Delivered in Parliament on 1 February 2021
Mr Speaker, the motion by member Louis Ng to accelerate and deepen efforts against climate change is an urgent one, as we make a decision on how we want to rebuild our economy, and what kind of an economy we envisage for Singapore in future. Just recently at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all governments to declare a state of climate emergency. Our Government has also acknowledged the threat of climate change, and put in place a number of strategies to tackle this global issue. But are we doing enough as a nation? Are we acknowledging the climate emergency for what it is?
In March 2020, Singapore submitted an updated Nationally Determined Contribution to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While we previously committed to reduce our Emissions Intensity levels on a per dollar of GDP basis, the new NDC adopts an absolute emissions target instead. This is a step forward as it provides greater transparency and reinforces the government’s commitment to tackling climate change.
However, when we take a closer look at the updated target, how much has actually changed?
The first NDC, submitted in 2015, stated our intention to reduce emissions intensity by 36% from 2005 levels by 2030, and stabilise emissions at around 65 MtCO2e with the aim of peaking around 2030. Similarly, the updated NDC reiterates that Singapore intends to peak emissions at 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission around 2030, and only reach net-zero emissions “as soon as viable” in the second half of the century. While we now have an absolute emissions target, this absolute figure of 65 MtCO2e is actually equivalent to a 36% reduction in Emissions Intensity (EI) from 2005 levels by 2030 — and hence it is the exact same target that was set back in 2015!
To put it bluntly, the updated target does not genuinely limit emissions growth today beyond what was already committed to under our first NDC.
I recognize that the Government is targeting 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission by 2050, half that of the 65 million tonnes around 2030. As a nation, Singapore’s climate targets still fall short of IPCC’s recommendations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In contrast, the European Union, Japan and the Republic of Korea have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, along with more than 110 other countries. Even China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide is pledging to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
Even as a small island-state, Singapore has always been daring in our vision for the future. Climate change should be no different. We can, should, and must do more. In view of this, I would like to propose 4 specific areas for improvement to reflect our nation’s commitment to tackling climate change.
(1) Renewable energy mix
Firstly, we need to set more ambitious targets in growing our renewable energy mix. According to statistics from Singapore’s Energy Market Authority, as at July 2020, 96% of electricity in Singapore is produced from natural gas, 1.2% is from coal and petroleum products, and 2.8% is from other sources including solar.
I recognise that there are significant challenges to deploying solar on a large scale in Singapore, including land constraints and local weather conditions. Yet, we were still able to punctually achieve our 2020 solar deployment target of 350 megawatt-peak in the 1st quarter of 2020, reaching 1.5 gigawatt-peak by 2025 and at least 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp) by 2030. Solar however, is only expected to contribute 3% of our electricity needs. Are we genuinely pushing the boundaries, or simply setting benchmarks we can easily hit?
Earlier in January this year, I asked the Minister for Trade and Industry on whether we have a target mix for the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources in 2030 and 2050, and if we would consider setting a target mix that we can strive for together as a nation. However, I do not recall such a target being shared. The Workers’ Party previously called for a minimum of 10% Singapore’s energy to come from renewable resources by 2025. The IEA estimates that 30% of electricity generation globally in 2020 is from renewable sources. A starting point for us, is having a target in the first place.
(2) Carbon tax
Secondly, the carbon tax is another area with much potential for impact. My colleague A/Prof Jamus has elaborated at length about the merits and credibility of a well-functioning carbon tax. But to put simply, the IMF has described carbon pricing as the “single most powerful” way to combat climate change. It is commendable that Singapore implemented a carbon tax in 2019, the first nation in Southeast Asia to do so. But the current rate of $5/tCO2e, however, is too nominal, sitting far below global scientific recommendations.
I fully recognise that this is a sensitive period to be raising the carbon tax, and also note the government’s plans to review the tax rate by 2023, and increase it to between $10/tCO2e and $15/tCO2e by 2030. Nevertheless, I urge the government to adopt a carbon price trajectory that is better aligned with the latest research on what is effective. This should also be complemented by financial assistance schemes to help cushion the impact of the carbon tax for lower-income households.
(3) Pivoting away from Singapore’s refining and petrochemical industry
Thirdly, Singapore’s refining and petrochemical sector remains an elephant in the room in our discussions on climate action. In 2017, about 75% of our industrial emissions were from this sector. There is therefore an urgent need to consider the role such industries will play in the Singapore economy of 2050 and beyond.
Already, we are starting to see key players restructure and pivot toward cleaner energy sources, particularly in the wake of Covid-19’s impact on energy demand and prices. Both Shell and BP have set ambitious targets of becoming a net-zero emissions company by 2050. Shell is investing in more lower-carbon technology while expanding its renewable energy and power division. Thus far, the Government has been advocating for a practical approach, a realistic approach towards the petrochemical industry, given that it is a key employer and a key contributor to our economy today.
However, we are already seeing signs of the practical changes oil majors are making today, in preparing for their companies’ realistic future. In June 2020, BP announced it is cutting 10,000 jobs or 15% of its workforce. In October 2020, ExxonMobil announced it is cutting 14,000 jobs globally, also 15% of its workforce. Closer to home, Shell is targeting to cut 500 jobs by 2023 at Pulau Bukom from the current 1,300 staff today, and with refining capacity halved in the next 1-2 years.
Given Singapore’s position as a leading Oil & Gas hub in Asia, it is inevitable that such changes will impact our economy. Yet, should our focus still remain fixated on the old-economy industries of the past? With oil majors pivoting away from fossil fuels, shouldn’t Singapore proactively engage these companies, to partner them on their journey to a net-zero future? How can we accelerate the restructuring of our economy to be better prepared for a low-carbon future, which is fast approaching?
(4) Driving Singapore’s “green revolution”
This brings me to my fourth and final point, on Singapore’s potential to successfully drive the green revolution, if we genuinely commit to accelerating our efforts on this front. This is not the first time we are breaking new ground for Singapore. Shell built an oil refinery on Pulau Bukom in 1961, and it was the first foreign investor to receive Singapore’s Pioneer Certificate Number 1 for its investment. A small island to the south of Singapore became one of the largest refinery complexes globally, and sparked the start of Singapore’s pursuit of the petrochemicals industry.
While the sun is setting for fossil fuels, the time has come for a new period of rapid development in the clean energy industry. Minister Masagos previously said in 2018 that the clean energy industry will add as many as 2.2 million jobs in Southeast Asia by 2030. Looking at global trends, this number will only continue to grow. To keep pace, we must continue to upsize the green industry and ensure our workforce is prepared to take on these new roles. I highly commend the recent move to boost training and recruitment of local talents in the solar industries, and urge the relevant agencies to expand and extend this commitment to other green industries as well.
Mr Speaker, in Mandarin please.
议长先生，即使身为一个蕞尔小国，新加坡也一直敢于规划我们对未来的愿景。处理气候变化的问题也应该持有相同的态度。联合国秘书长古特雷斯在《巴黎协定》签署五周年之际所举办的“2020年气候雄心峰会”上致辞时，促请世界各国领袖，宣布国家进入“气候紧急状态”，直到各国实现碳中和为止。我们不单需要认知气候紧急状态的存在，我们可以、应该，并且必须做更多工作，以抑制气候变化所带来的影响。有鉴于此，我想提出 4 个需要改进的环节，以反映新加坡对应对气候变化许下的承诺。
首先，我们需要为扩大可再生能源组合，制定更宏伟的目标。工人党曾呼吁截止2025 年，至少 10% 的新加坡能源应该来自可再生能源。
提及新加坡对气候变化的具体应对措施，一定触及到炼油和石化行业。但是，面对这棘手的问题，我们还未正面回应。在2017 年，我们约 75% 的工业排放都来自这些行业。因此，我们迫切需要考虑这些行业在 2050 年、甚至2050年之后所扮演的经济角色。我们如何加快经济结构调整，为即将到来的低碳未来做好更完善的准备？
Mr Speaker, in conclusion, Singapore still has much room for improvement in our efforts to tackle climate change, and the very first step is to recognise the climate emergency for what it is today. Yet the beauty of it is that these changes need not come at the expense of economic growth and progress, but should instead be viewed as an investment into the industries of the future. The UK’s Climate Change Committee has concluded that despite there being an overall cost， in bringing about the technologies to reduce carbon emissions, there is an increase in economic prosperity, in terms of an aggregate increase in GDP, jobs and real disposable incomes.
Building a zero-carbon economy is a critical pathway to more resilient economic growth in the long run — a fact that is increasingly recognised by governments and corporations around the world. Even Temasek, for instance, has committed to delivering a net-zero emissions portfolio by 2050. As a nation, let’s challenge ourselves to push the boundaries further, to not be afraid to set the bar higher for the sake of our children, and to be more courageous in our collective fight against the existential threat of climate change.