Singapore's new Climate Action Plan a milestone in its climate journey

The city-state has outlined its strategy for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change, but wider support from the business community and the public is needed to help meet its climate target.

Earlier this month, Singapore played host to some 20,000 guests from across the world who descended on the city-state for the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit Singapore to exchange ideas on the innovations and resilience required in creating liveable and sustainable cities.

With the discussion focusing on what is required for cities to address the threat of climate change and resource constraints, it was an opportune time for the Republic to release its national climate action plan.

In announcing the release of the plan, President Tony Tan noted that the impacts of climate change – from rising sea levels in the longer term to increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather conditions in the short term – have plagued cities from Europe to Australia and India in recent years. Cities have to lead the way in finding innovative urban solutions, he said.

For Singapore specifically, meteorological projections indicate that the country is likely to face higher temperatures, more intense and frequent heavy rainfall events coupled with more pronounced dry seasons, and higher sea levels.

It is therefore crucial that it has a national strategy to address these challenges. The Climate Action Plan is the answer to that.

It is the most comprehensive national statement on climate action since the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was inked last December in Paris by the world’s nations.

As part of the Agreement, Singapore had committed to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around then.

The action plan is divided into two central strategies – one on mitigation, that is, reducing Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions and raising its energy efficiency; and the other on adapting to the impacts of climate change by future-proofing hard and soft infrastructure.

The first document, “Take Action Today: For A Carbon-efficient Singapore”, charts out a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build on Singapore’s climate change strategy released in 2012. It also fits within the country’s broader sustainability development framework, the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which guides sustainability efforts until 2030.

The government will enhance strategies to improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions in various sectors such as power generation, and encourage the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies such as renewable energy. 

The Climate Action Plan in itself is a good starting point. But the country will need to make a concerted effort to encourage the wider public, especially among the youth, in building a climate-friendly culture and embedding it into the national consciousness.

The newer developments in the climate action plan lie in the adaptation strategy, as outlined in the second document, “A Climate-resilient Singapore: For a Sustainable Future”.

These include:

  • building seawalls and rock slopes in coastal areas and building new infrastructure such as the Tuas Terminal two metres higher than the highest observed water level, and the upcoming Changi Airport Terminal 5 at 5.5 metres above the mean sea level;
  • retrofitting drainage infrastructure to deal with flooding;
  • a new heat stress information system to help the public better plan outdoor activities as temperatures are projected to rise by 1.4 to 4.6 degrees Celsius towards the end of the century;
  • a new fire risk index to tackle bush fires,
  • and ways to diversify and strengthen Singapore’s food supply.

Taken together, the climate action plan outlines a whole-of-government approach in tackling climate change. But the effectiveness of this strategy will largely depend on the speed at which these measures can be deployed, and the willingness of Singapore society to help the government achieve these goals.

It is clear from the strategy that massive cuts in Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions will only be possible if industry gets on board. Legislation and incentives offered by the government can also push industry to adopt energy saving measures.

Businesses, on the other hand, will also need to realise that climate change is not just a future possibility, but an existing phenomenon that is already impacting global supply chains and national policies.

Here are some immediate actions that businesses should consider. First, companies should look at their resource and energy efficiency as it is the lowest-hanging fruit with the ability to cut costs and boost resilience of operations at the same time. Firms that are operating leanly have a competitive advantage and are also shielded from volatile market fluctuations on energy and commodity prices.

Furthermore, there already exists a range of schemes that provide support for businesses in Singapore to cut their emissions and adopt low-carbon technologies within their industries.  

Second, businesses should explore innovations and new business models in emerging concepts such as green growth or the circular economy. Green growth generally refers to aligning climate mitigation and economic progress, while the circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible in the manufacturing cycle.

These business approaches can deliver the twin outcomes of boosting profits while at the same time build operational resilience.

Companies that have embraced such strategies will also find that international financial markets are beginning to respond favourably to them. Institutional and private investors alike have in recent years been pricing climate risk, and view exposure to high-carbon projects as a downside to their competitiveness.

As for wider society, a lot of work remains to be done to raise awareness of climate change issues and its required responses.

The Climate Action Plan in itself is a good starting point. But the country will need to make a concerted effort to encourage the wider public, especially among the youth, in building a climate-friendly culture and embedding it into the national consciousness.

After all, any efforts to build a low-carbon, climate resilient society will surely fail without the participation of the citizenry.

Apart from supporting responsible businesses and participating in important national conversations with the government on the required strategies, Singapore citizens can also do their part by ingraining a sustainable ethos within their daily lives.

This involves being mindful of their personal use of energy, water, and resources, as well as to reduce consumption wherever possible, reuse and recycle. In this area, there is huge potential for creative national public education campaigns and activities to change behaviour among Singapore residents.

Singapore is on a journey to become a low-carbon economy and build climate resilience; what is encouraging is the acknowledgement – within the climate action plan – that the strategy must be flexible so that it can take into account the latest climate science, and how measures affect one another.

Singapore should also be measuring its progress over the coming years to evaluate the efficacy of the national plan, and also have open, frank conversations about what else needs to be done.

After all, the Climate Action Plan is but one step in a long but necessary journey to ensure that the country continues to thrive for the foreseeable future.

The Climate Action Plan is available for download at:

This column was first published on the NCCS website. Subscribe to their newsletter here or follow them on their Facebook page.

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