Do more to reduce carbon load
Singapore's climate change plan faces several challenges following its release last week. However, the expectations of what it needs to do are mixed, while experts have responded to the release with calls to change consumer habits, as well as to boost public education and awareness.
Singapore is a small country and emits about 0.2 per cent of global emissions. But its emissions per capita are among the world's highest, and the country is facing increasing calls to go further.
Furthermore, it is unclear how much the country can do to make a significant difference. Given its physical size, there are limits to harnessing renewable energy, as the National Climate Change Strategy 2012 (NCCS-2012) has asserted.
Yet Singapore's energy needs will continue to grow alongside its continuing drive to grow the economy with its diverse sectors, including industry and manufacturing.
Reducing gas emissions
In the absence of a legally-binding global treaty, Singapore is committed to a 7 to 11-per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the Business-As-Usual (BAU) scenario by 2020. The BAU is projected at 77 million tonnes. However, this estimate is not absolute, given Singapore's plans to bring in more business and residents. This begs the question of what the BAU will truly be.
A significant part of the answer has come not from the NCCS-2012 itself but an announcement made just before its release to forego new green-field refineries in Singapore.
While adding investment and jobs, such refineries also swell the carbon load for the city. Even though figures are not available, it can be inferred that if energy needs for refining and petrochemicals are separately accounted for, Singapore's emissions per capita would look very much like many other cities.
But accounting alone is unable to make Singapore any better. Nor should the main strategy be to hold back new investments. Singapore must improve its treatment of carbon as a finite resource.
We can set an example as a city - one of the most developed in urbanising Asia. The potential for Singapore as a test bed and innovation centre for environmentally positive technologies must be boosted.
Diesels as pollutants
A case in point is the ongoing electric car test. There were only around 30 test cars on the roads as of February, so few have seen them and can appreciate that the electric car may soon be viable as more manufacturers produce hybrids and electric vehicles.
This is in contrast to the electric car experiment in Paris, where rental fleets are available so that every driver can try one.
Singapore must also innovate in ensuring that carbon is treated in good balance with other environmental issues. Taking air quality as an illustration, the criteria for the new Carbon Emissions-based Vehicle Scheme follows the European Union in putting carbon as the only standard and thus allows many diesels to qualify.
However, diesels are the source of much local pollution. Even as guarantees are made that new diesels will be cleaner, recent studies by the World Health Organization definitively indicate that diesel fumes cause lung cancer and are linked to other public health concerns.
Singapore's green car policy should be tweaked to address both carbon and cleaner air so that one positively supports the other.
Working with neighbours
Other concerns arise from the efficient transport system. Changi Airport is renowned as a world-class airport, yet within its first-rate facilities lies a source of air pollution.
Long lines of idling taxis often wait for up to an hour to pick up passengers. It is known that idling engines emit a substantial amount of emissions, including particulates. Taking steps at an icon like our airport will visibly show Singaporeans and visitors alike that Singapore is factoring in carbon as well as pollution control.
Regional cooperation is another part of the puzzle that needs to be addressed. Singapore can benefit by working with its neighbours in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) in many ways. For example, it can and should help reduce carbon by working with Indonesia to conserve forests and prevent recurring fires and haze, which are a globally significant source of carbon emissions.
The recent collaboration with Indonesia in Jambi province to fight and prevent forest fires is an example that should be replicated elsewhere. This is worth thinking about, as the haze has yet again reared its noxious head in Malaysia and threatens to hit Singapore as well.
Shared energy grid
For the long term, Singapore should explore a shared energy grid with neighbours that can access renewable energy sources these larger countries can tap into. This would also strengthen ASEAN as a multi-national body.
The NCCS-2012 is a good stocktaking of what has been done in recent years. It was only in 2006 that Singapore acceded to the Kyoto Protocol and only in 2009 that the Government made any reduction commitments.
In this sense, Singapore is relatively new to learning and participating in this complex, global negotiation.
The plan shows us that the Government has made considerable headway in fighting climate change, and has taken on a number of perspectives that can shape future planning and policies. Further action can and should be encouraged.
*Simon Tay is the chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). Nicholas Fang is the director of the SIIA and a Nominated Member of Parliament.
By Simon Tay and Nicholas Fang*
21 June 2012