Comment: Motion to speed up efforts to fight climate change timely but can it achieve 'fundamental change'?

Devil's in the details.

Zhangxin Zheng | February 01, 2021, 11:41 AM

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All eyes are on the parliamentary motion filed by the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment on Feb. 1, 2021.

While the issues related to climate change are closer to the environmentalists' hearts, there are several reasons why you should keep yourself informed.

Why you should care?

According to the GPC chairman, Louis Ng, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament will be making recommendations that are set out to achieve "fundamental change with big multiplier effect".

Together with Ng, six MPs will call for greater support from the House to step up efforts to fight climate change, with 10 recommendations to be made.

Here's a recap of the 10 recommendations that will affect various industries, public and private sectors, working adults and students:

  1. To raise carbon tax post-Covid at an appropriate time and review the tax every five years
  2. To professionalise the carbon accounting and reporting industry by setting accounting standards, providing certification, and training local talents
  3. To incorporate sustainability into the Industry Transformation Map scheme and create a Sustainability sector under this scheme
  4. To set higher and expanded standards on procurement in the public sector
  5. To support the adoption of electric vehicles by incentivising private developers to make charging points accessible and available at their buildings
  6. To increase the Green Mark standards on carbon efficiency.
  7. To expand climate education in school curriculum and enhance the amount of resources given to experiential activities related to climate change
  8. To add Climate Defence into Total Defence pillars to update national priorities
  9. To introduce mechanisms to help key industrial sectors share technical data on energy efficiency and clean energy
  10. To increase public access to emission data of top-emitting private companies and public entities. This will enforce accountability on organisations and empower public to make decisions on what companies to support.

Yes, so this means you will definitely be affected by the changes, directly or indirectly, should the proposal be taken up by the House.

Timely motion

Covid-19, to some extent, exposes Singapore's vulnerabilities the way that climate change does.

Similarly, with extreme weather due to climate change, Singapore's food security and public health are at risk.

Like what Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said last July, "there is no vaccine against climate change".

Filing a motion at this point in time is a reminder for the government to not lose sight of the long-term challenges such as climate change, something that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said to the global leaders recently at the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda conference.

Addressing climate anxiety and accelerating green recovery

While Singapore's economy has taken a hit from the pandemic, how Singapore can build a more resilient economy remains to be seen.

Panellists at the recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) forum, Singapore Perspectives 2021 "Reset", discussed the importance for Singapore to reinvent and incorporate sustainability into economic growth.

Former three-term NMP and the Chairman for the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Simon Tay, said at the forum that Singapore is currently at an "important juncture, an inflexion point".

The Emerging Strong Taskforce has also included sustainability as one of the key focuses, with conservation scientist and newly-appointed NMP, Koh Lian Pin, on board to look at economic opportunities that can lead to positive environmental outcomes.

It is possible for these outcomes to be realised but much more groundwork has to be laid out for Singapore to become a green hub, including professionalising the carbon accounting and reporting industry.

Incorporating sustainability into the Industry Transformation Map scheme will also be relevant to this ambition.

Economic considerations aside, there is also increased awareness and concern over climate change, especially among the youths who will suffer from the consequences of present-day inaction.

Back in 2019, former Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (now Ministry of the Environment and Sustainability) Masagos Zulkifli had highlighted how youths around the world have taken to the streets to demand more to be done about climate change. Singapore too had its first-ever climate rally.

It is, therefore, important for the country leaders to take the lead and instill confidence among people.

Speaking to the media at the end of Janaury 2021, Ng said that at least 11 MPs will be speaking up on environmental issues, including six from the GPC.

The motion is definitely an effort to show young Singaporeans that the politicians do care about climate change.

But will the recommendations address their worries and doubtfulness sufficiently?

It depends.

What will environmentalists look out for?

To assuage concerned Singaporeans, the GPC members will have to convince that these well-meaning recommendations are meaningful ones.

The challenge is that some of these recommendations are not new.

For example, Minister for the Environment and Sustainability had previously announced that the public sector will take the lead in improving its procurement standards.

Carbon tax is not new either.

The first payment of carbon tax was supposed to be in 2020 and to be reviewed three years later in 2023 to a higher sum.

One question that the GPC might face will be its recommendation to review carbon tax every five years.

Why not every three years? Also, what defines "an appropriate time"?

Will 2021 be a better year to discuss carbon tax than last year?

Some recommendations might face scepticism from environmentalists and these include adding climate defence into Total Defence pillars -- if you remember the tagline of 2019's climate rally: "This is not a total defence drill."

It will be interesting to look at the suggestions the GPC has to expand climate education in schools.

Hopefully, it can go beyond field trips to Singapore Sustainable Gallery and include climate education for teachers as well.

Nevertheless, embedding climate narratives into the curriculums and Total Defence is crucial.

Because clearly, not everyone in Singapore is a climate change believer:

It should be lauded that many of these recommendations are mitigative measures, focusing on how to reduce Singapore's carbon emissions.

The review of the Green Mark Scheme is notable as buildings that are certified as Green Mark Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Zero Energy can be extremely concrete-intensive, the People's Action Party's youth wing identified.

Concrete contributes around 8 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions.

Therefore, it is necessary to propose to include a Concrete Usage Index as a mandatory criterion of the Green Mark scheme.

Some matters not raised

The list of recommendations, however, did not focus much on nature-based solutions and concerns over sustainable development.

The public outcry over development plans on Clementi forest and Dover forest showed that this is an issue close to Singaporeans' hearts and will be the elephant in the room during this Parliament sitting.

How politicians discuss and debate over this issue that concerns a delicate balance between conservation and development will affect public perception of the House's commitment to sustainability and climate change.

Top photo via Louis Ng's Facebook