Businesses urged to work with govt on managing food, water, energy use

PHOTO: Businesses urged to work with govt on managing food, water, energy use

ENERGY, water and food - three cornerstones of the world - are deeply intertwined, and will be demanded in ever larger quantities in the future.

According to United Nations estimates, by 2030, a growing and urbanising world will need a third more water, 45 per cent more energy, and 50 per cent more food.

To meet these inter-related demands, businesses can play a key role, working closely with government, said Ms Ruth Cairnie, executive vice-president of strategy and planning at energy giant Royal Dutch Shell.

She was speaking to The Straits Times on Monday on the sidelines of Singapore International Energy Week, an annual gathering of energy experts that is held at Marina Bay Sands this week.

The "powerful interlinkages" between energy, water and food mean that rising demand for one would drive substantial demand for the other two, she said.

For instance, large volumes of water are needed to extract fossil fuels, and for cooling in fuel refineries. In return, energy is needed to treat, pump and transport water.

A kilogram of beef, in turn, takes 1,500 litres of water to produce.

The three resources are closely tied, she said, and so any response to these pressing issues needs to include cooperation not just between the public and private sector, but also across industries and government departments.

Shell has been paying close attention to these resource stresses, said Ms Cairnie, and acting where it can.

"Where we have impact, or where we have potential impact on water and land use, we take that very much into account," she said.

Shell's biofuels venture in Brazil, for example, was deliberately situated in an area of heavy rainfall, to reduce reliance on local water stocks.

Its fuel refinery in Geelung, in a dry part of Australia, will have a plant on-site by next year to treat and recycle water from both the refinery and the local community.

With the world's population expected to rise to nine billion by 2050, and three out of four of these living in cities, Ms Cairnie added that how cities are designed is important.

Singapore, with its compact design and focus on resource efficiency, is "a prime example" of good design, she said.

Meanwhile, a panel of international energy experts who met yesterday said in a press conference afterwards that it was important for Singapore to keep its energy options open.

The International Advisory Panel on Energy was set up by the Government in 2008 and meets every two years to discuss Singapore's energy policies. It has 16 members and is chaired by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran.

The 11 panel members who met yesterday agreed with Singapore's plan to develop its understanding of nuclear science and technology.

Panellist Peter Schwartz, who has written several books on scenario planning, told reporters after the event that such knowledge would enable the Republic to judge future nuclear technologies and developments in neighbouring countries.

He said Singapore may be able to tap into nuclear energy in 20 to 30 years' time. The Government said last week after a two-year study that the risks of current nuclear technology outweighed its benefits here.

The panellists also agreed that Singapore should continue to develop other energy sources such as solar power, and use its status as a global financial hub to encourage investment in clean technology in the region.

davidee@sph.com.sg