Keynote Speech by National Climate Change Permanent Secretary Tan Yong Soon at the Conference on EU and Asian Policy Responses to Climate Change and Energy Security Post-Copenhagen
Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Mr Khoo Chin Hean
Executive Director, Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore
Dr Yeo Lay Hwee
Director, EU Centre in Singapore
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very pleased to join you at today’s conference. I would like to thank the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), the Energy Studies Institute (ESI) and the EU Centre for organising this event. This is a timely platform for dialogue and exchanging information on climate change.
Climate Change: A Global Issue
2 Climate change is one of the most important and pressing challenges facing the international community. As is known, the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen last December did not result in a global legally binding agreement to address climate change.
3 However, it is not easy to reach an agreement to address climate change as the issues are complex and the politics inherently divisive. Many governments are reluctant to sacrifice current economic growth as the most severe consequences of climate change will only be evident over the long term, spanning many election cycles and changes of leadership, while the economic costs of preventive actions are huge and must be paid upfront.
4 For Singapore, climate change and its associated impacts are of concern. As a small and low-lying island state, we are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A rise in sea-level and temperatures can have significant consequences for us.
5 Now, if Singapore were to stop emitting carbon tomorrow, it would do little to alleviate climate change. After all, our contribution to global emissions is miniscule, at less than 0.2 percent of the global total. So for us, we have a stake in seeing the issue effectively addressed. It is important to have an agreed global regime that commits everyone to take action.
6 We must not lose sight of the end goal of reaching a global legally-binding agreement on climate change with comprehensive targets for all countries. Without such a global regime, every country would act for itself, promoting undesirable unilateral actions. Carbon tariffs would offer an inevitable backstop against those countries that fail to take adequate action to curb their emissions. This will provoke retaliations that will severely undermine global economic trade and growth. It is only with open trade and economic growth that countries muster the resources to deal with the challenge of climate change effectively.
7 Against this backdrop, the EU’s efforts to address climate change, despite the effects of the economic crisis, are commendable. Europe is not letting up its efforts to contribute to climate change actions, and is contributing towards climate change action in Southeast Asia.
8 Singapore has been very active at the UN negotiations to arrive at a new global framework for long-term cooperation to address climate change, participating in both the Ministerial and official tracks.
9 As a member of the Group of 77 (G77/China) as well as the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS), and also given our unique position as a small but successful developing country, Singapore has tried to play a constructive and moderating role in the negotiations.
10 Even now, in the aftermath of Copenhagen, we have actively participated in discussions at the High-Level Advisory Panel by the UN Secretary-General on climate finance and different Partnerships on REDD, MRV to move the process forward. ASEAN countries are vulnerable to climate change. Singapore will do its part in promoting greater awareness of the issues involved, as well as to encourage closer cooperation and common understanding on the issue of climate change and its impact. In 2009, the ASEAN Working Goup on Climate Change was launched during the ASEAN Environment Ministers meeting in Singapore. This Working Group will seek to build a common understanding of climate change issues, and enhance regional sharing of information on vulnerability risks and adaptation measures to climate change.
Singapore is Serious About Climate Change
11 The Singapore Government is serious about our domestic efforts to address climate change. Before Copenhagen, Singapore had announced that we would undertake actions to reduce our emissions by 16 percent below Business-as-Usual (BAU) in 2020, contingent on a legally-binding global agreement and all countries implementing their commitments in good faith. This is a significant contribution, given our constraints in switching to non-fossil alternatives to reduce emissions from the power sector. Our early actions in the past, such as our policy to limit car population growth and our switch from oil to natural gas for electricity generation have also limited our ability to further reduce emissions.
12 To ensure that Singapore is prepared and ready for climate change threats and opportunities, we have set up a dedicated National Climate Change Secretariat, which I head, under the Prime Minister’s Office with effect from 1 July 2010. The NCCS will coordinate climate change policies across government agencies and ensure that plans are prepared and progress tracked and monitored. The NCCS is set up not only to support the international negotiations but also to coordinate our domestic mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change.
Domestic Mitigation and Adaptation Measures
13 While Singapore is working on the international front to secure a global agreement, we have also started to look at what can be done now, especially on the mitigation and adaptation fronts. As the conference organisers have identified, the responses post-Copenhagen will need to focus on what are the actions we can take now, even as intense and difficult negotiations are on-going to achieve a global legally-binding agreement.
14 On mitigation, we have already started to undertake various initiatives domestically. With limited access to alternative energies, we have fewer options to reduce emissions compared to better endowed countries. Our approach to reduce emissions is primarily to improve energy efficiency in all sectors. At the same time, we have put in resources to testbed alternative energy sources so that Singapore will be better-positioned to adopt these technologies when they improve and their costs come down.
15 The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB) launched in April 2009 represents a major national effort to reduce our energy intensity. It lays out measures to reduce emissions up to 2030 and sets targets of reducing our energy intensity and emissions in four key sectors of our economy - industry, transport, households and buildings. The National Environment Agency (NEA) also recently set up the Energy Efficiency National Partnership (EENP) in April 2010. The intent is to help engage the industry and allow for specific industry groups to interact with energy efficiency experts and learn about best practices to reduce emissions. The Government has announced plans for an Energy Conservation Act to come into effect in 2013 to facilitate a coordinated approach to standards for energy efficiency and energy management for companies that consume significant amounts of energy. Effective processes for energy management in turn will enable companies to better manage costs and profits. These measures under the SSB will contribute towards our international target of 16 percent reduction from BAU by 2020.
16 I am pleased to note that businesses have already started taking steps to run energy-efficient operations and facilities. That is not to say that it is all smooth sailing. For energy efficiency, there are low-hanging fruits, but there are also barriers to higher efficiency which could be due to a multitude of factors. For example, lack of cost analysis on a life-cycle basis where the upfront cost may be high but the pay-off over the operation of the equipment may only be apparent over a longer period, lack of management attention and focus on energy efficiency practices, split incentives where developers may not be incentivised to put in more efficient equipment due to costs or lack of expertise, and tenants bear the higher energy cost.
17 We have been actively investing in the R&D and testbedding of alternative clean energy. With limited scope for wind, geothermal and tidal energies, solar energy is the alternative energy source that presents more opportunities. The Clean Energy Programme Office under the Economic Development Board (EDB) has launched a Clean Energy Research and Testbedding Programme to support the testbedding of clean energy applications in government buildings. As part of its solar capability building programme, the Housing & Development Board (HDB) recently announced an initiative to install solar panels at six public housing precincts across Singapore. By far the single largest solar panel procurement in Singapore to date, this green initiative will power common service areas such as lifts and will benefit 3,000 households.
18 Apart from mitigation, we must also start thinking about adaptation. We have undertaken vulnerability studies to better understand our long-term physical impacts such as sea level rise, temperature profile and wind. Preliminary results indicate that our existing infrastructure is sufficient to address the risks in the short- to medium-term. Studies on secondary impacts such as biodiversity, energy demand and public health implications are also on-going.
19 However, uncertainties remain on the extent of climate change and the timing in which it will unfold. Making sense of these uncertainties will require risk assessments and regular reviews and updates of our design parameters as global models and the understanding of climate science improves.
20 We should also seize new opportunities arising from addressing climate change. While Singapore is a small player, we have sought continually to stay relevant. We have been successful in turning challenges and potential adversities into opportunities. For instance, with the development of NEWater, we have stayed at the forefront of water technology.
21 Singapore is also a living laboratory to test new technologies and new business models to accelerate the deployment of exportable low-emission technologies. The Electric Vehicle (EV) Taskforce co-chaired by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and the Intelligent Energy Systems Taskforce chaired by EMA are looking into possible urban solutions for the deployment of electric vehicles and smart grids respectively.
22 With advances in technology, Singapore will be well-placed to turn our alternative energy-disadvantaged situation into a competitive advantage in the long-run. We can be a reference site for emerging ideas to be tested before larger cities adapt and adopt similar practices. Although alternative energies are unlikely to form a significant part of our fuel mix in the near term, test-beds are ongoing in HDB estates and key installations so that we can better understand the technologies and be better prepared to adopt them on a larger scale when technology improves. I am happy to note that this conference will be covering both energy efficiency and alternative energies.
Closing Remarks: Working Together
23 Prime Minister has articulated Singapore’s commitment to climate change through his active involvement since the negotiations in Bali in 2007. Singapore has declared an emissions target, which can only be met with concerted and sustained efforts from all sectors and stakeholders, and which will be meaningful when other countries who have pledged targets join in to implement their targets and actions under a global legally-binding agreement.
24 Climate change affects us all. Government actions alone will not be sufficient. The Government working in collaboration with our partners in the public, private and people sectors can together come up with efficient solutions and share best practices as part of the global effort to address climate change. For example, businesses can ensure they run energy-efficient operations and facilities. Academia can highlight solutions to barriers. NGOs and grassroots organisations can drive action by spreading the message on energy efficiency at the local level. For the general public, simple energy-saving gestures help to save costs and reduce environmental impact.
25 The Prime Minister has placed the National Climate Change Secretariat under his Office and appointed our Senior Minister S Jayakumar to advise on climate change policies. SM chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change whose members are the Minsters for Finance, Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Transport, National Development, and the Environment and Water Resources. I am privileged to be part of this Secretariat, and at the same time, humbled as climate change is one of the most difficult challenges facing Singapore and indeed, the global community.
26 We will need ideas, innovation and to make some trade-offs. I believe we can, and must, succeed in balancing our fight against climate change and in ensuring a high standard of living with good jobs for all. Singapore has always taken a balanced approach to growth and sustainability and we have been reaping the fruits of our on-going efforts as a reference site for other countries and cities. Only by us working together, can we have a chance of success. The NCCS and agencies will engage the general public, companies, NGOs and academia to drive actions in Singapore.
27 I look forward to working with many of you. In closing, I wish all of you fruitful and engaging discussions.