story | Dion Ho, Senior Writer
cover photo | SG Climate Rally
The SG Climate Rally on Sept. 21, 2019 at Hong Lim Park attracted thousands and enraptured local media. Images of the protest signs, the die-in, and the 11-year-old speaker Mr. Oliver Chua flooded social media to reactions of both encouragement and mockery. The rally, however, was also meant to advocate for specific policy changes as detailed in the organizers’ 15-page Calls to Action document and classified under the headers: “Face the Truth”, “Combat the Crisis”, and “Engage the People”. These calls to action both overlap and conflict with the Singapore Government’s current direction on climate action.
The organizers of the SG Climate Rally acknowledge that the Singapore Government is making important efforts to prepare Singapore to adapt to the effects of climate change. Nonetheless, a key contention of theirs is that Singapore contributes insufficiently to global efforts to mitigate climate change, and that adaptation alone is not enough. Thus, they call for Singapore to do more to “combat the crisis”.
Singapore is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, of which an aim is to “[Hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The Paris Agreement calls for countries to declare Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to fulfill this goal. Singapore’s latest NDC is to reduce its emission’s intensity by 36% by 2030, relative to 2005, and the government is currently in the process of planning its next NDC. Singapore also aims to peak its absolute emissions by 2030.
Organizers of the Climate Rally criticize Singapore’s NDC for being unambitious. Since emissions intensity is the ratio of emissions to economic activity (usually measured by Gross Domestic Product), a country may reduce its emission intensity while increasing its absolute emissions simply through economic development. Singapore is projected to meet its 2030 NDP without any further policy changes and with a 32% increase in absolute emissions relative to 2005 (data taken from the Climate Action Tracker).
Singapore’s emissions intensity commitment is similar to those of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Malaysia’s NDC for example is a 35% to 45% reduction of emissions intensity by 2030 relative to 2005. No Southeast Asian country has made a commitment to reduce absolute emissions. These commitments have been classified by the Climate Action Tracker as “highly insufficient”, meaning that if every country in the world fulfilled a similar commitment, global warming would still reach 3°C to 4°C. Rally organizers argue that Singapore, “as one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, […] can and must do more to affirm the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ principle of the Paris Agreement.” They also warn that adaptation strategies would still leave Singapore at risk of having its food supply disrupted by climate change, amongst other indirect impacts.
Rally organizers want Singapore to “[have] absolute greenhouse gas emissions [peak] by 2020, halve by 2030 [relative to 2014], and reach net zero by 2050.” These goals, they argue, are in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found to be necessary to keep global warming to below 1.5°C.
More specifically, Rally organizers have called for Singapore to divest fully from polluting industries, decarbonize the economy and further shift power generation to renewable energy. Amongst other measures, they want the carbon tax to be raised from the current $5 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) to $185 by 2030, as recommended by the IPCC, and further to $340 by 2050. They argue that with the current carbon tax, it is more cost-efficient for companies to pay through the tax than implement technologies like carbon capture to reduce emissions. The Singapore Government currently plans to raise the carbon tax to $10 to $15 per ton of CO2e by 2030.
The other calls to action by the Rally organizers appear to partly overlap with the Singapore Government’s current direction. The Rally organizers called for a “comprehensive report that assesses the direct and indirect impacts posed to Singapore by the climate crisis”, and such a report may already be in the works given the recent establishment of the Centre for Climate Research Singapore.
At the 2019 Singapore National Day Rally (NDR), Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, called climate change a “life and death matter [for Singapore]” and said that “everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation.” When asked why a national climate emergency declaration, one of their calls to action, is necessary despite such comments, Rally organizers expressed concern that government ministries would continue to pursue individual Key Performance Indicators at the expense of the climate. “A formal declaration of a climate emergency would ensure that the entire national agenda is aligned to addressing climate change,” they said.
Rally organizers said that they want to create popular support for climate action and show that climate change is an important issue for the average Singaporean. “Climate action should not simply be top-down,” they said. Their future advocacy plans include capacity-building programs, the rallying of communities, and pressuring the Singapore Government to undertake climate action.