Keynote Speech: The Future is Now

June 18, 2013

2013 ISCN Conference

Theme: The Future is Now

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Keynote Speech by Prof Tommy Koh


President Tan Chorh Chuan, Deputy President Joe Mullinix, Dr Bernd Kasemir, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Meaning of the Theme

The theme of this conference is: the future is now. What does it mean? I think it means that the future of the earth depends on what we do or omit to do now. The health of the earth faces three principal challenges: (a) global warming and climate change; (b) the loss of biological diversity and ecosystems; and (c) the warming and acidification of the oceans and the unsustainable exploitation of its living resources.

The Seven Horsemen

I would summarise the challenges to the health of the earth in the following seven points:

(i) 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 2ºC is achievable.

(ii) It is not certain whether the agreement in Durban to negotiate a post-2020 legally binding agreement, applicable to all countries, will succeed. The Kyoto Protocol expired at the end of 2012.

(iii) The world’s rain forests, including those in Indonesia and East Malaysia are rapidly disappearing, due to deforestation, illegal logging and unsustainable forestry management.

(iv) The world is losing its biological diversity at a rate which is 1,000 times faster than the natural rate of extinction.

(v) 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 entire ecosystems.

(vi) The oceans, which absorb 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide the largest source of protein for human beings, are threatened by pollution, acidification, rising temperature and over-exploitation.

(vii) Urbanisation has transformed the world but many of our towns and cities are becoming less liveable and less sustainable.

ISCN’s Mission

What is the ISCN’s mission? I think the ISCN’s mission is to: (a) promote sustainable campus operations; (b) to integrate sustainability into the university’s research and teaching; and (c) to create an institutional culture of sustainability within campuses. I would like to exhort you to envision ISCN campuses as mini eco-cities. I would encourage you to promote sustainability as the lifestyle of your students and teachers. I expect ISCN professors and researchers to contribute to the solution of our most urgent challenges. In short, ISCN should be a beacon to the world.

NUS: Achievements and Aspirations

Since we are meeting at NUS and since I am a faculty member of NUS, I would like to salute NUS for its many achievements. We have both a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, a master’s degree in environmental management and the NUS Environmental Research Institute. We have the Tropical Marine Science Institute and the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. We have an Institute of Water Policy, the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance and the NUS-G.E. Water Technology Centre. We have an Institute of Energy Studies and an Institute of Solar Energy Research. We have a Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities and the Asia Pacific Centre for Environmental Law. We have environmentally-friendly new buildings, eco-friendly canteens, active recycling efforts and a policy of planting only native trees on campus. We are building a museum of natural history which will enable us to educate the public on the importance of conserving nature.

At the same time, I would like to urge NUS to raise the bar. Let me give you some suggestions.

NUS Campus – A Green Mark Platinum District

First, NUS has 19 Green Mark projects: 8 platinum, 5 gold plus, 4 gold and two certificates. In addition, University Town, where we are meeting, was given a Green Mark status. I would encourage NUS to consider making the entire NUS campus a Green Mark Platinum District, where it can put in place an overall strategy to green its facilities as well as the environment. These can include a macro plan for shared plants and services to optimise campus energy efficiency; the use of sustainable building materials such as cross-laminated timber, in the construction of its new low and medium rise buildings; the provision of green transportation and greater pedestrianisation throughout the campus; plans for more naturally ventilated and open students spaces for communal activities; and more parks on campus.

A Green Strategic Unit at NUS

Second, NUS should consider setting up a green strategic unit to drive greater collaboration among various parties, for energy-efficiency optimisation and to drive state-of-the art initiatives to support research and innovation. These facilities can also be used for test-beds, to complement research and technology applications.

Upgrade Old Buildings

Third, NUS should consider ramping up and accelerating its programme to upgrade and optimise the energy efficiency of its old buildings.

Euro V Buses

Fourth, NUS runs a bus shuttle service. Of its current fleet of 37 buses, 24 are of Euro V standard and 13 are of Euro II standard. I hope NUS will phase out the use of the Euro II buses. NUS should learn from the best practices of other ISCN members.

Encourage Cycling on Campus

Fifth, Singapore should emulate Denmark and the Netherlands in encouraging the use of the bicycle. NUS should consider leading the way by encouraging the use of the bicycle on campus. We need dedicated bicycle paths, bicycle racks in all buildings, and shower facilities. We should explore the feasibility of a bicycle rental scheme for student residences. Let us envision a future when the bicycle, and not the car, is the king of the road on our campus.


I shall conclude. I am very pleased that both NUS and NTU are members of ISCN. I believe that it is within our power to make our campuses mini eco-cities. We should apply innovations developed by our researchers, on various aspects of sustainability. For example, the first zero energy building in Singapore, should have been built by NUS or NTU. We can and should be a role model for our larger society to emulate. We should also try to make sustainability a way of life for our teachers and students. University administrators should work closely with their students and persuade them to champion sustainability. One milestone in this journey would be to have more hybrid vehicles than S.U.Vs and other gas-guzzlers on our campuses. In conclusion, I hope all of you will join me in endorsing the Taillores Declaration and its ten action points.

Thank you very much.

. . . . .

The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.