Delivered in Parliament on 12 January 2022
Mr Speaker, nearly a year ago, this House acknowledged that climate change is a global emergency and a threat to mankind, and calls the Government, in partnership with the private sector, civil society 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. It could not have been timelier, as we have seen more effects of climate change materialize over the last year. At home, intense rainfall events in 2021 led to heavy flash floods. In the region, the floods in Malaysia and Typhoon Rai have led to hardship and suffering to the affected communities, events that remind us that climate change is at our doorstep.
This year, in this motion entitled Towards a Low Carbon Society, MPs on the other side of the aisle is calling on the Government to advance Singapore’s inclusive transition towards a low carbon society. This builds upon last year’s motion as there were measures discussed such as enhancing green financing, creating green jobs, and strengthening corporate accountability.
We the Workers’ Party do not object to these measures. However, I would like to push further. Our inclusive transition also needs to be just, to address the unequal impacts of climate change. I would ask that this Government throws its support behind a Just Transition not just in words, but also in deeds.
What is a Just Transition? This idea is advanced by the International Labour Organisation (ILO)as a process towards an environmentally sustainable economy, which needs to be well managed and contribute to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion, and the eradication of poverty. To put it simply, it aims to address inequality such that no Singaporeans will be left behind, and all can aim for a better future, in the transition towards a green economy.
Lest some in this House think a Just Transition is mere window dressing and holds no direct relevance to us, this very term can be found in the preamble of the 2015 Paris Agreement of which we are a party to. The relevant paragraph notes, and I quote – “Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”, end of quote. If nothing else, our manpower and development policies should adhere to the spirit of the Paris Agreement by trying to stay in line with its goal of keeping global warming or limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degree Celsius, as reaffirmed by COP26 in Glasgow last November.
This means that we need to ensure that green financing is not just catered towards greening the sources of energy, it needs to create value for our labour force. We need to ensure that we can prepare those working in our high carbon-intensive industries, particularly those in the fossil fuel-related sectors, for new, green jobs. We need to ensure that corporate accountability is not just about reporting their greening efforts, but how they are ensuring their own green transition includes bringing the many workers within and not lead to mass retrenchments.
A just transition also means that green finance should not solely be about capturing profitable opportunities in the green economy. It should also be about offering those that are left behind by a green transition the funding and opportunities to adapt. This should concern both those whose existing jobs and livelihoods are affected by transition away from polluting industries, as well as those at risk of the direct impacts of climate change.
How do we achieve a Just Transition for all Singaporeans? This must be done in both words and deeds. Here, I have a few suggestions for the Government to consider.
On words, I ask that the Government review the COP26 Just Transition Declaration and consider supporting the said pledge and the efforts. Putting social dialogue as well as rights at work at the centre of policies for strong, sustainable, and inclusive growth and development for our workforce and a commitment to this will give impetus to focus societal efforts on combating the global emergency that is climate change.
This pledge also looks at supply chain development. Singapore, as a shipping and logistics hub and a commercial centre, can and should play an important part in the global supply chain’s green transition.
Second, on deeds. The average Singaporean worker must not only hear that we are doing the right thing, but also see the concrete benefits from this move towards a low-carbon, sustainable economy. Clause 29(b) of the ILO Just Transition guidelines also ask that governments, in consultation with social partners, and I quote, “give particular attention to unemployed workers and workers at risk of unemployment in communities and industries affected by climate change, resource degradation or structural change including those in the informal economy,” unquote.
We need to help Singaporean workers in sectors who are being affected or will soon be affected by developments in the Green Economy. We need to look at how to prepare Singaporean workers to go into jobs which will be created in the Green Economy.
Therefore, I ask that the relevant ministries and statutory boards work on a Just Transition roadmap for Singaporean workers which can be at risk of displacement as the Green Economy develops. We should prioritise the roadmap for carbon-intensive industries such as petrochemicals and power generation. We can also look at ensuring a Just Transition for the labour force for secondary industries that are carbon intensive but are already taking active and laudable steps to adopt less polluting technologies, such as transport, shipping, logistics and the supply chain. Mr Speaker I declare my interest as a shipping lawyer.
We should also consider a Just Transition roadmap to get our financial professionals to take on nascent green financing roles, where there are growing opportunities. Such a Just Transition roadmap must be a key complement to the SG Green Plan 2030 on the Green Economy and be executed upon. This will ensure that value is not just accrued within businesses only, but an equitable share of the value created will directly benefit Singaporean workers.
We can also kickstart stronger efforts on green upskilling. My parliamentary colleague, Mr Gerald Giam, has previously called for extending the Special Employment Credit Scheme to provide time-limited wage support to all Singaporean workers while taking up their first job in the green economy. I wish to reiterate this call. In the vein of ensuring our talent pipeline remains robust, I also ask that all our agencies ensure that future upskilling programmes and career conversion programmes are created for and geared towards the green economy we aspire to, so that the value of the green economy can be directly captured by Singaporeans present and future.
All these may require funding, and the Workers’ Party has welcomed carbon taxes. However, we will need to consider funding mechanisms to properly channel carbon taxes towards the Just Transition measures. Here, the Government can take reference from the EU’s Just Transition Mechanism (https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal/finance-and-green-deal/just-transition-mechanism_en), which includes a Just Transition Fund offering financial support and technical assistance for most-affected communities such as low-income communities.
Mr Speaker, let me conclude. We in this House have seen robust exchanges on motions surrounding climate change and jobs. We have the opportunity here to hit two birds with one stone. Let us not waste it and seek a Just Transition for all Singaporean workers in the greener future we seek to achieve.
Mr Speaker I support the motion.