Delivered in Parliament on 13 September 2021
Mr Speaker, the Environmental Protection and Management Act (EPMA), originally enacted in 1999 is one of a number of key pieces of environmental legislation in Singapore, with a noteworthy recent addition being the Carbon Pricing Act which was introduced in 2018 and came into operation on 1 Jan 2019.
Importance of Greenhouse Gas regulations
The EPMA is the primary regulation for the environmental control of pollution and waste, including for hazardous substances in Singapore. What I believe to be noteworthy in this amendment bill is clause 3 of the bill which inserts a new Part 10A, comprising new sections 40A to 40Y, relating to the control of greenhouse gases. After all, anthropogenic greenhouse gases with its far-ranging environmental and health effects, are just about the most hazardous substances nations across the world have to grapple with today.
The bill goes into significant technical detail about the regulation, monitoring, prohibition and enforcement against a subset of greenhouse gas goods and related activities. However, I believe it is also crucial that we do not lose sight of the big picture in terms of the urgent and bold actions that the Government, as with all other Governments around the world have to undertake to curb greenhouse gas emissions adequately, in order to deal with the existential threat of climate change.
Today’s debate is thus timely in the context of the recent August release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC’s sixth Assessment Report or AR6, and as nations around the world prepare for COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change conference coming up in November this year. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the recently published IPCC report “a code red for humanity”, as it confirmed that we are observing unprecedented changes in the Earth’s climate “in every region and across the whole climate system”.
It makes clear that the world faces a frightening future, even if – and that’s a big if – the global economy is decarbonised rapidly. I would thus like to spend some time sharing more about the key implications from the report, and also what we should do in light of these implications, especially since this could have serious repercussions on a coastal, island nation that is our home.
AR6 findings and implications for Singapore
In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least two million years. Across all scenarios considered by the IPCC, global temperatures will continue to increase until at least the mid-century. In fact, we are now expected to reach this 1.5°C tipping point 10 years earlier than expected. To limit warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot, net global CO2 emissions need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050. Unless immediate, rapid and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, the average global temperature is likely to reach or cross the 1.5°C warming threshold within 20 years.
Unfortunately however, some climate changes are already locked in. Hot extremes have become more frequent and more intense across most land regions since the 1950s, while cold extremes have become less frequent and less severe. Over the next 2000 years, the global mean sea level will rise by about 2 to 3 meters even if, warming is limited to 1.5°C, with the effect irreversible for millennia.
At this point in time, remaining carbon budgets for a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C and 2.0°C are estimated at 500 GtCO2 and 1,350 GtCO2 respectively. With global emissions currently at a little more than 40 GtCO2 a year and if continued, the budget would be exhausted in a mere 12 years.
Singapore is certainly not spared from the effects of a higher global temperature. Even in a 1.5°C warmer world, there will an increase in the number of unprecedented weather events with disasters to become more frequent and intense. Should emissions not come down to net-zero by around 2050, there will be even more punishing heatwaves, severe coastal flooding events, and bouts of heavier rain. As it is, Singapore has already seen record rainfalls in January, April and August. The recent memory of flash floods in August this year is a very sombre reminder of how things are no longer the way it used to be. What does this mean for daily life in Singapore?
Firstly in terms of temperatures, Singapore has already experienced warming higher than the global average because of the urban heat island effect. Local temperatures are 1.8°C higher than they were in 1948, as indicated in the Meteorological Service Singapore’s database. In contrast, global temperatures have warmed by about 1.1°C from pre-industrial times, which ended around 1850.
The IPCC has identified Southeast Asia as a region experiencing severe heat waves, which used to occur once every 50 years but have become 5 times more frequent. Tropical cyclones are also getting stronger, severe droughts are happening 1.7 times as often, and fire seasons are increasing in duration and intensity.
Secondly, bouts of rain could become more intense and frequent with each additional degree of warming. South-east Asia would likely experience this, resulting in flash floods if the ground is covered with concrete and if drainage systems are overwhelmed, as in Singapore’s case recently.
Thirdly, sea level rises in Asia, especially critical to low-lying coastal regions like Singapore, is projected to increase faster than global average, alongside coastal area loss and shoreline retreat.
While there has been much focus on CO2, the IPCC also assessed the possibility of actively targeting and removing methane as part of the pathway to limiting warming. While methane is less prevalent than CO2, it is more than 80x more powerful at trapping heat over the first 10–20 years in the atmosphere.
I have earlier asked a PQ on whether the Government has conducted a study to assess the amount of external methane emissions associated with natural gas imported into and consumed in Singapore, across both piped natural gas and LNG. This is critical because even though methane emitted directly from Singapore is low, the use of natural gas as a source of energy could indirectly contribute significantly to methane emissions through upstream fugitive emission leakages, if these are not properly controlled. As a responsible consumer of natural gas be it piped or LNG, it is important that we uphold strict monitoring and verification standards and promote the adoption of emission-reduction technologies.
Having spoken much about the AR6 findings and implications for Singapore Mr Speaker, I do have a number of clarifications I would like to raise about the bill.
To begin with, I note that the bill under section 40A provides certain definitions on GHG goods, GHG works and other interpretations of the new Part 10A. The first clarification is about section 40A and section 40B which deals with the power of the Minister, after consultation with the NEA, to prescribe any class, description, or type of GHG goods to be regulated.
To provide greater visibility to businesses and consumers, I would like to ask the Minister if there currently is a set of goods which the ministry and NEA plans to prescribe and regulate as GHG goods once the bill is passed. If there isn’t such a list yet, would the minister and agency consider putting a plan for such a list such that by the time the act comes into force, the government may facilitate a swift recognition of such GHG goods? How much of such GHG goods and GHG works are available in our market today that will now be subject to these amendments? In addition, could the Minister provide clarity on whether these GHG good/works were originally excluded from the Carbon Pricing Act, and if so, what is the assessment of the cost to measure and report these GHG goods compared to the amount of carbon tax collected?
Furthermore, I would like to ask the minister what is the ministry’s assessment of any possible impacts this amendment and the classification of the new GHG goods/works will have on our companies such as the air-conditioner, chiller and equipment manufacturers as well as industries such as the semiconductor manufacturing industry, which uses Fluorinated gases?
Secondly, under section 40C, an importer or manufacturer has to be a registered supplier for these regulated goods. I would like to ask the minister, when will the regulation of such businesses commence and in the future, should a new GHG good be added to the list of regulated GHG goods, and what is the lead time for businesses to respond accordingly?
Thirdly, under section 40D, there are proposed restrictions on supplies and imports of regulated goods. I would like to ask the minister how the thresholds of global warming potential are being determined for the regulated goods, and how often the NEA or director-general of environmental protection plans to review the GWP threshold and its basis for restriction of supply? For example, according to the NEA website, the typical refrigerant used in chillers is R134a, which has a GWP of 1,300. The climate-friendly alternative is R1233zd, which has a GWP of 1. Based on what is disclosed, the NEA will from Q4 2022 restrict the supply of certain air-con equipment with a GWP of more than 750 and certain refrigerators and chillers with GWP of more than 15. How much of a decline in the percentage or volume of GHG emissions is this restriction expected to lead to?
Finally, my fellow Sengkang MP Ms He Ting Ru asked a PQ about whether the MSE has initiated a review of Singapore’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and, if so, what is the outcome of the review. To which Minister Grace Fu shared that a review is ongoing and the decision for Singapore to ratify the Kigali Amendment will be finalised after consultation with key stakeholders. I would like to ask if the current bill amendment is a part of the process towards ratifying the Kigali Amendment, and if the Minister can provide a timeline for the review as to whether Singapore will decide to join the 124 countries that have thus far already ratified the agreement?
In conclusion Mr. Speaker, I support this bill and its introduction of legislative safeguards and controls over greenhouse gases in Singapore. Yet this bill is but one of the many steps that Singapore will have to take, in order for us to advance our efforts in addressing climate change. As I shared in my speech on the climate motion earlier this year, even as a small island-state, Singapore has always been daring in our vision for the future. Climate change should be no different. The science has spoken, and there is no alternative except to urgently commit to reversing the trend of rising emissions. We can, should, and must do more.
Let us be that bright green spark and show the world that even in spite of our constraints, we can set a bold, ambitious and specific emissions reductions targets that align with the global goal of reaching net zero by 2050; and not let it be that because of our constraints, ifs, what ifs only ifs dominate our vocabulary. Thank you.