Wednesday, October 5, 2022

2 Months on from COP26, Will Singapore Do Enough?

Story | Phone Myant Khant (he/him), Abigail Teh (she/they), Rebekah Nix (she/they), Ho Sze Koy (he/him), Agimaa Otgonbaatar (she/her)

Photo | Unsplash (Jordan Opel)

COP26 may have passed, but humanity must not believe that the job is done. In the coming years and decades, there is a need for more intensive action on the climate front. At this juncture, we believe it is timely and relevant for students to offer our collective perspectives on Singapore’s performance and targets from the conference. 

Lacking concrete goals, ambition, accountability

Singapore’s COP26 commitments and actions have been extensively covered on local news, with Grace Fu, Singapore’s Minister for Sustainability and the Environment calling COP26 “a most productive conference,” labelling it a “very big win.” We believe this overstates Singapore’s modest achievements from the conference. While COP26 was a step up from previous meetings, we believe it is at best a gentle nudge in the right direction, instead of the drastic transformational change required. 

Singapore needs to show confidence and bravery in making ambitious changes, instead of sticking to the status quo and drumming up support for its currently modest and inadequate pledges. Many of Singapore’s pledges from these talks lack ambition, clarity, and accountability, so it is likely that their potential to do good will likely go unrealized. 

For example, Singapore joined the Global Methane Pledge, a global initiative to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 through voluntary actions. Yet Singapore itself has not declared any concrete commitments towards reducing its own methane emissions. Singapore has also agreed to work towards net zero emissions, but has nothing but a vague timeline for this goal, to be reached “as soon as viable.” 

Singapore also pledged to phase out unabated coal by 2050 from its power mix—transitioning to natural gas, solar, and emerging low-carbon alternatives. Unabated coal only refers to coal burnt without the use of technologies to reduce carbon emissions. This pledge does not outright ban the use of coal altogether, despite the attention-grabbing headlines thrown out to the public. Given coal’s low contribution of 1.2% to Singapore’s power mix at present, it is disappointing to see a target set nearly 30 years into the future. 

Likewise, Singapore’s endorsement of the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which pledges to reverse deforestation by 2030, has potential to do good, but a lack of specific goals or actionables leaves its success questionable. Deforestation has been a key element of Singapore’s historical development, and has left Singapore with limited forest and little capacity to enact change domestically. However, by limiting government investment in activities linked to deforestation overseas, Singapore can play a role in conserving the earth’s forests. Yet, the declaration limits itself, only pledging to facilitate sustainable trade and development policies. 

Singapore can do more

In her speech during the conference, Fu sympathized with small island nations which will be impacted heavily by climate change, yet ironically withheld acknowledgement of Singapore’s own contributions to the climate crisis. 

The primary narrative about Singapore’s role in the climate crisis continues to harp on the challenges faced by Singapore as a small island nation. Soon, these will begin to sound like excuses that hinder ambition to do more. Fu also encouraged Singaporeans to take collective action, shifting the responsibility to bottom-up approaches, and away from top-down policy and infrastructure changes. These government actions are critical at this moment to reach our climate targets—targets required for Earth’s survival. The perspective of our state leaders towards the Singapore Green Plan and our COP26 goals may be one of pride and achievement, and in many ways, Singapore does have the potential to be a stalwart of climate positive action in this region. However, it remains timid and avoidant of claiming such a role, missing the resolve to be brave on the climate front. Indeed, Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that monitors government action on climate goals, rates Singapore’s current climate policies as “critically insufficient.”  We should not have to wait until COP27 for greater change to happen.

What students can do

As students in Singapore, even if we might not be able to hasten the lethargy of international or national governments, we can continue in our climate activism, individually and collectively. Action can come in the form of lifestyle changes such as switching to a greener diet, riding a bike, limiting AC usage, etc., but you can also share responsibility and commitment within a group. By joining sustainability groups and green initiatives on or off campus, you can learn how to recognize and reduce your impact on the climate. 

At Yale-NUS College we have three student organisations that work towards sustainability—i’dECO, Fossil Free YNC (FFYNC), and YNSEA. i’dECO is an inclusive community that seeks to promote sustainability within and beyond Yale-NUS through effective and forward-looking solutions. We have a wide range of projects from waste reduction in school, urban recycling and nature treks, to environmental education for high school students, and we always welcome new ideas. 

FFYNC campaigns for NUS to divest from fossil fuels and work on other climate change issues together. Drawing inspiration from climate movements around the world, FFYNC is a home for environmentally conscious students to make friends, take action for real change, and give our generation a fighting chance for a stable future by holding our institutions accountable. 

YNSEA works to promote marine conservation within the Yale-NUS community, advancing knowledge about the ocean and our role in preserving it. Through scuba diving, beach clean-ups, international volunteering and other events, YNSEA seeks to develop a sense of environmental advocacy and social change.

As representatives of i’dECO, we hope that this short reflection on the relevance and impact of COP26 on Singapore represents a small but significant voice in advocating for stronger action. We, as students—and many as residents of this country—have a responsibility to raise our voices for change. We acknowledge the steps being taken, but we hope that there will be braver, stronger steps to come. We want to see transformative change happen, and hope our voices play a role in guaranteeing the change we deserve before it’s too late. 

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