Singapore rebuts ClimateWire story on weak climate ambition

The country's National Climate Change Secretariat has issued a response to a story published earlier this month that asked why Singapore is resisting tough domestic climate action.

The Singapore government has issued a rebuttal to a ClimateWire story published earlier this month that cast a critical eye on whether the city-state’s climate action and emission pledges are ambitious enough.

The story titled “Why wealthy Singapore resists tough domestic climate action“ written by Ms Coco Liu of ClimateWire, a publication of United States-based Environment & Energy Publishing LLC, examined Singapore’s emission pledges and its challenge in balancing climate action with economic growth.

The story cited Climate Action Tracker, an indepedent organisation that publishes scientific analysis produced by four European research organisations to assess countries’ pledges submitted to the United Nations ahead of the international climate change meeting in Paris this December.

At the summit, world leaders are due to ink a global treaty to tackle climate change and individual pledges submitted by countries are meant to help prevent global warming beyond 2 degree Celsius - a level climate scientists say is required to avoid the worst impacts.

Climate Action Tracker described Singapore’s pledge - to reduce emissions 36 per cent per unit of economic output by 2030 compared with 2005 levels as well as peak emissions around 2030 — as insufficient and warned “they aren’t even plausible under the country’s current policies”.

“Countries like Singapore — where the economy has more than tripled and whose emissions have jumped by 61 per cent since the dividing lines between “rich” and “poor” nations were drawn — face new demands for climate action. But observers say the domestic pressure to resist measures that could threaten the country’s prosperity is equally strong,” wrote Liu.

Liu’s story is part of ClimateWire’s Greater Expectations series “exposing the on-the-ground reality of developing countries challenged by a world that will require every nation to cut carbon emissions”, said E&E Publishing, which covers energy and environmental politics and policy in the United States and around the world. 

Writing to Eco-Business on Monday, Yuen Sai Kuan, director (corporate affairs) at Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat said the article “does not accurately reflect Singapore’s position on climate change, and actions to tackle it”.

Liu also highlighted Singapore’s oil refining industry - a key pillar of its economy - as a “major obstacle in the country’s journey to cut emissions” in the eyes of climate activists.

The story cited Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech at the opening of ExxonMobil’s new facility last year.

“We must reduce our emissions, both of greenhouse gases as well as other more local pollutants,” Lee said. “But at the same time, I want to assure all the energy and petrochemicals companies here that the Singapore government stands fully behind them and will continue to help them to succeed.”

Addressing this point in their response, NCCS said oil and chemical companies, like all companies operating in Singapore, pay unsubsidised energy prices and face stringent environmental requirements.

“The companies aim for a smaller environmental footprint than comparable operations elsewhere. At a global level, Singapore contributes 2.2 per cent of world trade but accounts for only 0.11 per cent of global emissions,” said Yuen.

Here is the response in full: 

26 October 2015

Dear Editor,

1          Eco-Business.com carried an article by Ms Coco Liu entitled “Wealthy Singapore resists Tough Domestic Climate Action” (15 October 2015), originally published by Climate Wire. The article does not accurately reflect Singapore’s position on climate change, and actions to tackle it.   

2          Singa­pore is a tiny low-lying island with a dense population and no natural resources. It has therefore long emphasised sustainable development based on energy efficiency and avoiding pollution, even before climate change entered the international spotlight.    

3          Singa­pore lacks alternative energy options and is almost totally dependent on fossil fuels. But Singapore chose the cleanest form of fossil fuel for our national energy supply.  Today, natural gas accounts for over 95 per cent of our power generation, even though it costs far more than coal and fuel oil.  Energy in Singapore is not subsidised, unlike in many countries, which promotes judicious consumption.  

4          We have some of the highest taxes in the world for private vehicles. Many government policies target car usage and emissions, including quotas for new cars, significant fuel taxes and a carbon emissions based vehicle fee-bate scheme.  We introduced road pricing in the 1970s, ahead of many other cities.  We invest heavily in public transport, and aim for 75 per cent of all peak hour journeys to use public transport by 2030.  

5          These are onerous, costly measures to support sustainable development.  In 2014 the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy ranked Singapore 4th in its Environmental Performance Index, the only Asian country in the top 20. 

6          Oil and chemical companies, like all companies operating in Singapore, pay unsubsidised energy prices and face stringent environmental requirements.  The companies aim for a smaller environmental footprint than comparable operations elsewhere.  At a global level, Singapore contributes 2.2 per cent of world trade but accounts for only 0.11 per cent of global emissions.  

7          Because of our early actions to reduce emissions, our emissions intensity (i.e. emissions per unit of GDP) is now among the lowest 20 per cent internationally, according to the International Energy Agency. Ahead of the climate agreement in Paris, we pledged to reduce our emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030. This is an ambitious pledge given our lack of alternative energy options. Indeed, such unique national circumstances are recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  

8          The article also recognises the bridging role which Singapore plays at the climate negotiations.  We are strong proponents of a stable and effective multilateral system which guarantees a level playing field for all countries, including vulnerable island states such as Singapore. 

Yuen Sai Kuan
Director (Corporate Affairs)
National Climate Change Secretariat
Singapore

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