The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) was established under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to develop and implement Singapore's domestic and international policies and strategies to tackle climate change. They are currently holding a nation-wide public consultation exercise to gather feedback on Singapore’s climate change policy from now till 30 August. This document outlines the areas of concern they are looking to gather feedback from. All feedback or replies are to be emailed to email@example.com.
This is a prime opportunity to show the government that the climate crisis is an issue that Singaporeans (not just green groups) deeply care about and that there is consensus that greater governmental action is required. According to a global survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, climate change is the world’s greatest threat. While the government has declared 2018 the Year of Climate Action, what we need is action on a wider scale. We need concrete, structural change and a pledge and plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a necessary target to limit warming to 1.5ºC. Currently, Singapore’s climate policies are consistent with a global warming of 4ºC above pre-industrial levels and our absolute emissions are still increasing. With the bulk of Singapore’s energy consumption coming from industries (65.7% - with more than half of that from petroleum products, compared to 17.6% from transportation and 5% from households.), our environmental messaging must go beyond the individual to tackle emissions reductions effectively.
At the same time, we understand that not everyone has the capacity to craft a submission. As such, we’ve compiled a list of possible evidence-based talking points that you may use or take inspiration from in order to develop a submission of your own in the fastest way possible - no acknowledgement necessary.
We also realise that this is a good opportunity for people to understand climate change policy which can be quite complicated. Click on each section to find out more about terms that are more esoteric. Or simply read the full essay with citations.
Full essay with citations
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1. The need for more ambitious national targets
- Publicly commit to shifting our national energy grid to be at least 70-85% renewable-based by 2050, a climate mitigation goal necessary to keep warming below 1.5ºC as laid out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report.
- At the international level, declare that we are no longer a developing country and be held up to higher standards - more stringent reporting standards and financial contributions to climate related initiative.
- Our existing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions is a 36% reduction in emissions intensity, but there is a need to emphasise reducing absolute emissions.
- Regardless, the current target of a 36% reduction in emissions intensity is also too low when benchmarked with what IPCC Report has laid out, which require absolute emissions to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050 in order for temperatures to increase no more than 1.5 degrees celsius.
2. Develop a strategic plan for transitioning away from the oil and gas industries
- Singapore’s per capita carbon emissions currently ranks at 27th out of 142 countries, but households contribute to just 6% of secondary emissions and 0.4% of primary emissions. Without a rapid shift away from the petrochemical industry, individual actions taken like using less electricity or taking public transport are likely to have negligible effects.
- Divest our institutions away from the biggest carbon intensive industries (i.e. fossil fuels) and reinvest in industries for the future (eg. plant-based foods and renewable energy technology).
- Align all government agencies to this move to shift Singapore away from fossil fuels at the greatest possible speed, else efforts to reduce carbon emissions in one agency can be easily offset by an increase in emissions in another.
- To re-consider the recently announced expansion of Jurong Island which will commit Singapore to infrastructure that is carbon intensive, while creating more stranded assets.
3. Develop a task force on a just transition of the workforce
In line with points 2 and 3, economic transitions should be simultaneously accompanied by labour transitions.
- A just transition for all towards an environmentally sustainable economy needs to be well managed and contribute to the goals of decent work for all (i.e. opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration), social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.
- The transition to a greener economy could generate 24 million jobs in a span of about a decade, with Asia and the Pacific seen to have the highest level of job creation at 14 million—more than enough to offset the expected job losses of 6 million in traditional energy sectors
- An additional 6 million jobs can also be created by transitioning towards a ‘circular economy’ (i.e. recycling, repair, rent and remanufacture).
4a. Sharply Increase the Carbon tax
- A policy objective of taxes is to influence consumers’ behaviour (for example, a tobacco tax discourages consumption due to the negative effect of smoking on health). Another policy objective is to reflect the cost of negative externalities in the prices of goods and services.
- To meet the policy objectives, the extent of the carbon tax is important. Our existing tax is wholly inadequate on both fronts. S$5/tCO2e from now till 2023 and intentions to increase it to S$10-15/tCO2e by 2030 is far short of the level needed to drive transformational change, as estimated at US$40-80 per ton by 2020 and US$50-100 per ton by 2030. It neither addresses the need for change in business and consumer practices, nor adequately captures the cost of reducing carbon emissions and adapting to the climate crisis.
- Align all government agencies to this move to shift Singapore away from fossil fuels at the greatest possible speed, else efforts to reduce carbon emissions in one agency can be easily offset by an increase in emissions in another.
- Linking this to making carbon capture and storage (CCS) viable in Singapore, the cost of a carbon tax which can support it would be in the range of optimistically at least US$100 per tonne of CO2 emissions. Note that this is an estimate based on technology that has not been tested at scale. Actual costs of commissioned CCS projects are in the range of US$600-800 per tonne. On this basis alone, it is clear that the carbon tax needs to be set higher.
4b. How the Carbon tax should be used
- Revenues from the carbon tax should be used (directly through hypothecation or indirectly through setting up a separate fund) to support more vulnerable and affected members of society in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, e.g. workers in the current petrochemical industry. For instance, this can be done by funding the costs borne by these workers as they upgrade their skills in order to transition into green industries. In addition, carbon taxes can be designed to be progressive through lump-sum transfers and social cushioning measures to reduce costs for low-income households. Annual reports can make transparent how revenues have been recycled and the recipients that have been reached, thereby increasing public trust in redistribution.
- Furthermore, the revenues should be earmarked to finance additional climate change mitigation eg. increasing support for zero-carbon research and development, along with subsidies to promote deployment. This will help allay people’s anxiety towards the perceived costs of switching from high-carbon to low-carbon options.
- In order to create strong incentives for companies to be committed to emissions reductions, there needs to be a clear plan for annual increases of a specific amount towards a target price and year. Else, companies would factor in this cost as a cost of doing business generally.
- This was done by British Columbia in their acclaimed carbon tax scheme. In that scheme, the carbon tax rate started at the baseline of CAD 10/tonne in 2008, increasing annually by CAD 5/tonne, reaching the current level of CAD 30/tonne in 2012. It has worked to reduce residential natural gas consumption by up to 10.1% between 1990 and 2014.
- In Britain, coal use plummeted after the introduction of its carbon price floor of US $25 per tonne in 2013.
4c. Carbon price should be administered through a simple taxation scheme where the carbon price is charged based on verified emission values
- The current Carbon Pricing Bill (CPB) framework requires taxable facilities to be required to buy a certain amount of credits at the beginning of each year, based on an estimate of carbon emissions for the next year.
- Many taxable facilities may not be able to make accurate estimates of the number of carbon credits they will require at such an early part of the year and may thus overestimate the amount and have left-over unutilised carbon credits.
- The CPB also does not allow facilities to sell, transfer, assign or dispose of unutilised credits, nor receive refunds for any unutilised carbon credits. The only way that credits can be converted back into money is when facilities close their account due to inactivity or when they stop operating.
- Taxable facilities which bought more credits than necessary may then be more inclined to use less energy-efficient technologies so as to finish using remaining credits and the original objective of disincentivizing carbon intensive activities is not met.
- A simple taxation scheme which taxes taxable facilities directly based on the amount they emit is more straightword and effective when it comes to tackling emissions.
5. Make climate science and environmental studies part of the MOE curriculum
- Climate change will be a major part of future generations’ lives. We have a responsibility to ensure that they have relevant literacy in the environmental humanities and sciences.
- Although climate change is covered at various touchpoints in the present curriculum, more can be done to deepen youth’s understanding of climate change, including climate justice and the ways in which the environment is closely connected to other societal issues.
- Similar to social studies, the subject should be made compulsory to make sure that every student is exposed to it.
6. Shift our societal progression metric away from GDP
- In light of the climate crisis, GDP as a measurement of progress is no longer tenable. For a long time, GDP has been the foremost economic indicator of our national progress. Although some climate action will have opportunity costs, these are far outweighed by the benefits. Furthermore, they are necessary compromises in the very short-run on a climatic scale. In time, even wealth will not protect us from the worst of the climate crisis.
- In addition, the climate crisis has made it clear that the logic of endless growth promoted by GDP is no longer tenable. The imperative for exponential growth is evidently senseless given the limits of our finite planet.
- With the recent Malaysian water shortageand Chennai’s water crisis, we already see the impacts of climate change hitting our surrounding countries. This is a time to prioritise climate action over economics.
- To consider other facets of our wellbeing, climate change has also been repeatedly purported to worsen mental health as it exposes people to increasingly frequent trauma. Young people worldwide are even beginning to question the ethics of having children in the era of climate change.
- Material wealth cannot make up for overall wellbeing—and even then, when climate change threatens our national security and when we struggle with food and water scarcity, what will we have left?
- Countries like Bhutan defy the use of conventional metrics of GDP and use Gross National Happiness instead, which guides priorities in policy-making. Most recently, New Zealand, a country as developed as Singapore has released a “Well Being Budget” which explicitly puts tackling social and environmental issues such as inequality and mental health at the center of policy. We need to replace GDP with a more thoughtful indicator - one that accounts for ecological and social impact of economic activity.
- A working group should be commissioned to find out more about the viable routes of transforming our economic model, how that will impact our lives and how maintaining a status quo in our current economic directions will affect citizens of other countries who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
7. Increase regional collaboration to deal with climate threats and energy needs
- Singapore must be an active participant in the ASEAN Power Grid (APG) initiative which seeks to improve grid interconnection between member nations, especially when the initiative has the potential to increase a country’s share of sustainable energy. Renewable energy sources are increasingly reaching grid parity (i.e. the point when the cost of the alternative energy becomes equal to or less than electricity from conventional energy forms like fossil fuels) in ASEAN too - hydropower sources in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are able to compete with conventional fuel generation and in most Malaysia projects, while solar PV has reached grid parity in Philippines.
- Interconnection, in conjunction with smart grid infrastructure, expands the coverage area for renewable energy production, which can reduce the variability of electricity production from solar and wind energy and create additional opportunities for production spillover and backup supply.
- In addition, global collaborative opportunities to power Singapore with renewable energy must be actively explored too. For instance, SunCable, an Australia-based company has an ambitious $20 billion plan to power Singapore with Australia’s solar energy.
- Furthermore, Singapore is well-placed to contribute its energy efficiency expertise and its investment in low-carbon transport. With 68% of the world projected to live in cities by 2050, this presents an immense leadership and economic opportunity for Singapore in ASEAN and beyond.
8. Consider Singapore’s non-domestic contributions
- Singapore is a major oil refining and petrochemical centre that serves the global market. Our oil refineries produce about 1.3 million barrels a day. Although exported carbon emissions are currently not claimed by any country, the fact remains that Singapore is complicit in enabling greater global carbon emissions - in light of the climate crisis, this must be reconsidered.
- Emissions from international bunkers are more than twice our national emissions based on 2018’s Biennial update report. Singapore should also consider strategics plans for a net-zero carbon maritime and aviation industry as soon as possible.
- Singapore is a major financial center and its banks are responsible for financing many developments with climate impacts. Even as major Singapore banks have announced that they will stop financing new coal power plants, DBS and OCBC remain involved in several coal power projects. The government should encourage low-carbon investments by creating a supportive enabling environment through policies.
9. The need for financial reform
- Failure to account for climate risk has led to the emergence of a huge carbon bubble.A recent report estimated that the carbon bubble could be as large as $100 trillion by the end of the century. This can potentially create another global financial crisis.
- In addition, with the advances in clean energy, fossil fuels is likely to become a stranded asset. A recent report found that Blackrock, the world’s biggest fund manager, lost $90 billion over the last decade by ignoring the serious financial risk of investing in fossil fuel companies.
- Therefore, there should be a strong enforcement on the implementation of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues into all investment decision-making processes such that failing to consider long term investment value drivers in investment practice is made clear to be a failure of fiduciary duty. For instance, a decision not to invest in a high-carbon asset because of financial concerns about stranded assets is likely to be seen as consistent with fiduciary duties, providing that the decision is based on credible assumptions and robust processes. The same applies for a decision to not build a coal plant in an area that would cause significant and unjust displacement of local communities.
- Furthermore, there should be a mandate and tight monitoring that all banks cease funding on new coal power plant and withdraw from existing deals. The World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, remarked last year that “if Vietnam goes forward with 40 GW of coal, if the entire region implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished.”.
- Despite this, DBS is continuing to finance Vung Ang 2 and Van Phong 1 power stations in Vietnam, the latter of which was financed the very next day DBS announced they will cease funding on coal power plants. On top of that, DBS is also involved in building Java 9 and 10 power stations in Indonesia. Likewise, OCBC is still financing the Nghi Son 2 and Van Phong 1 power plants in Vietnam. This is absolutely untenable - the International Energy Agency has warned said to limit temperature rises to 2C, let alone the 1.5C as scientists recommend, either all new energy projects would have to be low carbon or existing infrastructure would need to be cleaned up.
10. Expanding the scale and areas of climate change research
- It is commendable that a new Climate Science Research Programme Office will be set up under the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) with $10million funding from the government. However, more money seems to go towards adaptation, such as the Cities of Tomorrow (CoT) programme which will utilise $150million and is primarily focused on devising urban solutions for making infrastructure resilient.
- As philosopher Dale Jamieson has pointed out, adaptation without mitigation is futile. This is because the less mitigation is done, the worse warming will be, and the more adaptation will be required. Therefore, areas of research must go beyond climate adaptation to include greater emphasis on climate mitigation. Research pertaining to other non-environmental fields like economics and behavioural insights to how people respond to climate policies etc. is key too. A good example is the Solar Energy Research Institute Singapore (SERIS), which should be given more funding.
- For example, economists should conduct rigorous research on new economic models that does not rely on fossil fuels; psychologists need to conduct behavioral research on how people react to cheaper electricity and make decisions that matter to the environment. The power of different expertise, not only environmentalists, should be harnessed to help transition into a sustainable system.
11. Facilitating greater dialogue and awareness in the Building industry on increasing energy efficiency
- Based on the latest public data on Singapore’s emissions profile, the building sector is the biggest sources of secondary emission (16%). Singapore has set the goal of achieving 80% of green buildings in 2030, but by 2017, only 30% of the buildings had been certified as green buildings, which experts say is behind schedule. Therefore, more can and need to be done in the building sector to drastically reduce Singapore’s secondary emissions.
- A deeper conversation on green buildings is needed to improve awareness about the benefits of green building technology, and promote cooperation among technology suppliers. The 2014 report by Building and Construction Authority (BCA) listed a lack of knowledge and awareness among Operations, Monitoring and Maintenance (OM&M) personnel about how to run a building in the most energy efficient way as one of the key challenges facing the industry.
12. Accelerate the deployment of solar energy
- It is commendable that there has been multiple efforts to maximise the deployment of solar energy, like the SolarNova Programme which is a whole-of-government effort led by Economic Development Board (EDB) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic systems (PV) in Singapore. It has been heartening to see the deployment of Solar PVs in innovative ways like floating solar PVs systems on water bodies. These efforts must be rapidly accelerated.
- That said, Singapore’s space constraints will limit the application of solar PVs. Therefore, resources channelled into developing the ecosystem of solar energy players should be increased. This facilitates faster transition to clean energy to the world and by extension, to Singapore.
- Another aspect involves creating an enabling regulatory environment for prosumers and encouraging households and institutions (like universities) with the ability to become prosumers of solar PVs. Prosumer is the hybrid of “consumer” and “producers.” It describes an energy supply system where each agent — an individual, a household, or an institution — is a consumer and producer of energy at the same time. For example, a consumer purchases solar PVs from a retailer and excess energy can then be sold to other households, incentivising the production of clean energy as an alternative source of income. Thus, every consumer is empowered to decide where their energy comes from and in what amounts, as well as turn into a “prosumer” by choosing to produce solar energy. According to Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), a key aspect of Singapore’s 2030 vision consists of consumers becoming prosumers.
13. Climate measures aimed at the transportation sector should tackle the demand for transportation as well
- The transportation sector accounts for 14% of Singapore’s primary greenhouse gas emissions.
- Existing efforts to curb private vehicle ownership and to expand the public transport network are commendable, given that motorised road vehicles accounted for the bulk (90%) of Final Energy Demand (FED) in the domestic transport sector in 2016 (due to their dependence on diesel and gasoline) while the electricity used to power the rail network only accounted for 9.6%. Rail transport is projected to displace some road transport by 2050, with the share of rail rising to 14% of FED and that of road declining to 83%.
- At the same time, it is increasingly clear that even a rapid switch to electric and other low-carbon vehicles won’t be enough to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 2°C. More needs to be done to reduce the demand for transportation. This entails aspects like shrinking road space, which will also free up space for pedestrians thereby making the city more walkable and bike-friendly, again reinforcing low-carbon travel.
14. Reform the government such that the climate crisis becomes a core focus in all aspects of governing
- Similar to the government’s setting up of the Singapore Food Agency, the government should not shy away from government reforms which can facilitate the handling of the climate crisis.
- However, at present, there is no single dedicated ministry that deals with the climate crisis on a scale equivalent to the magnitude of the issue. The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources mainly concentrates on tackling local resource issues with a focus on meeting the population’s needs. While the mandate of the National Climate Change Secretariat (“to develop and implement Singapore's domestic and international policies and strategies to tackle climate change”) is highly important, it is only one part of the strategy group under the Prime Minister’s Office, and it does not appear to have actual implementation power.
- In order to deal with the climate crisis effectively, muscular political will is needed. What we need is therefore the climate crisis to be made the core focus in all aspects of government. This means integrating climate goals needed to keep warming below 1.5 degree celsius into the mandate of all government ministries and agencies. This entails a compulsory climate risk assessment to be conducted in all government projects for instance. By extension, this means having a climate change sustainability department in every ministry that is given the authority it requires to keep the ministry aligned to the climate goals.
- A whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis is necessary since the problem is deeply intersectional. The issue cannot be left to environmental bodies only.
15. Allow for collective action through instituting participation in policymaking
- Again, individual citizens can be better empowered to influence policies which can affect industries or land-use planning since individual contributions to total emissions in Singapore are not as significant.
- While climate change is often cast as a purely ‘science’ question, it is very much an issue that requires society to think about other issues such as equity and trade-offs between different interests.
- In this context, dialogue with the people with should be an integral part of the institutional framework for policymaking and implementation at all levels.
- Decision-making with public involvement from an early on process also increases the legitimacy of decisions and promotes an informed and engaged citizenry.
- Existing modes of public consultation are often not transparent in process, involves low levels of participation and are citizens are also not guided through the process.
- For example, the NCCS Public Consultation did not have a clear objective, unlike say, the Public Consultation on the Carbon Tax and the target audience was also not well-defined nor actively reached out to. From the questions, it seems that individuals and businesses are targeted, but both are very broad categories (particularly for businesses - are the questions directed at SMEs? Local businesses? Large fossil fuel companies?).
- Citizens or businesses are also not equipped with sufficient information on the context nor have practice and skills on how to discuss or share their views in the public arena. Finally, they are also not carried out in a way which will guarantee some form of feedback-influenced outcomes, and could be more transparent.
- The authorities should leverage on existing ground-up, community initiated discussions and forums, so that formal public consultations can be designed in a way that complements them.
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