Global Supertrends Conference 2021

Panel session: The tipping point – Infrastructure in a climate change era


  • Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities, Ministry of National Development, Singapore
  • Ma Jun, Director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), People’s Republic of China
  • Prof. Gerhard Schmitt, Professor emeritus of Information Architecture, ETH Zurich, Founding Director of Singapore-ETH Centre

Moderated by Amanda Drury, CNBC Anchor

The panel session at the Credit Suisse Global Supertrends Conference 2021 shone a light on the need for sustainable infrastructure as part of the ongoing fight against the climate crisis.

As global momentum in climate action reaches a tipping point, climate-resilient infrastructure growth is propelled across the world, further boosted by fiscal stimulus policies. The three experts on this panel session shared how technology is a key enabler in sustainable infrastructure, China's green ambitions, and the pivot to clean energy.

A macro approach to sustainable infrastructure with technology as the key enabler

Kicking off the discussion, Dr. Cheong encouraged taking a macro, city-wide perspective towards sustainable infrastructure development while all panelists unanimously agreed technology would be the key driver. Prof. Schmitt explained how buildings could be designed more sustainably with artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions, "We can use machine learning to detect patterns in this big data. And with these patterns, we can then start to observe certain behavior of buildings; we can start to observe certain behavior of people in buildings; how they use the buildings, how they run the buildings." Beyond optimizing buildings for greater energy efficiency, he highlighted the importance of using machine learning solutions across the entire journey from design to construction and building management.

The discussion turned to China’s sustainability targets and 2060 net-zero emissions goal. Environmentalist Mr. Ma shared China's priority to make industries greener, “We need to go through a deep transformation of our energy supply, restructure our industry and upgrade the transportation and building tactics.” He also highlighted the need to motivate the public to contribute to climate action.

Pivoting to clean energy

Dr. Cheong chimed in on the importance of creating a partnership between the government, industry and people in the pivot towards renewable energy. She noted potential economic opportunities for companies as governments impose sustainability regulations. "Because the world wants to become more sustainable, companies have a lot of opportunities to bring their innovation and enterprise and ideas to the marketplace, to give new materials, new services for waste and water management that are energy efficient. So green growth is a big sector that they can latch on to," she said

COVID-19 and climate change

“Because climate change does not respect borders, it is something we need to work on together. And just as in the fight against COVID, we need to harness science and technology to try to get out of this problem. The vaccines are one example. So similarly, for climate change, we would need to harness science and technology to help us,” said Dr. Cheong.

However, Mr. Ma noted that as the world looks to re-open for business, there is a growing tension between promoting economic recovery and the need to protect the environment.

That said, he was encouraged by the growing use of green finance and market-based solutions to incentivize better environmental performance by Chinese companies.

Cooling without harming the environment

Prof. Schmitt also talked about balancing the demand for cooling in tropical cities like Singapore with the need to protect the environment. In this case, he believed that switching to renewable energy sources such as solar panels can help to cool a city.

Other initiatives, such as the planting of trees in the right places and using digital solutions to predict local climate will help enhance cooling in a city.

The impact of population growth

The session wrapped up on a thought-provoking note: The necessity to decouple our economic growth from the increase in carbon emissions. Our ability to adopt greener business and societal practices will determine our future existence.