Fighting climate change at any age

A new board game to teach youths about climate change took the spotlight at the recent National Climate Change Youth Conference 2016, challenging participants to think about the trade-offs in balancing economic development and sustainability.

Play this board game and you can learn about the delicate balance between expanding a city for its people and reducing its impact on climate change.

Until recently, 17-year-old student Joe Toh had given little thought to the environmental impact of new developments such as buildings and infrastructure. After playing the board game, however, he gained new appreciation for the work of city planners.

“I learned that whenever the Government wants to build new buildings or facilities, they have to weigh the needs of the city against the impact that it might have on the climate and environment,” said the first-year student at Anderson Junior College.

The board game, called Broken Cities, was developed by the Nordic Council for Climate Change and adapted by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) for the National Climate Change Youth Conference 2016 held on May 28 at ITE College Central.

The biennial conference, organised by the NCCS, the National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA) Council and the NYAA Gold Award Holders Alumni, aims to educate and engage youths about climate change issues.

In the game, players build up an area of a city each and compete for the highest income earned. At the same time, they have to work together to keep the city’s total carbon emissions below a certain threshold.

The players can choose to construct buildings that are cheaper but more carbon-intensive and yield less revenue, or parks that absorb the city’s carbon emissions but do not generate income.

They also learn about the concept of retrofitting buildings to make them more environmentally friendly, and have to manage legislative measures introduced by the city government to mitigate emissions such as a carbon tax for energy-inefficient buildings.

As the city’s emissions grow, the players also have to address the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, which could damage their properties.

“The goal of the game is to get youths to understand that balancing development and environmental sustainability is not easy, as they attempt to become successful city planners while managing the serious impacts of climate change,” said Ms Ellen Ng, Assistant Director (Partnerships & Outreach), NCCS, a member of the team organising the NCCYC.

Other speakers at the youth conference, which had Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli as its guest-of-honour, also stressed the importance of the role that young Singaporeans can play in addressing climate change.

Minister Masagos, during the dialogue with about 200 participants, singled out recycling as one area that needs improvement in Singapore. While the country recycles 61 per cent of its overall waste generated, the household recycling rate is a low 19 per cent.

Minister Masagos told the participants: “The Government has put recycling bins at the void deck of every HDB block, and you don’t even need to separate the recyclables, yet people still throw their recyclables into the rubbish chute in their homes. The government cannot sit in your house and watch what you throw. You can help Singapore to do better.”

He also urged them to make more use of Singapore’s public transport instead of buying cars in the future, noting that having fewer cars on the roads would reduce the country’s transport-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal of the game is to get youths to understand that balancing development and environmental sustainability is not easy, as they attempt to become successful city planners while managing the serious impacts of climate change.

Ellen Ng, assistant director (Partnerships & Outreach), National Climate Change Secretariat

“For Asians, owning a car is a lifelong dream, but there are new technologies and services such as Uber and, in the future, autonomous vehicles, where you can have the use of a car without owning one,” he said.

Minister added that the Government would continue to encourage greater environmental awareness and conservation through its policies and outreach programmes, but Singaporeans need to play their part too.

He said: “Every action counts, not just what the Government can do. The Government has made many good decisions to make Singapore what it is today, but we cannot be an extraordinary and fantastic country in the years to come if we don’t do it together.”

Oliver Goh, 29, who has won several environmental awards and is a sustainability and project management consultant, shared his experiences as an environment advocate during the conference, adding: “Not everybody is a policymaker or technician, but everybody has skills and can help the environment. There are so many fields that could use your help, such as renewable energy and green transportation.”

Students can also pursue new ideas and products that make cities – which are expected to house about 75 per cent of the world’s population by 2050 – more climate-friendly, said another conference speaker, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, the executive director of the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University.

The university is conducting research on technologies such as a liquid immersion cooling system to reduce the energy needed to cool data centres in tropical climates, as well as unconventional solar power cells, including semi-transparent ones, that could be used on building’s façade for example.

“There are multiple platforms for funding projects, so whether you’re from ITE or other educational institutions, look for interesting ideas and projects that can be taken further,” he said.

Everyone has a stake in reducing climate change because its impact will be felt everywhere, noted NCCS’ senior director Tang Tuck Weng, who also provided insights into Singapore’s efforts to address climate change. “We’re going to have more extreme weather events, like heavy, intense rain and long dry periods like we had in 2014,” he said.

Mr Tang added: “By our little efforts, we can make a difference. Do more walking instead of taking the car. If you see that the light in a room is switched on but no one is there, switch it off. Lead by example and spread the word to your friends.”

Ms Banu Nedunzeliyan, 17, a first-year student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic studying environmental and water technologies, said the conference had opened her eyes to Singapore’s efforts to reduce climate change, such as its research into renewable energy.

She said: “I knew about climate change but not the full extent of it. I think now I might ask my parents not to use the car as much and take the bus or train more often.”

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

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