Senior Minister S Jayakumar on 'After Copenhagen - Looking Ahead' in PETIR
1. After the recent Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, some countries have accused others as being the spoilers. Singapore should not get embroiled in such a blame game. Climate change is too important a global issue for unproductive recriminations. Instead we should look ahead, build on whatever we have achieved and iron out outstanding issues.
2. On the eve of the Conference, everyone had conceded that a binding global treaty could not be achieved. So the target was scaled down and the fallback was a strong political framework that would pave the way for such a binding international agreement. But even that was not to be. After acrimonious negotiations, an Accord was finally hammered out by a group of 28 countries that represented a cross-section of developed and developing countries. This Accord has yet to be endorsed by the whole Conference but it represents a glimmer of hope that it can form a basis for further negotiations in 2010.
3. Does it matter to Singapore whether the international community succeeds in reaching an international agreement? Yes. We are a low-lying island state and our survival and growth are ultimately affected by global warming and rising sea levels. A binding global agreement will ensure that all countries can play a meaningful role in lowering their emissions. It will also reduce the prospects of certain countries feeling aggrieved that others are not doing their their fair share, and imposing international border tariffs or other protectionist measures that may hurt us even if we are not at fault.
4. After the licking of wounds, when talks resume, we still have to be realistic about the prospects of a global deal. The politics and economics of climate change make it difficult for countries to agree to tough measures. The costs of measures to reduce carbon emissions and to adapt to global warming are calculable, huge and immediate, while the benefits are uncertain and will only be seen in the long term. Some countries will find it harder to reduce emissions than others. For example Singapore cannot have hydropower or wind power, and are totally dependent on oil and gas. Others have taken early actions to reduce emissions, and will find it hard to make further cuts. So we must expect continued significant wrangling by all parties to seek the best deal for themselves.
5. What are the major problem areas in the negotiations?
First, whether the existing Kyoto Protocol should continue or be subsumed under a new agreement. The US, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, wants an entirely new agreement which include major developing countries such as China and India in a common framework. The EU and other developed countries share this position. However, the developing countries do not want to abandon the Kyoto Protocol. For Singapore, we also prefer a two track solution in which developed countries will still fulfil their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, in parallel to a new agreement in which all countries play their part.
Second, the compliance mechanisms to ensure that countries implement their commitments and actions as pledged. It is settled that the developed countries’ mitigation commitments and financing support should be measured, reported and verified according to international guidelines. Developing countries can agree to subject their measures that are supported by external financing to international verification. However they object to subjecting their domestically funded actions to international verification on grounds of intrusion and violation of sovereignty. Singapore’s position is that there must be transparency and accountability for any international treaty, so that countries, including ourselves, are given credit for our own domestic actions.
Third, how to share the burden of financing. This is vital especially for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, who will need a lot of help to take mitigation and adaptation measures. Developing countries insist that developed countries should foot the entire bill because of their historical responsibilities. Developed countries however want all parties, except for the Least Developed Countries, to contribute to a global climate fund. Singapore’s position is that developing countries which have the capability can contribute financial assistance on a voluntary basis, including through technical cooperation programmes.
6. The Copenhagen Accord sought to reach compromises on these and other issues. It is not a perfect document. It does not meet all the elements which we (and other countries) would have liked. Why then does Singa¬pore support the Copenhagen Accord? In international negotiations, it is impossible to satisfy the maximum demands of all countries. The key is to work out a compromise that meets the irreducible and non-negotiable minimum interests of countries. We asked ourselves: does the Accord, on balance, have enough positive elements that make it a workable basis for further discussions? We concluded that it did. It also had tentative compromise language on the problematic issues mentioned earlier.
7. Looking ahead, the optimistic scenario is that more countries will sign on to the Copenhagen Accord, not as a formal treaty but as a basis for further negotiations towards a global treaty. The pessimistic scenario is that the Accord is shunted aside with even some of the 28 countries repudiating what they had earlier agreed on. In that case, we regress back to square one.
8. To achieve the optimistic scenario, the international community will have to redouble its efforts in the months ahead to reach an agreement. Singapore will continue to give full support to the UNFCCC process. Domestically, we will also start to implement mitigation measures based on the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB) which was announced in April 2009. These measures will further improve our energy efficiency and carbon emissions in the longer term. Whether we will go further than SSB and fulfil our pledge to lower carbon emissions by 16 per cent below Business-as-Usual (BAU) levels by 2020 will, however, depend on a global agreement being reached and other countries acting to fulfil their commitments in good faith.