Speech By Ms Grace Fu, Minister For Sustainability and the Environment, on Private Member’s Motion To Accelerate And Deepen Efforts Against Climate Change, on 1 February 2021
1 Mr Speaker, I thank the Members – Mr Louis Ng, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Ms Poh Li San, Ms Hany Soh, and Mr Don Wee – who have tabled the Motion to draw the attention of this House and the public to the important topic of climate change. Like all of you, sustainability is close to my heart. It has been almost a decade since I first joined MEWR in 2011. And in MCCY, sustainability often featured in my engagements with our youth and citizen groups. I can speak for all of my colleagues in MSE, and across the Government, that we are encouraged by this debate, and the strong voices of support for the work that we do every day to promote a sustainable Singapore for all generations.
2 Sustainability has always been a part of Singapore’s DNA. Even before the term became widely used, we have always pursued sustainable development by balancing economic growth with protecting our environment. As early as 1967, we had the vision of a “Garden City” and took active steps to make this a reality. The 1971 Clean Air Act, with its stringent pollution controls, is another example of our early actions to not industrialise at the expense of the environment. In the 1980s, we undertook the monumental task of cleaning up our rivers, and made Singapore River the icon it is today. More recently, we launched the ABC Waters programme – Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters – to realise the full potential of our water infrastructure beyond their drainage and water storage functions. Generations have transformed Singapore into the clean and green city we enjoy today. As we enjoy walks along our parks and waterways, we can take pride in the progress we have made.
3 With climate change looming, we will, and we must, continue to pursue this path of sustainable development. At the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee outlined the Government’s commitment to understand, mitigate and adapt to climate change. Across the Government, we have charted out specific strategies to support our sustainability drive in the various sectors. Our inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan strives to transform Singapore into a Zero Waste Nation powered by a circular economy. Our Energy Story aspires to transform Singapore into a bright green spark for the world. We are on track to transform Singapore into a City in Nature. These are just some examples of ongoing efforts to energise all sectors to make climate change and sustainability core considerations. The Government’s commitment is underscored by our decision to rename my Ministry to include “Sustainability”.
RESPONDING TO INHERENT CHALLENGES: OUR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS HAVE BEEN HOLISTIC AND INCLUSIVE
4 We have been able to come this far by safeguarding not just the environment, but also ensuring economic growth and social inclusion; and galvanising Singaporeans to build a fair and just society, of hope and opportunity, that is sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
5 In doing so, we have always been keenly aware of our strengths and our constraints. This awareness has prompted us to tackle our challenges pragmatically and turn constraints into opportunities. As we look ahead to strengthen our national approach to climate change, it is important to recall our key immutable realities.
6 First, our physical limitations. We will always be a dense and small island city-state. We have limited land, which we use to support diverse needs, including defence, industry, transport, housing, and greenery. As Members noted, land use in Singapore will always be a trade-off between competing needs. Yet, we have always found a way to balance these needs. We built high-rise housing estates to house a growing population, but set aside large nature reserves with about a third of the island covered by trees. With careful planning and in pursuit of our City in Nature vision, we have been able to protect and enhance ecologically important sites as green spaces and carbon sinks over the years. We are looking at more possibilities, to enhance ecological connectivity and provide more green spaces for Singaporeans.
7 Second, we do not have the same options for alternative energy as other larger countries. We have neither great rivers for hydroelectric power, nor strong winds required for wind power. We are alternative energy disadvantaged. Solar energy is our most viable renewable energy option, but even that is limited by available land area, urban shade, and intermittency issues. Nevertheless, we have set ambitious solar deployment targets of 1.5 giga-watt peak by 2025, and at least 2 giga-watt peak by 2030.
8 As Mr Henry Kwek highlighted, we are taking a holistic approach to our energy challenge. We are tapping our four energy supply “switches” – other than solar, we rely on natural gas, which is the cleanest burning fuel, regional power grids, and low-carbon alternatives. Energy conservation is a key priority. Other clean energy solutions may not be mature today, but show promise in contributing to our energy transformation efforts. Low-carbon hydrogen is one such emerging solution. Our research institutes are actively pursuing low-carbon energy research and development, to unlock this potential over time.
9 Third, with no hinterland and no natural resources, we need a vibrant economy that is well plugged into the global economy. This will create jobs and opportunities for our people. To protect us from external shocks, we need a diversified economy, including maintaining manufacturing capabilities and capacity. This is especially so in a post-Covid-19 world, where resilience, inclusiveness and reliability have become paramount. As the same time, sustainability is at the top of mind for investors and consumers.
10 To remain competitive, we have to take into account these realities and balance our competing national priorities. The Energy & Chemicals (E&C) sector contributed around 3 per cent of Singapore’s GDP and employed over 25,000 people in 2019. It also enables many other parts of the economy, by transforming raw materials into important products that we use, including the personal protective equipment (PPE) for our healthcare workers. Our E&C sector produces not only for Singapore, but for the world. We aim to be a responsible supplier of such products, helping our industries to shift towards lower carbon products and be among the best-in-class in energy and carbon efficiency globally. Early on, we dared to transform Jurong Island into a world-class chemicals hub, even though we had no oil nor gas resources. Today, Jurong Island is home to over a hundred global chemical firms.
11 The E&C sector will play a key role in the global transition to a low-carbon future. For example, the chemicals industry provides silver paste, high performance plastic films and membranes that go into photovoltaic cells and batteries for electric vehicles. Members may be aware that Neste, the largest renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel producer worldwide, will be operating its largest renewables refinery in Singapore. Neste opened the first phase of its plant in 2010, and will be doubling its refining capacity to about 2.6 million tons of renewable fuels per annum. The E&C sector is also a key partner in the development of emerging low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture, utilisation, and storage. These technologies can be pivotal in enabling decarbonisation at scale. Singapore will benefit from anchoring industry players here.
TAKING DECISIVE ACTION ON CLIMATE MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION
12 We face inherent challenges as a nation, yet we have always tackled them squarely, turning challenges into opportunities. This continues to hold true, as we apply the same determination to tackling climate change.
13 Members have highlighted that Singapore is already feeling the impacts of climate change. Members like Mr Louis Ng, Ms Nadia Samdin, Professor Koh Lian Pin. 2020 was one of the top 10 warmest years on record. Yet June 2020 was one of the wettest and coolest Junes we have had in decades. Our weather is getting warmer, rainstorms heavier, and dry spells more pronounced. Climate change can result in more frequent episodes of extreme weather, disrupt global supply chains, encourage diseases like dengue, and threaten access to food, water and energy.
14 To effectively tackle climate change, we set up the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change (IMCCC) in 2007, and the National Climate Change Secretariat in 2010. At that time, climate negotiations were just ramping up. We needed a Whole-of-Government effort, with top-level leadership. The IMCCC has played a key role to oversee and coordinate both the international negotiations and domestic aspects of our climate change efforts over the years.
15 And because of this, we have a strong Climate Action Plan today.
16 To better understand climate change and its impact, we made early investments to boost our climate science capabilities. This will increase the scientific rigour in our policies. Launched in 2013, the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) is now one of the few leading centres in the region, focusing on research in tropical weather and climate. Last year, we set up the Climate Science Research Programme Office under the CCRS to drive our national climate science research masterplan.
17 Climate change is a global challenge, which will require an international solution. No single country will be able to tackle climate change on its own. Singapore cannot go it alone. To mitigate the global climate threat, we need a strong global response. All countries, big and small, must join hands and do their part. As a responsible global citizen, Singapore too will play our part as part of a larger international solution. This is why we are a strong advocate for a robust multilateral rules-based approach to addressing climate change. Although we contribute only 0.1 percent of global emissions, we have and we will continue to push the envelope on climate ambition, taking into account our constraints. We have been playing an active role to sustain the momentum for global climate action - whether at the annual Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, or by supporting fellow small states and developing countries to build capacity, implement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We are proud that experts from our universities are making useful contributions. Associate Professors Winston Chow from SMU, Lynette Cheah from SUTD and Professor Benjamin Horton from NTU are participating in the Sixth Assessment cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
18 Singapore was one of the first few countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, which enabled its early entry into force. As a signatory to the Paris Agreement, we have pledged to peak our emissions at 65 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent around 2030, and aspire to halve emissions from its peak to 33 million tonnes by 2050. We will seek to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century. As Members have highlighted, we do not make commitments lightly, because we have every intention to make this commitment a reality. We have made several enhancements to our NDC, including a clear peaking target and detailed implementation efforts. Given our circumstances, these targets are challenging and ambitious, yet credible. For example, even if we were to put solar PVs on every single rooftop on our HDB estates, we would still need to rely on natural gas for our electricity needs unless there are breakthroughs in needle moving technologies like low-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen, or low carbon solutions like CCUS. We consulted widely, and our strategies strike a careful balance between all stakeholders – individuals, businesses, green groups, and academia. Many of them recognised the constraints and trade-offs that we have to work with, and appreciate that we back our ambition with concrete targets and action.
19 We will take a serious, hard look at our emissions, and continue to transform our industry, economy and society. To achieve deep emission cuts, we will need to draw on technologies that are still nascent today, and pursue international and regional collaboration. We have to rely heavily on cross-border collaboration, such as regional electricity grids, and the establishment of a robust international carbon market with high environmental integrity. These are long-term strategies. Over time, we will gain experience and better understand the extent to which potential emissions reductions can be realised. This will help us further calibrate our actions to achieve positive climate impact.
20 Central to our climate mitigation strategy is our carbon tax. We are the first in Southeast Asia to have implemented a carbon tax in 2019. Our carbon tax framework has been tailored to our context, putting in place a fair, uniform and transparent price signal to incentivise emissions reductions. At 80 per cent of our total emissions, our carbon tax coverage is one of the most comprehensive globally, and we have not provided exemptions to any of our covered facilities.
21 We agree with Members on the importance of a strong carbon price signal in moving our industries. Several members – Mr Henry Kwek, Mr Louis Chua – provided thoughtful comments on how our carbon price should increase in a gradual, measured manner. We will review our carbon price by 2023, with the intent of raising the tax rate by 2030, and we note the suggestion provided by Mr Jamus Lim. We will take into account international climate change developments, the progress of our climate mitigation efforts, and our economic competitiveness. We will continue to work closely with all relevant stakeholders to address concerns.
22 Learning from our carbon tax experience so far, what had worked well for us was the clarity in our communications and close cooperation with our companies.
23 By announcing the intent to review our tax rate early, we had provided a clear sense of direction. This gave us and our companies the confidence and time to transit to a competitive low-carbon economy. This consultative approach must continue to feature in our work.
24 Our carbon tax is not a stand-alone measure. We are committed to supporting our businesses and households transit to a low-carbon future, and are prepared to spend more than what we collect in carbon tax revenue in the first five years on worthwhile projects to achieve emissions reduction.
25 On our building sector, which Ms Poh Li San spoke on, we have indeed come a long way in our green buildings journey. Over the years, we have progressively raised our building sustainability standards and stepped up efforts to encourage the adoption of green technology and sustainable practices. This is not just in the construction process, but throughout the building life cycle. While we have made significant advances in the energy efficiency of our buildings, we still need building users to play their part in managing energy consumption, for example by reducing their use of air-conditioning.
26 Despite our constraints as a highly urbanised, tropical city, we are committed to further reducing the carbon footprint of our Built Environment. We will continue to push for the adoption of Super Low Energy Buildings, and to support the development of energy-efficient and cost-effective green technologies. We have been working with stakeholders on how we can achieve these aims in the next edition of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan.
27 Mindful that we might not be able to reverse climate change completely, adaptation must also feature in our plans. We take a long-term approach to building up our climate resilience. From coastal adaptation to mitigating urban heat island effects and enhancing our food supply resilience, we will plan ahead, invest in science and technology, and develop innovative solutions.
28 Our plans will include a combination of measures, including nature-based solutions, as Professor Koh Lian Pin had mentioned. The benefits to such solutions are multi-fold: conserving our biodiversity, and creating new recreational space for the community to enhance our living environment. Importantly, as Ms Nadia Samdin had mentioned, these solutions will also contribute to mitigating climate change. This is an exciting, growing area that we will study closely and work in partnership with our researchers, as well as international counterparts.
OPPORTUNITIES TO FURTHER EMBRACE SUSTAINABILITY IN SINGAPORE’S DEVELOPMENT
29 While we have been taking serious steps through our Climate Action Plan, there is much more we can do together in the coming years. Not only will this allow us to cope with our challenges, it will provide new opportunities to test-bed and commercialise new solutions in Singapore, which may be relevant for other cities and countries facing similar challenges.
30 We must adopt an enabling mindset and environment, and actively engage scientists, businesses and citizens in meaningful partnerships, including civil society groups. This will keep us agile in tapping opportunities as the world transits to a low-carbon future. Covid-19 has underscored the importance of transformation, resilience and cohesion in societies. Singapore will strive to emerge stronger together from the Covid-19 crisis and build back greener and better.
31 We will promote green growth. We are actively pursuing new opportunities, both in existing sectors and new sectors, that Singapore companies can thrive in. We will build an ecosystem to support and equip our companies and people with the right skills to seize these opportunities. For example, developing Singapore’s capability in green financing will catalyse the growth of sustainability practices in our economy, and enhance our competitiveness. Global investors are increasingly sensitised to Environmental, Social and Governance issues, and the right allocation of capital will support sustainability projects and unlock green growth opportunities and good jobs for Singaporeans.
32 As Mr Henry Kwek highlighted, by harnessing the potential of our carbon services industry to grow Singapore into a leading carbon trading and services hub, we can build an ecosystem of expertise in this growing field.
33 Plastics, an issue of growing global concern, also presents an opportunity. Just as we closed the water loop, we hope to do the same for plastics. Mechanical recycling and chemical recycling solutions can turn plastic waste into usable plastics. We are actively exploring chemical recycling that turns plastics which are not suitable for traditional mechanical recycling, including contaminated ones, into NewOil.
34 As part of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan, we will strengthen the networks between our research institutes, and between research institutions and companies. The solutions for sustainability and climate change will come from such multi-disciplinary, yet disciplined approach to research, development, and enterprise.
35 We will green transport. Singapore is investing in public transport, and is the only country in the world that has a zero growth policy for vehicles. We will go further in making our vehicles green, including through the electrification of vehicles, which Mr Gan Thiam Poh spoke about. The Government aims to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles and have all vehicles run on cleaner energy by 2040. We are working closely with stakeholders, including the private sector, to catalyse the adoption of electric vehicles.
36 We will be enhancing the Public Sector Taking the Lead in Environmental Sustainability initiative, so that we leverage the collective capabilities across the Government to improve resource efficiency and pursue environmental sustainability in the public sector.
37 This brings me to the importance of deepening engagements. Mr Louis Ng, Ms Hany Soh, Ms Nadia Samdin, Mr Seah Kian Peng brought up the need to rally everyone around the common goal of sustainable development. And engagement not only with our community and 3P partners, across the people, public and private sectors, but also harmonious engagement with our natural environment. We strongly believe in the importance of this, and have been engaging communities, schools, and individuals through citizen science programmes and the OneMillionTrees movement, among others. We will continue to do more, and recently launched the Youth@SGNature initiative to provide young people with more platforms to engage with nature.
38 Educating our young on environmental sustainability and climate change is important. The Government will continue to strengthen the learning experiences for students and mould the values of our future generations.
39 We have heard similar hopes and aspirations, and more, at our Emerging Stronger Conversations, which many of us have been involved in, and other platforms. These are areas of priority to the Government. The Government has heard many suggestions and are actively incorporating these suggestions into our plans. While building on many of our past policies and programmes, we can do more to pull these different strands and efforts together, culminating in a common, united vision.
THE SINGAPORE GREEN PLAN 2030
40 This motion is therefore timely. Over the last few months, the Government has been making preparations to launch a whole-of-nation movement to advance the sustainability agenda in Singapore. We call this the Singapore Green Plan 2030 or in short, the Green Plan. This is a multi-Ministry effort, and will be a major policy priority for this Government.
41 Under the Green Plan, agencies will set ambitious and concrete targets on a sectoral basis, building on what we have achieved. We want to rally and work with our 3P partners by articulating our priorities and goals, and we will consciously create space for the community to join hands and do more together. Ministers and political office holders will be actively involved in the development of comprehensive programmes, as part of this national engagement process. It is not just about getting feedback on government policies, but working together to co-create solutions. Every sector, and every action, will count.
42 Through this process, we hope to catalyse bold, balanced and collective action. Bold – that we push the envelope on all fronts, challenging ourselves to do more, in spite of our national circumstances and constraints. Balanced – for we know that with every action and target, there are considerations and trade-offs to be made, and every Singaporean must have a voice and stake in our sustainability journey. And collective – because we need all 3P partners, all segments of society to work with us to make the Green Plan a reality.
43 We will announce more details in the coming weeks. DPM will speak about our sustainability agenda during the Budget debates. The Government has every intent, as the Motion states, to partner the private sector and the people of Singapore, to deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore.
JOINTLY CONTINUING THE SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY
44 Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Our work to achieve sustainable development is never done. Our Singapore Green Plan will be a ‘living’ document. We will adapt our plans, ambitions and policies over time. Circumstances will change, new opportunities will emerge, and new ideas and initiatives will present themselves as we work with our citizens, businesses and communities.
45 More importantly, we must build the social compact to deal with the challenges of climate change and sustainability. Just as we have come together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic collectively, we will need to act with the same sense of solidarity and make collective, informed decisions on the steps we will take to achieve sustainable development as a society.
46 As we walk together on the sustainability journey, it is not enough for us to just set out impressive sounding goals. We will need to consider Singapore’s circumstances and constraints. We may not be able to avail ourselves of solutions deployed in countries like China, Japan and South Korea.
47 This will involve candid discussions on the costs and trade-offs involved, which we will have to bear whether as consumers, as businesses, or as the Government. These costs may manifest in the change in the price for a good or service we enjoy today, the cost of producing a product, the need to allocate scarce resources to a new solution, the investment in new infrastructure, or some inconveniences in changing our habits and the way we do things.
48 These costs are not a given as they can be mitigated by the choices we make. As individuals, we can consume less, use less air-conditioning and recycle more. As companies, we can redesign our business operations with greater efficiency in the use of resources. And the cost differences will close over time as technology advances, as we are seeing with electric vehicles, for example.
49 Hence, we need to evaluate each choice carefully, and find the right pace and balance in our policies and actions, taking into account our realities as a small city-state. Trade-offs we must make and changes we must pursue, for the consequences of not doing so will inflict on us costs that are many times greater in the future. Disruptions to essential supplies, increased exposure to vector-borne diseases, and catastrophic weather.
50 How we view these costs and how we achieve that balance to build a sustainable future will define us, and will be defined by us. The many valuable suggestions and contributions shared in this House today are very encouraging. We will consider each idea seriously. For some, you will be pleased to know that work is under way and you will hear more about it in the Green Plan. For others, more time may be needed for study and review and consultation. Sustainability is not just about doing more, but doing more together, in an inclusive way, with all our stakeholders on board. I hope that Members will support us and work with us on this national movement.
51 It is often said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. Climate change requires us to envision a new future, and be prepared to give up the old to embrace the new. And we firmly believe that in Singapore, we will co-create a sustainable future for present and future generations. On this note, I support the motion, and look forward to working with all of you on this journey towards sustainability.