3 Scenarios For a Future Sustainable Singapore

Futures and scenario thinking or planning is not about predicting the future, but is about understanding what is possible, encouraging conversations, and informing decision making. Futures thinking usually looks at trends related to PESTEL – Politics, Economics, Social, Technology, Environment, and Legal. What trends are relevant and predictable? Which direction is it moving and what is the impact?

Based on key trends and their effects, scenarios or stories about the future are then developed to better communicate what the future could look like. The intention is not to predict the future but to give a range of what is possible for people to make better decisions in the present.

Let’s take a look at some possible key PESTEL trends that we could see for Singapore in 2030:

Key PESTEL Trends

1) Politics: Stable vs Unstable

In 2030, the political scene could be stable with the ruling party still in the majority. Or politics could be unstable with more and varied opposition parties in Parliament (though the civil service remains strong).

2) Economics: Growth vs Recession

In 2030, Singapore’s and the world economy could still see overall growth with some ups and downs along the way. Or the world could face a recession with riskier and uncertain outcomes.

3) Social: Community vs Individualistic

In 2030, the Singapore population is more globalised and could feel less rooted to the country. They become more individualistic and look out for their own interests. Or we could see more community spirit and ground-up initiatives, with informal yet strategic groups rising up to co-create solutions with the government and businesses.

4) Technology: Purpose vs Entertainment

In 2030, technology could be used mainly for entertainment and enjoying the trivial, resulting in more gadgets and devices being produced and disposed. Or technology could be used mainly for social and environmental good. The rise of Internet of Things and mobile apps would be used for solving environmental problems and driving the sharing economy.

5) Environment: Systemic vs Tokenism

In 2030, Singapore’s environmental efforts could focus on tokenism acts such as increased energy efficiency and recycling rate, but no real efforts to reduce consumption and wastage, or shift to a green economy. We continue our linear take-make-consume-throw culture. Or we could see real systemic changes to introduce environmental education in schools, increase energy and food security, legislate mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments, focus on reduce and reuse, and adopt the circular economy principles.

6) Legal: International vs National

In 2030, there could be more international agreements or frameworks to address global environmental challenges such as climate change, haze or the loss of biodiversity. Or we could see more country-level national policies and actions being adopted according to the country’s circumstances, instead of following international laws.

Based on the above PESTEL trends, here are 3 possible scenarios for a future Sustainable Singapore in the year 2030 – Ever After, Boiling Frog, and Stand Up.

Ever After (Stable, Recession, Community, Purpose, Systemic and International)

The current recession makes it hard for Jasmine to find a job, despite having graduated 6 months ago. But she is confident that the government, with the ruling party still in power, will help Singaporeans to ride through the recession. The government has put in place a Recession Help Package to provide incentives to companies during this period and to encourage more companies to hire new graduates, with more incentives going to green companies.

While looking for a job, Jasmine is volunteering with a new sustainability community group that is promoting the circular economy. With the rise of community green groups over the past years, she had a hard time choosing which group to volunteer with. But she decided to join this group so that she could learn more about the circular economy, which is the current buzzword among the government agencies, as an Inter-Ministry Committee on Circular Economy was set up recently to drive Singapore towards zero waste.

On the way to her volunteer work in her driverless electric car, Jasmine was reading the news on the car dashboard about the recent Committee of Supply debate in Parliament. The Minister of Sustainable Development gave an update on the Environmental Impact Assessment Act and the Extended Producer Responsibility Act, which was both introduced in 2020. She also read that the Minister announced that Singapore will commit to a 30% reduction in absolute carbon emissions from 2020 levels, as part of a new international climate agreement to be ratified by all countries.

Jasmine was interrupted by an alert from her washing machine on the car dashboard, which congratulated her for using less water and energy than her neighbours in washing her clothes this month. A reward will be sent to her mobile phone so that she can redeem for a discount on green products. Unfortunately, the washing machine informed her that it is reaching its useful life and have to be sent back to the manufacturer for recycling. It will be replaced by a more energy and water efficient model. “One is glad to be of service,” it told Jasmine.

Boiling Frog (Stable, Growth, Individualistic, Entertainment, Tokenism and National)

Watching the news on his 200-inch 4D curved energy efficient LED television, Ivan is happy that Singapore’s economy grew by 5% last year and that the government is increasing the CPF interest rate to 6%. It has been a good decade for Singapore under the ruling party. There has been complaints from the middle class about rising costs but Ivan is not really concerned as long as he is not affected and he still has his job.

The news also mentioned that the government is introducing another green campaign to get people to recycle more and meet the national recycling target of 70% this year. Ivan decided to heed the green call by recycling his laptop and mobile phone through the recycling chute. That would give him an excuse to buy the latest models, he thought to himself.

In fact, his smart watch has already reminded him a few days ago about the new mobile phone models in the market and that his model is outdated when compared to his peers. Ivan loves the Internet of Thing, which helps him stay updated on the latest tech trends and what models to buy. And to help save the environment, he decided that he would buy the mobile phone model made from biodegradable plastics.

Ivan is working from home today as the haze is back again. Despite pressure from Singapore and other countries in ASEAN, the haze problem is still a persistent problem. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution was not ratified when Indonesia decided that it would tackle the haze issue through its own national policies and there was no need to be bounded by the agreement. Ivan hopes that the haze problem can be solved once and for all when the Singapore Minister travels to Indonesia today with an official letter expressing our displeasure.

Stand Up (Unstable, Recession, Community, Purpose, Systemic and National)

Elaine watched the Parliament session in earnest as the Prime Minister debated with the leaders from two opposition parties on constructive politics. The ruling party is still in power although it has to engage in more debates with two major opposition parties. Some said that this has resulted in unstable politics and longer time spent on debating policies, while others said that it has led to better and in-depth debates on important issues. The current recession made things worse, when the opposition leaders call for greater use of Singapore’s reserves to help Singaporeans, while the ruling party refused to do so.

As a retiree, Elaine remembers how top-down policies from the government used to work, but with the current political gridlock, policies take more lead time to be implemented. Fortunately there are now more bottom-up efforts from the community. Elaine volunteers with one of the Food Banks, and collects unsold packaged food from the supermarkets and distributes them to the needy. This helps to reduce food waste and provide food for the needy at the same time. The packaged food are tagged with chips which communicates to the Food Bank on the expiry date and collection time. This enables the Food Bank to deploy volunteers more effectively and keep track of the delivery to ensure food safety.

This global recession has lasted for 5 years, and Elaine realised that this is shifting Singaporeans from a consumerism culture to one that is embracing collaborative consumption or the sharing economy, where people use technology and peer-to-peer networks to enable sharing, renting, lending, and giving, instead of buying. More Singaporeans are also looking at urban farming to grow their own food, and trying to reduce their energy, water and waste.

Although the recession has helped Singapore to address sufficiency and reducing consumersim, it has also slowed down international efforts on climate change. The global agreement to reduce carbon emissions was abandoned and the money for climate adaptation for developing countries disappeared due to the recession. The only positive news was that the economic slowdown also meant a slowdown in the rise of carbon emissions. Most countries decided to adopt their own national plans and actions, which usually meant putting in the least efforts.

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