Singapore and New Zealand to collaborate on climate change, green economy: PM Lee, Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on April 19, 2022. Image: ST Photo/Ong Wee Jin

From The Straits Times

SINGAPORE – New Zealand and Singapore will be working more closely on the green economy and the fight against climate change, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Tuesday (April 19).

Speaking at a joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Istana, PM Lee said both countries share similar perspectives on climate change, which is the existential challenge of these times.

He said: “We need stronger cooperation amongst countries to protect the most vulnerable peoples and places on our planet.

“At the same time, we see opportunities for practical collaboration as we adopt low-carbon and green technologies.”

Ms Ardern, who arrived in Singapore on Monday for a three-day visit, noted that a quarter of New Zealand’s imports and a fifth of its exports travel through Singapore’s ports, and therefore there is a natural partnership given Wellington’s ambitions to reduce its emissions profile. 

“You are a hub, and you only need see that from those aerial shots as you enter just how busy your ports are,” she said.

“This makes perfect sense for us to work together to look at low-emissions options for shipping, the way that we can integrate hydrogen as an option and other fuel alternatives.” 

Another area is food – New Zealand is a major food producer and while Singapore has stated its goals to reduce its reliance on imported food, both can work together in food research, said Ms Ardern, who added that New Zealand’s food research institutes are looking at ways to create urban growing systems.

This is her first overseas visit since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

PM Lee said this new area of collaboration will see the two countries work on initiatives in energy transition technology, carbon markets, sustainable transport and waste management, for a start.

It also reflects both countries’ shared commitment to implement the Paris Agreement – a pact among countries to reduce their carbon footprint – and to work together to seize growth opportunities in the green economy.

Climate change and the green economy will be a new fifth pillar in the Singapore-New Zealand Enhanced Partnership, which the two countries inked during Ms Ardern’s first visit here as premier in 2019.

The other four pillars are trade and economics; security and defence; science, technology and innovation; and people-to-people links.

The partnership has also paved the way for the two countries to collaborate on the research, production and deployment of low-carbon hydrogen as an energy source since last July.

Ms Ardern said the new pillar will include a joint research project on low-carbon technology as well as information exchange on things such as low-emission vehicles and low-carbon initiatives.

She said: “We cannot collectively simply return to a high-carbon emissions business-as-usual approach. Globally, we have entered what must be an age of action and that includes the private sector as well – no government can do this alone.”

In response to a question on the initiatives under this new pillar, PM Lee said there would be knowledge-sharing dialogues on waste management and jointly organised capacity-building workshops for Asean member states to strengthen regional capabilities in carbon pricing and markets.

Ms Ardern also thanked PM Lee for the contact that the two leaders maintained throughout the pandemic, such as a phone call during the height of lockdowns in 2020 when they discussed ways for the two countries to support each other’s food security and resolve supply chain issues. 

“They say that during tough times, you’re reminded who your friends are, and it is clear that Singapore is a very close friend of Aotearoa and New Zealand,” said Ms Ardern, referring to the Maori name for New Zealand.

PM Lee noted the progress of initiatives between the two countries, such as the upgraded bilateral free trade agreement that came into force in January 2020 and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (Depa) that both countries signed together with Chile, which came into force in January 2021.

Of the Depa, he added: “Other countries have also asked to join. We welcome their interest.”

Ahead of the press conference on Tuesday afternoon, a welcome ceremony was held for Ms Ardern at the Istana.

Ms Ardern had called on President Halimah Yacob before meeting PM Lee.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern with President Halimah Yacob at the Istana, on April 19, 2022. Image: ST Photo/Ong Wee Jin

PM Lee said he and Ms Ardern had discussed regional and international developments.

They agreed on the importance of an open and inclusive regional architecture that supports Asean centrality, and PM Lee said that both leaders are staunch supporters of international law and the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

“That is why both Singapore and New Zealand have strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

“The geopolitical uncertainties, supply chain vulnerabilities and rising protectionism make it all the more important for countries to work together to find a path forward and identify win-win opportunities.”

In this endeavour, Singapore and New Zealand are natural partners, he said.

Ms Ardern, when asked about China’s relationship with Russia and its increasing influence in the Pacific region, said that when it comes to the engagement of China on the conflict and war in Ukraine, New Zealand’s message is that what is happening in Ukraine is an assault on a country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.

She said: “We continue to encourage, at every level, China to continue to acknowledge what the Ukraine conflict represents for the world.”

A new orchid hybrid was also named in honour of Ms Ardern on Tuesday morning – the Dendrobium Jacinda Ardern.

The plant, a hybrid of Dendrobium Lim Wen Gin and Dendrobium Takashimaya, produces flowers with white petals and sepals with a flush of orchid purple towards the tips.

Following the press conference, PM Lee hosted Ms Ardern to lunch.

Ms Ardern is accompanied during her visit by her partner Clarke Gayford, New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor and senior officials.

As part of the visit, she will witness the signing of the Enhanced Partnership for Growth Arrangement between New Zealand Trade Enterprise and Enterprise Singapore. The agreement aims to expand existing business alliances and promote deeper collaboration in areas such as perishable food transshipment and emerging technologies.

Ms Ardern will also witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding on sustainable aviation, an initiative under the new pillar of climate change and green economy of the Enhanced Partnership.

The MOU will be signed by Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Both countries will also be establishing an officials-level supply chain working group to share best practices to mitigate supply chain disruption risks, particularly for essential goods and services, and explore solutions to help businesses withstand potential supply chain disruptions.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said that during Ms Ardern’s call on Madam Halimah, they reaffirmed the strong and multifaceted relations between the two countries and noted the strong Covid-19 cooperation between both sides.

The ministry said they had an engaging conversation on the contributions and progress of women in both countries and also discussed the importance of maintaining social cohesion, particularly in diverse, multicultural societies such as Singapore and New Zealand.

A joint statement by PM Lee and Ms Ardern said both leaders had discussed their countries’ responses to managing Covid-19 and reflected on the high value of the close cooperation and frequent discussions between health, border, transport, foreign affairs, and other officials throughout the pandemic.

They also welcomed reconnecting through the reopening of borders to each other, which would restore people-to-people links between the two countries.

They also discussed further strengthening food and agriculture partnerships, defence and security cooperation and cyber-security partnerships, among other issues.

Author: Goh Yan Han