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Singapore youth groups call on government for bolder climate action

A collective of youth-focused NGOs and interest groups is pushing the Singapore government to align with climate science and reduce emissions as world leaders convene for COP26. Singapore's current efforts to curb emissions have been rated as "critically insufficient” and in line with 4°C of global warming.

A group of young Singaporeans is petitioning their government to reduce the city-state’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with global climate targets and take bolder measures to stem biodiversity loss at home and in the countries where Singapore has geopolitical and economic influence.

Timing the call to action around youth day at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, a collective of 76 non-governmental organisations and student groups and 94 individual supporters wants the government to achieve peak emissions before 2025 and adopt a 2050 net zero target — which numerous other countries have done to align with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To date, Singapore has committed to reach net zero emissions “as soon as it is viable” after mid-century in its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris accord, and has pledged to hit peak emissions by 2030 and reduce energy intensity by 36 per cent by that year. These climate targets were rated “critically insufficient” the worst on a five point scale — and in line with 4 degrees Celsius of global warming by Climate Action Tracker in September.

The government subsequently told local media that the report had not “fully accounted” for Singapore’s “unique challenges” - namely, space limitations on land to pursue solutions such as hydro, nuclear and solar power.  

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu has published a Facebook post in response to the statement from the collective, which was co-authored by organisations including SG Climate Rally, which held Singapore’s first climate rally in 2019, NTU Divest, a student fossil fuels divestment movement that launched last year, indigenous community rights group Orang Laut SG and environmental group LepakInSG.

In her post, Fu highlighted Singapore’s initiatives at COP26, such as joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a coalition working to advance the transition away from the fossil fuel, and Global Methane Pledge, which seeks to curb use of the dangerous greenhouse gas. She also encouraged Singaporean youth to continue their advocacy for greater environmental responsibility from all segments of society.

Recommendations from Singaporean Youths to their government

The collective calls on Singapore to do the following to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss:

Emissions and targets

▷ Peak emissions before 2025 and align with net zero by 2050, where the public sector takes the lead. 

▷ Disclose scope 3 emissions and work to reduce these emissions in line with net-zero by 2050

▷ Increase participation and investments in regional mitigation measures

Nature and biodiversity

▷ Protect remaining natural habitats

▷ Ensure nature conservation efforts are well-established scientifically and are sustainable environmentally and financially in long term

▷ Implement structured and systematic approaches to manage divergent uses of natural spaces

Energy

▷ Undertake more explicit and robust energy reporting and targets

▷ Have greater due diligence in new energy technological developments

▷ Expand engagements and participation of youths

Corporate responsibility and financed emissions

▷ Issue a ban on new fossil fuel and habitat destruction-related financing

▷ SGX mandate short-term and long-term targets for reaching net zero for SGX-listed companies and financed emissions for financial institutions

Community empowerment and inclusion

▷ Have respectful engagement of stakeholders such as the public and civil society

▷ Support for a diversity of environmental projects

▷ Climate and environmental education to include topics such as biodiversity conservation and indigenous studies to be robustly included as a central theme of formal education

▷ Recognise and include narratives of sustainability from the indigenous communities

Economy and people

▷ Progressive tax reform, including a higher carbon tax and carbon dividend

▷ Protect workers in sunset industries and invest in good green jobs

▷ Acknowledge global responsibility in contributing to the climate crisis

The group said in their statement: “Singapore aims to honour the values of justice, equality and inclusion. This means that our approach to mitigating the climate crisis must logically be rooted in these same values. We must ask ourselves: Are we truly doing enough? What is Singapore’s responsibility to our regional neighbours? What does an equal, just and inclusive climate-resilient Singapore look like?” 

Other signees of the statement included environmental advocacy groups Climate Conversations and People’s Movement to Stop Haze, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual or Ally (LBTQIA+) group Rainbow Girls Singapore and Rumah Foundation, the philanthropic arm of property firm Rumah Group.

The group also wants Singapore to disclose its scope 3 emissions — that is, the carbon footprint of the industries the country hosts as well as their products and services, including emissions-intensive sectors such as shipping, aviation, and petrochemicals — and factor that into the net zero 2050 target.

Though Singapore uses its small size and limited natural resources to highlight the constraints of reducing emissions while remaining competitive, the island is “not an insignificant contributor to climate change,” the group points out. It is home to agribusinesses linked to forest fires and transboundary haze air pollution. Singapore has one of the world’s biggest deforestation footprints per capita due to its forestry activities outside its borders. It is also an aviation and maritime hub, accounting for 23 per cent of global maritime emissions and 1.69 per cent of global aviation emissions, according to the collective.

The NGOs called on Singapore to ban financing linked to new fossil fuels development and habitat destruction. Singapore is a regional finance hub that has helped to expand palm oil plantations and other forest-risk linked commodities in neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia over the past few decades, although its banks have reined in coal financing in recent years following pressure from campaign groups.

The group recommended that Singapore Exchange (SGX) mandate targets for reaching net zero for listed companies. SGX proposed introducing climate-related disclosures in August. This requirement will be mandatory for listed firms from 2022, those who do not comply will have to explain why.

It is also calling for better protection of the island’s biodiverse natural areas, which in recent years have been steadily making way for development. Singapore lacks strong environmental protection laws, and the group is asking for its remaining wildlife to be safeguarded and ecosystems preserved to protect the island against extreme weather events. Some 2,700 hectares of forested land is slated for development, the group pointed out.

While the Singapore Green Plan aims to set aside 12 per cent of total land for conservation. This is still below the 17 per cent of protected land set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity of which Singapore is a signatory. 

A strong theme running through the 8,000+ word document is the call for more openness and transparency in the decisions the government makes concerning environmental and social sustainability. A number of the NGOs in the group criticised a Covid recovery taskforce the government assembled in June 2020, which featured established industry figures from companies such as US oil major ExxonMobil, DBS Bank and real estate firm CapitaLand, but excluded civic society groups.

Quoting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who called climate change “one of the gravest challenges facing humankind” in a National Day Rally speech in 2019, the group said it wants “to be a part of the conversation” in policies and measures that affect their future.

“We are highly aware that this is an issue with many trade-offs. As such, given the scale of the climate crisis, we want our decisions and choices to be more open and transparent. This is a matter that affects all of us, especially our generation and the ones to come. It is only right then, that we should be recognised as equal partners. We want to have a part in the choices Singapore ultimately makes,” they said.

While Singapore has resisted upgrading its NDCs for this COP event, other countries in the region have made bolder commitments. Vietnam and Thailand have announced plans to lower net greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, and India has said it will achieve net zero emissions by 2070. Nepal has brought forward its net zero target by five years to 2045.

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