Presentation by Second Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan at the International Forum on Climate Policies, 30 September 2008
PRESENTATION BY SECOND PERMANENT SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS BILAHARI KAUSIKAN AT THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM ON CLIMATE POLICIES, 30 SEPTEMBER 2008
1. There is no doubt that climate change is an urgent long-term challenge confronting humankind which must be addressed through an international effort. But to recognize a problem is not to solve it. We are dealing with an issue of great complexity which requires difficult trade-offs between competing considerations none of which are negligible. The effects of climate change, while undoubtedly grave, will be evident only in the long term, while the costs are immediate. This inevitably makes any solution politically difficult.
2. The Kyoto Protocol – the first significant global attempt to deal with climate change – illustrates the difficulties. Most countries, despite their best efforts, have not yet fulfilled their Kyoto commitments. But we have to start from Kyoto and move forward. It is crucial to get the major developing economies on board as otherwise the US will not participate in any post-Kyoto regime. And unless these countries are part of the solution, the problem cannot be effectively addressed.
3. There is no silver bullet to deal with climate change. But there are three principles which Singapore sees as central to an effective and equitable international climate framework.
4. First, it must command the participation of all countries in accordance with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Developed countries, which are historically responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, must take the global lead, including by providing appropriate and adequate assistance to developing countries. But developing countries must also play a role. Developing countries should make effective use of help from developed countries to take mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development.
5. Second, there must be a balance between reducing carbon emissions and economic growth. A global framework for mitigating climate change cannot be based on slower growth. No government can ignore vital priorities such as alleviating poverty, fighting diseases and malnutrition and improving the lives of their peoples. Growth requires energy which is today largely based on fossil fuels.
6. Third, we must recognize that many developing countries, especially smaller states, face special constraints. They are more vulnerable to external shocks and natural disasters. They are often heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels, and cannot easily diversify their energy sources. In order for the post-2012 climate framework to be workable, the special national circumstances of these countries must be fully taken into account.
7. In accordance with these principles and notwithstanding their limitations, many developing countries have nevertheless already been pursuing pragmatic and cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Singapore, a small island state, we have long integrated environmentally sustainable policies into our urban planning and development. These measures have mitigated and reduced the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of these mitigation actions, we had by 2006 reduced our carbon intensity by 30 per cent below 1990 levels.
8. Since 2001, we have moved significantly from fuel oil to natural gas – the cleanest form of fossil fuel - for power generation. In addition, we also use highly-efficient co-generation technologies. As the use of natural gas emits 40 per cent less carbon dioxide than fuel oil per unit of electricity generated, this has enabled Singapore to cut a significant amount of emissions from the power sector. By 2006, nearly 80 per cent of the electricity in Singapore was generated by natural gas. This is considerably above the world average of about 22 per cent and is in fact amongst the world’s highest. I should add that we do not subsidise energy consumption. The proper pricing of energy is an important measure to reduce carbon emissions.
9. Despite our small size, Singapore has planted nearly a million trees across the island over the past three decades. This has led to increased carbon sinks. There are ongoing efforts to set aside private land for green buffers and to promote the ‘greening’ of buildings. Through such measures, we have achieved a 10 per cent increase in Singapore’s green cover over the past 20 years despite a 70 per cent growth in population. Overall, these efforts have enabled almost 50 per cent of our island-state to be covered in greenery.
10. For over 30 years, Singapore has also implemented policies to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution which has mitigated the growth of emissions from domestic transport. Some of our policies to reduce traffic congestion such as the Area Licensing Scheme have been adopted by other major cities. We have also limited our car population with the implementation of the Vehicle Quota System (VQS). This was complemented by policies to promote the use of public transport.
11. Given the current state of scientific knowledge and technology, the world’s dependence on fossil fuels will probably not significantly change in the foreseeable future. But there are degrees of dependence. In order to balance economic growth with the mitigation of climate change, the reduction of emissions must entail the replacement, to the extent possible, of fossil fuels with renewable alternatives. A country’s ability to switch to non-fossil fuel alternatives is a primary determinant of its capability to take on emission reductions. Any regime for emissions reduction must thus take into consideration the comparative capabilities that different countries have in deploying non-fossil fuel alternatives.
12. All developing countries, large or small, will not find it easy to switch from fossil fuels because of their lack of financial and technological capability. But there is a particular group of developing countries that confront special and serious limitations because of their size and physical attributes. Such countries are “alternative-energy disadvantaged”. They do not have the options available to large developed countries to significantly reduce their emissions by switching to renewable sources of energy. With improvements in technology, the ability of larger developed countries to switch from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources can only increase. Small “alternative-energy disadvantaged” countries will thus be further disadvantaged.
13. The UNFCCC already recognises the need for specific consideration to be given to the heavy dependence on fossil fuels by many developing countries, particularly the smaller ones. This dependence on fossil fuels both as a source of income as well as the inability to make use of alternative energy sources are recognised in Articles 4.8(h) and 4.10 of the Framework Convention which call for full consideration to be given to such Parties in the implementation of the commitments of the Convention. This special consideration for the “alternative-energy disadvantaged” countries must continue to guide the Bali Action Plan process so as to enable full, effective and sustained implementation of the UNFCCC.
14. Many “alternative-energy disadvantaged” countries have small populations. Their per capita GDP and per capita emissions are often consequently inflated indicators that do not accurately reflect the state of their economic development or contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. In absolute terms, the gross GDP and total emissions of these countries are insignificant when compared to those of the developed countries. The use of per capita GDP or per capita emissions to assess climate change responsibilities would thus only further penalise those countries that are “alternative-energy disadvantaged”.
15. Singapore is one such “alternative-energy disadvantaged” country. We lack the natural endowments necessary to make use of non-fossil alternatives. Our greatest limitation in switching from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy is our small physical size. As an island city-state of only 700 square kilometres, Singapore is smaller than Lake Geneva in Switzerland and about one-fifth the size of Long Island in New York. Cities like Tokyo, London and Sydney are two to three times larger than Singapore.
16. Singapore’s small size, geographical location and other physical attributes leave it with virtually no access to alternative energy sources. Without a major river system, hydroelectric power is unavailable. We do not have access to geothermal energy. Our relatively calm seas mean that Singapore cannot harness tidal energy. While there could be other ways to tap energy from the sea such as underwater tidal or ocean thermal energy, such technologies are still in the nascent stage. Biomass on a large scale is also not viable for Singapore as we do not have the necessary land space to cultivate biomass as an energy source.
17. Nuclear energy is an important source of low-carbon electricity. But nuclear energy poses safety and waste disposal challenges. As Singapore is a small highly urbanized island with the second-highest population density of any country in the world, any nuclear accident would have a catastrophic effect. This is quite unlike the situation in larger countries which have the luxury of setting aside vast expanses of land as emergency planning zones for nuclear reactors.
18. Wind energy is also not feasible for Singapore. The average wind speed on land in Singapore is low as compared to places like Japan, Norway and Denmark, where wind power is a significant energy source. Offshore wind speeds are generally higher than those on land1. But we cannot build offshore wind farms at sea as it would pose a serious hindrance to international shipping. Our territorial sea is very limited. But about 90,000 vessels pass through the Straits of Singapore every year. Approximately a third of the world’s trade and half of the world’s oil supply passes through the Singapore Straits. The installation of offshore wind turbines in the Straits would undoubtedly obstruct, and possibly endanger, the passage of vessels.
19. Technology for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is still at the experimental stage. However, even if it becomes commercially viable on a large scale in the future, it will be of limited utility to Singapore as we lack the space and geological structures2 necessary to serve as reservoirs for the sequestration of carbon dioxide.
20. Solar energy is thus the only renewable energy source available to Singapore. We have invested considerable sums in research and development of solar technologies and have offered Singapore as a site for test-bedding them. But this too faces severe limitations due to our limited land area. Preliminary studies indicate that even if solar photovoltaic panels are installed on all suitable rooftop space, less than 5 per cent of Singapore’s total electricity needs will be met.
21. Let me make absolutely clear that I did not describe in detail what Singapore cannot do in order to suggest that Singapore will not do anything.
22. Domestically we have always taken the environment and sustainable development seriously. Singapore is a densely populated city. Had we not done so, Singapore today would not be liveable. My Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, has made clear at the Bali UNFCCC meeting last December that Singapore will play its part in the global effort to deal with climate change. We take all our international responsibilities seriously. We will take responsible actions not just nationally but, within our capabilities, will also help fellow developing countries in this global effort.
23. We are sharing, and will continue to share, our experiences with clean technologies with fellow developing countries through the Singapore Cooperation Programme of technical assistance. We are partnering China to build an eco-city in Tianjin, to testbed and demonstrate environmentally sustainable and economically viable approaches for urban development, which can be replicated in other Chinese cities. Earlier this year, Singapore hosted a World Cities Summit focussed on environmental issues in urban settings.
24.Singapore accepts as a basic principle that we must each contribute what we can towards a realistic solution for climate change. Our own experience has shown that even under unfavourable circumstances, countries can arrive at a sustainable balance between economic growth and environmental concerns. But, equally, our own experience has convinced us that any workable solution must be based on a clear understanding of what each country is able to do before we request them to do anything.
25. To command a global consensus, the future global climate framework must take into account the unique circumstances of every country, particularly the developing countries and the “alternative energy-disadvantaged” countries. Imposed emission reduction targets will not be accepted by developing countries as mandatory cuts will affect their economic development prospects.
26. Even some large highly developed countries will also not accept having mandatory “top down”commitments imposed on them. Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol countries must agree in writing to have binding commitments. It is therefore futile to try to impose commitments on others. The only viable way forward is through voluntary but binding actions to reduce emissions. Such a ‘bottom-up’ approach will give all countries the flexibility to implement practical and effective measures to reduce emissions without curbing growth.
27. This “bottom-up” approach is in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. While developed countries must continue to take the lead in reducing emissions, developing countries should be prepared to consider voluntary but binding actions appropriate to their national situations which can also contribute to the global effort on climate change. Only this balance of responsibilities will help us forge a truly effective and comprehensive international agreement to address climate change.
 Nevertheless, the wind speeds in the Straits of Singapore are still less than 6 metres m/s for most of the year. By contrast, in the North Sea and the southern tip of the South American continent, where large offshore wind farms are located, average offshore wind speeds can reach as high as 15m/s.
 These include depleted oil or gas fields, coal seams and specific basalt formations.