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TODAY: Fostering dialogue and cooperation to fight climate change

The United Kingdom’s Special Representative for Climate Change Nick Bridge was in Singapore this week to attend a sustainability forum hosted jointly by Singapore and the British government.  He tells TODAY in an email interview how both countries can deal with climate change.

Question: What do you see as the biggest challenges for Singapore and the UK regarding climate change?

Mr Bridge: Although we are 13 hours by plane and about 11,000 km apart, our two countries face similar challenges as a result of climate change. We’re both island nations.  

So, we’re vulnerable to increased flooding as sea temperatures rise.

Of course, we’re not alone in this problem – according to a recent report; rising sea levels could cost the world economy US$14 trillion (S$19 trillion) a year by 2100.

We’re seeing more and more extreme weather events in both countries. However, we need to look at the bigger picture: rising temperatures globally and extreme weather events are causing droughts, food shortages, economic deprivation and forced migration.

And they can exacerbate extremism and conflict. So they are having an impact on the security and prosperity of every nation.  

Question: Singapore is a small country which doesn’t contribute greatly to global emissions, compared with, say, China or Indonesia. We also have few natural resources and therefore generating renewable energy will be a challenge for us. What can Singapore do in this regard?

Mr Bridge: There is an increasing danger that, collectively, we are not doing enough on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protect the planet from dangerous warming levels.

Each country – in fact, each one of us - needs to lead by example and be prepared to fight climate change as actively as it can.

We can all do more and we can all make a difference.

Singapore is still quite energy intensive - it ranks 26th out of 142 countries in terms of emissions per capita.

I know Singapore is a test bed for a number of renewable energy initiatives, such as floating solar panels.  

My impression is that Singapore’s Government believes that there is still significant potential for increasing solar outputs here.  

And Singapore is also well-placed to contribute its energy efficiency expertise and its investment in low-carbon transport.

68 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

This presents a tremendous leadership and economic opportunity for Singapore in the region and beyond.   

Question: What are the economic opportunities for countries like Singapore in a low carbon future?

Mr Bridge: The rapid shift to a clean, green global economy is the greatest economic opportunity in human history.

And the opportunity in this region is immense.

For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that US$2.5 trillion will be needed to boost Southeast Asia’s energy infrastructure by 2030.

So a country like Singapore, with its entrepreneurial, innovative companies and its investment in R&D and skills, is perfectly placed to take advantage. Cost-benefit analysis now shows that it’s a higher-risk strategy for business not to invest in sustainable, low carbon or carbon neutral projects.

In the UK, since 1990, we’ve almost halved our greenhouse gas emissions while growing our economy by two thirds: we’re decarbonising faster than any G20 nation and have already created half a million low carbon jobs.  

Question: Given how younger Singaporeans are becoming more aware about sustainability issues – what would be your message for them?

Mr Bridge: The British government has worked with many inspiring young Singaporeans who are passionate about sustainability - whether working as interns in the High Commission’s Climate and Energy section, studying ecology in the UK through the Chevening Scholarship programme, or setting up collaborative partnerships between our Universities.

In terms of message, I would echo the theme of the Singapore Government’s Year of Climate Action, which calls on individuals to publicly pledge their readiness to take action against climate change.

This can take so many forms.  

You can refuse to use single-use plastics.  You can choose low-carbon forms of transport.  You can reduce your food waste.

Or why not set the air conditioner to a higher temperature. And then encourage your family and friends to do the same.

Young people are strong advocates and we can learn from and be inspired by their example.  

Question: Is the UK helping countries in the region combat climate change?

Mr Bridge: Yes, we recognise that many countries in South-east Asia are particularly vulnerable to climate change and we want to support their efforts in adaptation and mitigation.

Globally, the UK has committed to spend £5.6 billion (S$10.1 billion) between 2016 and 2020 on climate finance, including support for many countries in this region.  

The main challenge for Singapore’s neighbours is that their emissions will continue to increase unless there is a real drive to move away from polluting and unhealthy coal-fired power stations.  

Luckily, it is now a fact that by 2020, renewable energy - in South-east Asia and globally - will be competitive with or cheaper than, traditional fossil fuels.

We want to support governments in the region to realise the economic, health and climate benefits of renewable power.

That’s why we’ve launched Southeast Asia Low Carbon Energy Programme under the UK’s Prosperity Fund, which will work with developing countries in the region to identify and break down the barriers to accessing green finance, enabling entrepreneurs and existing businesses to create and scale up renewable energy projects and other green enterprises.

The fund will invest £15m between 2018 and 2022 in projects around the region.  

Question: Will Brexit affect the UK’s role on climate change?

Mr Bridge: No. The UK is an ambitious, committed leader on climate change, and we will continue to be a strong voice after we leave the European Union next year.

Our 2008 Climate Change Act, the first of its kind in the world, set the bedrock for our commitment and this will remain unchanged.  

The Act is the primary legislation that binds the UK to achieve its greenhouse emission targets – an 80 per cent reduction of gresshouse gas from 1900 levels, through a series of carbon projects, by 2050.

We are already halfway there – in 2017 our emissions were 42 per cent lower than 1900 levels.

So, we will continue to play a major role in climate negotiations, such as the Paris Agreement.  

We will keep pressing for clear, ambitious targets on shipping and aviation emission reductions.  

And we will continue to fund climate initiatives around the world.  

And of course, our partnerships with countries such as Singapore on initiatives like this week’s Green Growth and Business Forum are going to be just as important.  

Because dialogue and collaboration can result in green enterprise and innovation that benefit us all.   

Copyright 2018 MediaCorp Press Ltd. Article first appeared in TODAY on 12 July 2018.

Last updated 26 Jul 2018

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