear framework. This will allow member states to focus their attention and prioritise their resources to meet the critical challenges.
SINGAPORE‘S APPROACH TOWARDS DEVELOPMENT
Singapore understands very well the importance of poverty eradication and sustainable development in securing a country’s future. When we became independent in 1965, we faced daunting challenges. To uplift our population, which only had a small number of skilled workers and graduates, the government focused on education and skills development. To create jobs and alleviate poverty, we also gradually moved our industries up the value chain towards higher-skilled and innovation-focused sectors. Given Singapore’s land and resource constraints, sustainable development was a necessity, not just a slogan. At 700km, Singapore is slightly bigger than Manhattan but smaller than the five boroughs of New York. To ensure that our city state remained liveable, we had to ensure that our policies on housing, infrastructure, transport and the environment were well-integrated into a long-term and holistic vision.
Over several decades, we have managed to pursue growth whilst preserving a good living environment. For instance, despite being densely populated and highly urbanised, our greening efforts have resulted in more than 50% of Singapore being covered by vegetation. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, founded in the 19th Century, is the only city botanic garden in the world to include a tract of original, primary rainforest. Despite our rapid development, we have managed to preserve much of our biodiversity; one of our nature reserves, Bukit Timah, contains more plant species than the entire North American continent.
We have also developed creative solutions to overcome some of our resource constraints. Take the example of water. Singapore now imports more than 40% of our water needs. To meet our drinking and industrial needs, we use a variety of methods, including collecting water through reservoirs, desalination of seawater, and cutting-edge membrane technology to reclaim waste water into high-grade, ultra-clean water, which we call NEWater. When Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visited Singapore in March 2012, he was impressed enough by our water management to make a toast with NEWater, rather than wine, calling NEWater “something far more valuable – the elixir of life”.
PRlORlTY AREAS FORPOST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA
Let me now turn to the Post-2015 Development Agenda and suggest three priority areas.
First, we should learn from the example of the Millennium Development Goals. We should avoid being prescriptive. As each country is unique, countries should be allowed to exercise flexibility in which goals they choose to prioritise and how they will achieve them. The new global development roadmap should have poverty eradication and sustainable development at its centre and should converge around a single clear set of practical and quantifiable goals. We should keep to this outcome-based approach, and not forget that the core purpose of the Post-2015 Development Agenda is to improve the lives of our people. Today, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. This is a staggering figure.
Second, we should emphasise urban management and the intertwined issues of water and sanitation. According to UN Habitat, more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people will live in urban areas. Many cities are already under strain. More than 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and another 800 million do not have safe drinking water. 2,000 children die every day from diarrhoea. This crisis will be exacerbated as more people move to crowded cities where the infrastructure cannot grow fast enough to support them. Singapore tabled a resolution in July which was adopted by the General Assembly to designate 19 November as World Toilet Day. We hope that this will encourage countries to take a close look at how the nexus of urbanization, water and sanitation can be better managed.
Third, it is important for the views and concerns of small states to be incorporated in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Small states form more than half of the UN’s membership. Many, especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are among the more vulnerable members of the UN family. Singapore identifies closely with our fellow SillS countries’ urgent concerns. The Third SillS Conference in 2014 will be an important milestone, and Singapore has participated actively in all the preparatory meetings so far. At last year’s inaugural Conference on Small States, which was organized by the Forum of Small States (FOSS), Secretary-General Ban agreed that small and vulnerable states deserve special attention. Singapore will continue to work with the members of FOSS to share the perspectives of small states and ensure that our views are factored into the evolution of the new global development roadmap.
SHARING SINGAPORE’S DEVELOPMENTAL EXPERIENCE
Although Singapore is a small country, we will continue to play our part in assisting other countries in poverty eradication and furthering the agenda for sustainable development. We established the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) in 1992 to share our development experience with our friends – both our successes, and our mistakes. We believe that technical assistance and capacity building is more effective in creating the right conditions for growth.
More than 80,000 government officials from 170 countries have received training under the SCP in diverse areas like sustainable urban development, water management and human resource development. To support our engagement in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, we will develop and customise new programmes on sustainable development and climate change that meet the needs of SIDS and least developed countries.
Singapore has also been working with other governments to promote sustainable development internationally. In 2007, Singapore and China embarked on a joint project to develop the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City, which is envisioned to be a city that will be “socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient”. This will become a model for sustainable urbanisation in China. By 2020, the Eco-City is intended to be a low-carbon green living environment about half the size of Manhattan which will house around 350,000 people. Singapore will also continue to share our experience in sustainable urbanisation, through Singapore-led events such as the biennial Singapore International Water Week and World Cities Summit.
The only way to secure our collective future is through poverty eradication and sustainable development. The next two years will be critical for the world as we embark on an ambitious journey to map out the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The UN must play a leadership role. Singapore is committed to, and will work closely with member states, to achieve this., UN
During the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the President, H.E. Dr. John W. Ashe and his team will work to promote greater engagement with Member States and all relevant stakeholders as we set the stage for defining the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
In this regard, Member States and other stakeholders will be encouraged to reflect on new and emerging development challenges and their implications for the two major objectives of the Post-2015 Development Agenda — overcoming poverty and insecurity, and ensuring sustainable development. Toward this end, the Office of the President of the General Assembly is committed to promoting dialogue and increasing engagement on the principles of the Millennium Declaration of 2000, with the purpose of reaffirming and re-energizing our commitments through 2015 and beyond.
With a view to promoting a world of increased opportunity for all peoples, a world of equity, freedom, dignity and peace, the Post-2015 Development Agenda will represent a significant evolution in the thinking of the international community. This new Agenda will underscore the interdependence of all the countries that comprise our planetary community, regardless of development levels. The Office of the President of the General Assembly believes that the time has come for the General Assembly — the supreme, deliberative organ of the United Nations — to exercise its collective responsibility and begin, as a matter of urgency, the process of conceptualizing one shared vision of a sustainable future for all peoples beyond the year 2015.
During the upcoming 68th Session, many of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference are expected to come to fruition. The Office of the President of the General Assembly will be expected to provide the leadership, guidance, and clarity necessary to promote a meaningful dialogue among Member States — one that can lead to the articulation of the new Agenda. The Office of the President of the General Assembly is committed to assisting and supporting Member States on the journey toward a clear set of priorities, fashioned with a sense of direction, purpose and commitment, for further deliberation, as necessary, in the following 69th session of the General Assembly.
In order to encourage the global community to work toward building consensus and elaborating concrete action for the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a number of high-level meetings and thematic debates will take place. President John W. Ashe has indicated that he will host the following three high-level events:
- Contributions of women, the young and civil society to the post-2015 development agenda;
- Human rights and the rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda; and
- Contributions of South-South, triangular cooperation, and ICT for development to the post-2015 development agenda.
In addition to the above high-level events, the President and his team, while working in close collaboration with Member States and other stakeholders, will also convene three thematic debates on:
- The role of partnerships;
- Ensuring stable and peaceful societies; and
- Water, sanitation and sustainable energy in the post-2015 development agenda.
Each debate will be geared towards further elaboration of the chosen theme, as the Office of the President of the General Assembly seeks to provide “results-oriented outcomes” on these issues.
Via the Rio+20 website:
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – or Rio+20 – took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 20-22 June 2012. It resulted in a focused political outcome document which contains clear and practical measures for implementing sustainable development.
In Rio, Member States decided to launch a process to develop a set ofSustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will build upon theMillennium Development Goals and converge with the post 2015 development agenda.
The Conference also adopted ground-breaking guidelines on green economy policies.
Governments also decided to establish an intergovernmental process under the General Assembly to prepare options on a strategy for sustainable development financing.
Governments also agreed to strengthen the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on several fronts with action to be taken during the 67th session of the General Assembly.
They also agreed to establish a high-level political forum for sustainable development. Decisions on its detailed form are expected to be taken during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, with the aim of having the first session of the forum at the beginning of the 68th session of the Assembly.
Governments also requested the United Nations Statistical Commission, in consultation with relevant United Nations system entities and other relevant organizations, to launch a programme of work in the area of measures of progress to complement gross domestic product in order to better inform policy decisions.
Governments also adopted the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns, as contained in document A/CONF.216/5, and invited the General Assembly, at its sixty-seventh session, to designate a Member State body to take any necessary steps to fully operationalize the framework.
The Conference also took forward-looking decisions on a number ofthematic areas, including energy, food security, oceans, cities, and decided to convene a Third International Conference on SIDS in 2014.
The Rio +20 Conference also galvanized the attention of thousands of representatives of the UN system and major groups. It resulted in over 700 voluntary commitments and witnessed the formation of new partnerships to advance sustainable development.
20 years after their birth, three sister Rio Conventions reaffirm their collective responsibility for sustainable development
The heads of the secretariats of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reaffirmed their determination to work to generate synergies in national implementation in support of sustainable development.
In a joint statement issued today, the Executive Secretaries of the three Rio Conventions committed to tackle sustainable development challenges by focusing on prioritized cross-cutting themes. These include landscape and ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, generating and sharing information on climate change impacts and vulnerability when considering biodiversity and land use and mainstreaming gender into activities related to the implementation of the conventions act.
The three top officials of the three Conventions that came of Rio in 1992 emphasized the need for “coordinated, concrete, concerted, simple and attainable solutions” to achieve “a truly sustainable future”. To this end, they called on countries and governments to set sustainable development
goals, including achievable targets on land, biodiversity and climate change.
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD said “Twenty years of experience under
these three agreements has produced the body of policy that we need to realize sustainable development.
We now need to accelerate the implementation of this framework – at all levels, and in so doing, increase
coordination so we can realize the important synergies that are needed for development.”
Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD said “Further commitment by the international community is needed to achieve The Future We Want. Going carbon neutral, becoming land degradationneutral and halting the loss of biodiversity are intertwined goals. Countries and governments should set sustainable development goals that take into account existing inter-linkages among the three pillars of sustainable development and that recognize the important goals and targets already agreed upon among the Rio Conventions.”
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC said “Governments are on the right track in terms of designing international policy frameworks. Under the UNFCCC, they have set the goal of a maximum 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise, with a view to considering 1.5 degrees Celsius. They are building the support infrastructure for developing countries and are working towards a new universal climate change agreement, whilst increasing ambition now. There is no doubt that the scope and speed of action urgently needs to be stepped up, and that holds true for all three Conventions.”
The joint statement was first disclosed on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the three Rio Conventions by their respective Executive Secretaries at a breakfast round-table with the current Presidencies of the respective Conference of the Parties. The Anniversary was celebrated with a full day programme at the Rio Conventions Pavilion (www.riopavilion.org).
The Rio Conventions have played a key role in framing global and national policy responses to the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, desertification and land degradation. Their collaboration is facilitated in the context of the Joint Liaison Group run directly by the Executive Secretaries of the three Conventions.
Full press release here.
How far has the world come in creating awareness of the environment?
Tommy Koh, For The Straits Times 16 Jun 12;
IN 1972, the United Nations convened the historic Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. Twenty years later, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Next week, from June 20 to June 22, the UN will hold its third conference on the environment, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, again in Rio de Janeiro.
In March 1990, the UN elected me to chair the preparatory committee for the Earth Summit. At the Summit, the conference elected me to chair the main committee, its principal negotiating forum.
The following were the summit’s achievements:
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development;
Agenda 21, containing an ambitious 470-pages-long programmes of action for sustainable development in the 21st century;
Non-legally-binding authoritative statement of Principles on Forests;
Agreement to negotiate a new treaty to combat desertification;
The opening for signature of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which had been negotiated on a separate track;
The opening for signature of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which had also been negotiated on a separate track.
Twenty years have passed since the Earth Summit. Has the world made progress or regressed during this period? On the positive side, we can point to the fact that all 193 member states of the UN have either a ministry for the environment or an environmental protection agency.
The environment movement has grown stronger. It has influenced, in positive ways, the behaviour of individuals, business and governments.
However, the positives are outweighed by the negatives. The following are the principal problem areas:
The emission of greenhouse gases has continued to increase and we are no longer sure whether the goal to cap the rise of global temperature to 2 deg C is doable.
The Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of this year and it is uncertain whether the developed countries would be willing to agree to a second commitment period (Australia and Japan have said that they would not, Canada has withdrawn from the Protocol and the US is not a party to it).
It is also not clear whether the agreement in Durban to negotiate a post-2020 agreement, applicable to all countries, will succeed.
The world’s rainforests, including those in Indonesia and East Malaysia, are rapidly disappearing, due to illegal logging and unsustainable forestry management.
The world is losing its biological diversity at a rate which is 1,000 times faster than the natural rate of extinction.
In the past 50 years, we have lost 20 per cent of the land suitable for agriculture, 90 per cent of our large commercial fisheries, and 33 per cent of our forests, leading to the loss of ecosystems.
The oceans, which absorb 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the largest source of protein to human beings, are threatened by acidification, rising temperature and over-exploitation.
UNLIKE the dismal global picture, the last 20 years have been a period of progress for Singapore. I count the following as some of Singapore’s most important achievements:
47 per cent of Singapore’s total land area is covered by greenery;
The gazetting of two new nature reserves at Sungei Buloh and Labrador;
Saving the tidal flat at Chek Jawa from reclamation;
Saving the trees of the Lower Peirce Reservoir from being cut down to make way for a golf course;
The building of new parks and an islandwide park connector;
The building of the Marina Barrage and turning Marina Bay and the Kallang Basin into a reservoir;
Opening our reservoirs for recreational use and bringing nature back to our rivers, streams and canals;
Highlighting the role of cities in the conservation of biodiversity, culminating in the adoption of the Singapore Cities Biodiversity Index by the Nagoya Conference last year;
Fostering the growth of a water industry and being a global thought leader of water policy and governance;
Championing the movement of liveable cities and being a global thought leader on good urban planning, policies and solutions;
Encouraging the trend to build green buildings and to retrofit old buildings to become green buildings;
Launching multi-disciplinary environmental education, both at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels and at the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law of the National University of Singapore;
Saving endangered species of animals such as the banded-leaf monkey, welcoming the return of the hornbill and rediscovering other species that were thought to have disappeared from Singapore;
Fostering a cooperative partnership between government, business and civil society;
Building a new museum of natural history.
My wish list
SINGAPORE has done well, but we should not rest on our laurels. We should continue to forge ahead. The following is my wish list.
First, I think the time has come for Singapore to enact a law on environmental impact assessment (EIA). Having been intimately involved in a legal dispute involving our land reclamation activities in the Strait of Johor, I know that we do, in fact, carry out such an assessment. The result is, however, not made public and there is no consultation with interested stakeholders. Our neighbour, Malaysia, has shown that having an EIA law need not result in inordinate delay.
At its best, the EIA will lead to a better decision, and the people will feel that their views have been taken into consideration in arriving at that decision.
Second, I would urge the authorities to consider designating our first marine nature reserve. We need such a reserve, with adequate protection measures for marine life, in order to ensure the conservation of genetic diversity. Although Singapore has one of the world’s biggest and busiest ports, we have 270 species of hard corals and 111 species of reef fishes in our waters.
A marine nature reserve will ensure the survival of this natural heritage. It will also be a great selling point and indicate our serious commitment to protect the marine environment to the world. The two potential areas are Pulau Hantu and Pulau Semakau.
Third, I would request our authorities consider raising the bar on the recycling of waste. We should, where feasible, encourage the recycling of waste, such as paper, plastic, aluminium cans and glass bottles. The situation at present is not satisfactory.
We should also consider the feasibility of emulating Japan, South Korea and Taiwan by enacting a law, and to start by requiring industrial and commercial establishments, as well as hotels and foodcourts, to separate food waste from other kinds of waste at source. The food waste, when treated by anaerobic digestion, will produce biogas which can, in turn, be used to generate renewable electricity.
We had such a plant in Singapore which, unfortunately, failed because, in the absence of a law requiring the segregation of waste, it could not get enough uncontaminated food waste for treatment. This is a pity because if it had succeeded, it was scaleable and had tremendous potential in Asia as food waste is a major source of leachate contamination of ground water and a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Fourth, in our quest to reduce our carbon footprint, energy efficiency is a low-hanging fruit. The efficient use and the conservation of energy are, however, achievable only with the cooperation and help of business and the people.
Let me cite one example. Singapore has become notorious for its abuse of air-conditioning. I remember the former dean of Insead Antonio Borges telling me, during his first visit to Singapore, that he had discovered Singapore actually had two seasons: summer outdoors and winter indoors.
The gentle and humorous advertisements on television by the National Environment Agency (NEA), exhorting Singaporeans to use air-conditioning more responsibly, have not worked. I would urge the NEA and Singapore Environment Council to wage a more energetic campaign targeting our educational institutions, hospitals, movie theatres, hotels, restaurants and clubs.
The writer is Ambassador-at-Large of Singapore.
By Invitation features leading thinkers and writers from Singapore and the region.