S’pore isn’t slacking on climate action — she simply can’t afford to

Everyone can be a game changer in this fight against climate change.

| Zhangxin Zheng | Sponsored | March 19, 2020, 11:38 AM

“Climate change may seem abstract and distant for many of us, but it is one of the gravest challenges facing humankind.”

That’s how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described climate change during his National Day Rally in 2019 when one-third of his speech was dedicated to this issue.

The threat that climate change brings is perhaps even more keenly felt in Singapore— a small, low-lying city-state island without a hinterland.

Singaporeans, perhaps, are already feeling the heat from the repercussions.

Feeling the heat from climate change

Feeling the heat from climate change? Singapore is literally getting hotter.

This is so as some days can be really hot and dry while ?thunderbolt and lightning can be very, very, frightening? on other days.

The erratic weather patterns not only worsens your dilemma on whether to bring a brolly out with you, it also has real serious impacts.

For example, food sources around the world are being affected, which drives Singapore to grow more local produce and import from more places.

Extreme weather patterns aren’t the only ramifications of climate change.

According to scientists at the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, the mean sea levels around Singapore may rise by up to 1m by 2100.

That means with heavy storms, coupled with high tides and surges, low-lying areas, such as East Coast and Jurong Island, will experience flooding more frequently.

Currently, about 30 per cent of Singapore is 5m above the mean sea levels.

Which is why up to S$100 billion has been committed to coastal protection.

But it’s not just about the ?money, money money ?.

Apart from this huge financial commitment, to protect Singapore from the impacts of climate change, consistent efforts and progress have been made over the past decade to mitigate climate change (i.e. reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

If you take a closer look around you, you’d notice the steady progress that Singapore has made thus far in her fight against climate change.

Harnessing solar power to mitigate carbon emissions

Burning of fossil fuels produces a large amount of greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere and in turn lead to climate change.

In a bid to reduce carbon emissions, Singapore has progressively switched from fuel oil/ diesel to natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuel, to reduce carbon emissions since the 2000s.

Currently, 95 per cent of our electricity is generated from natural gas as compared to 26 per cent in 2001. Singapore has also set its sights on exploring renewable energy, where possible.

We have been ramping up solar production over the years. In fact, solar panel installations have increased a hundred-fold from 30 to over 3000 over the last decade.

Solar energy is Singapore’s most promising renewable energy option considering our geographical constraints.

Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, explained during the Committee of Supply Debate on Feb. 28:

“We do not have great rivers for hydropower. Wind power is limited both by space as well as light and variable winds. We continue to study the potential for nuclear power, but we assess that the current generation of nuclear power plants are not suitable for deployment in Singapore.”

While solar energy seems ideal for a tropical island-state, Singapore has to overcome its space constraints to fully tap on the power of the sun.

That is why we are looking to install solar panels on reservoirs, rooftops of HDB blocks and even the vertical surfaces of buildings. Anywhere that is flat and open.

As solar energy is intermittent, Singapore also has to find ways to store the solar energy that we capture during sunny days so that we can still use it on rainy or cloudy days as well.

Beyond solar energy, Singapore is also exploring emerging low-carbon solutions such as hydrogen to produce electricity as well as capturing and storing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for use.

Meanwhile, we have to proactively cut down on carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels too.

Transforming industries

Industries contribute about 60 per cent of Singapore’s carbon footprint.

One of the bold measures that Singapore has taken is to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax in 2019. We are the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.

This means companies, including those in the petroleum and oil industry, have to choose to either reduce their carbon emissions or pay the price (literally).

The carbon tax revenue will be used to fund measures that help businesses to adopt low-carbon technologies or solutions so that, as a whole, Singapore can achieve its long term goal of peaking our carbon emissions around 2030, with the aim of halving emissions by 2050, and achieving net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century.

Our transport industry is being transformed as well.

Deputy Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat, announced at Budget 2020 that Singapore aims to phase out internal combustion engines and have all vehicles run on clean energy by 2040.

This revolution sounds electrifying and the transition is already in the motion.

Fleets of electric cars have been hitting the roads in Singapore since 2017 and you’d probably have seen some electric cars charging facilities around as well.

Moving beyond the industry sector, individuals in Singapore have a part to play to help reduce our carbon emissions.

For example, we can choose to drive cleaner, less pollutive vehicles.

It would be even better if you could use public transport.

Taking public transport would produce three times less carbon dioxide than driving a car, even less so with electric buses.

As our public transport network expands, getting around Singapore will honestly be really convenient and fast too.

Or you can choose to cycle as well. It definitely has additional health benefits.

Making small changes at home

You might be surprised but even the smallest efforts at home such as reducing your shower time and increasing your air-conditioner temperature by 1°C matter.

More recently at the 2020 Committee of Supply debates, the Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, has announced that one- to three-room households will be receiving vouchers to purchase energy-efficient refrigerators with 3 ticks and above as well as to install shower fittings to more water-efficient 3-tick models.

If all eligible households make the switch, the total amount of carbon emissions reduced is equivalent to taking 12, 600 cars off the road and can save up to 400 million gallons of water annually.

That said, we should still be mindful of the use of water and electricity. Remember to switch off your electrical appliances when they are not in use!

Recycling right

Another small but significant climate action is to recycle right.

Since August 2019, the blue commingled bins in Singapore have been updated with new labels.

The new label shows clearly what can and cannot be recycled, to encourage the right recycling habits among residents in Singapore.

And it’s not just the blue bins. We can also find other types of recycling bins designated for specific items such as electronic waste, contact lenses and even seasonal red packets recycling bins these days.

Singaporeans are also incentivised to recycle right as participants get useful vouchers in return for depositing empty and rinsed beverage containers at the reverse vending machines (RVMs) located islandwide.

Good news! You can expect more RVMs to be rolled out as the National Environment Agency will implement a Deposit Refund Scheme for beverage containers by 2022.

Setting zero waste goals as a community

Some communities are ahead of the curve as they have even taken the initiative to set zero waste goals.

For example, a two-year zero waste master plan was launched in Nee Soon, one of the new Eco Towns in Singapore, with the other two Eco Towns being Tampines and Choa Chu Kang.

Clearly, momentum is building up and more Singaporeans are game to take on climate change in their own ways.

Get started on climate action

With more people becoming interested and concerned about climate change, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has kickstarted conversations on various environmental issues with Singaporeans.

In 2019, 48 Singaporeans participated in a month-long Citizens’ Workgroup to come up with solutions to improve household recycling rates.

The Deposit Refund Scheme was also an idea from this Citizens’ Workgroup, Workgroup members will partner NEA to work through the implementation.

If you are interested, there will be two more Citizens’ Workgroups coming up in 2020: One focusing on encouraging more Singaporeans to buy local produce, which you can sign up for here, and the other on reducing excessive use of disposables.

You can also find out more about how to become a climate change game changer here.

The writer of this article sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources hopes her estate can become an Eco Town soon too.