Majority of Singaporeans aware of net zero concept, but less clear on national climate targets: study

Research finds that only 15 per cent of respondents know of the city-state’s goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Singaporeans also lack understanding of the types of action – for example, switching to a plant-based diet – that can bring about larger impact on cutting emissions.

Singapore train station
A Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station in Singapore. Singaporeans perceive the use of public transport over private transport to be of high impact in reducing carbon emissions. Image: Singapore Stock Photos,via Unsplash

While most Singaporeans are aware of the concept of net zero, only 15 per cent can correctly identify the city-state’s target year to meet net-zero emissions, revealing a general lack of understanding of national climate policies, finds a new study. 

The online sentiments survey – a research collaboration between a behavioural sciences unit under Singapore’s environment ministry and local academic institutes – also found that respondents tended to overestimate their knowledge of what net zero means. Among some 2,300 respondents, only 14 per cent self-reported their lack of understanding of the concept, but when tested, about 36 per cent of the group were assessed to have poor knowledge. 

Researchers involved in the study voiced concerns over these findings because misconceptions can be challenging to rectify. “It’s more difficult to convince people to change their minds than it is to inform them on an issue that they recognise they don’t know about,” said Olivia Jensen, deputy director of Lloyds Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk (IPUR) at the National University of Singapore, and the lead scientist for the study. 

Innovative ways of communication will be necessary to convince these individuals and to correct their misunderstandings of net zero, she added. 

Net zero refers to a state in which greenhouse gases released by human activities are counterbalanced by their removal out of the atmosphere. Singapore announced its net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 target in October 2022. It pledged to reduce emissions by the end of this decade to 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), and has a plan to raise its carbon tax to S$50 to S$80 (US$37 to US$60) per tonne by the same year.

Resistance to cut air travel and reduce meat intake

Singaporeans were also asked to rank the impact of various actions on reducing emissions, in the survey conducted between August and September 2023. Respondents were aged 15 and above.

The use of public commute over private transport was cited as the most effective way to cut down on carbon emissions, with 63 per cent of respondents indicating a high level of perceived impact. This is followed by reducing the use of single-use plastics (59 per cent) and recycling as much as possible (58 per cent).

On the other hand, reducing meat consumption was perceived to be less impactful. Only 33 per cent of respondents believed that dietary changes would significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Scaling back on air travel also ranks low on the list. For this category, more than half of the respondents stated either low or medium impact, rather than high impact.

However, these perceptions do not align with results from international studies, which found that switching to a plant-based diet and reducing or avoiding air travel are some of the high-impact actions that individuals can take.

A direct round-trip flight between Singapore and New York emits about seven tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). This exceeds global average emissions per capita which stands at about 4.6 tCO2e. To keep global warming below the 1.5°C limit set out in the Paris Agreement, individuals need to cap their emissions at 2.3 tCO2e

Researchers have called for the public to reevaluate their beliefs, in light of the mismatch in perceived and actual effectiveness of climate actions. “We’ve got to bust people out of their current thinking about what environmental actions are and make them think much more broadly,” said Jensen.

Not a zero-sum game

The study found that limited understanding of the nation’s targets and the conceptual misalignments hardly hindered enthusiasm for net-zero strategies. More than 60 per cent of respondents expressed support for all policies, which ranged from planting more trees to importing clean energy and levying carbon taxes. 

More than half of the respondents wanted to know how individuals can contribute. “As the study shows, Singaporeans are already on board and are taking many environmentally friendly actions. But there are opportunities for more of us to further reduce our carbon footprint through our lifestyle choices, in ways that are aligned with social, environmental values,” said Lim Tuang Liang, Singapore government chief sustainability officer, at the launch event of the study. 

There is no model answer as to how Singaporeans should reduce their emissions, said Samuel Chng, an academic from the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), one of the academic institutes involved in the study. Instead, it is more important to take climate actions that are compatible with individual lifestyles, so that these actions are sustainable in the long run, he said.

Most popular

Featured Events

Publish your event
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →