Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, Committee of Supply 2021
A Considered, Committed and Collective Approach to the Global Climate Crisis
Climate change is the defining crisis of our time. In 2020, the world had to battle record-breaking forest fires, the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, more frequent floods and droughts, and other weather events leading to large-scale devastation. As a low-lying island, Singapore remains fundamentally vulnerable to the impact of climate change, which poses an existential threat to us. We take a Considered, Committed and Collective Approach to the Global Climate Crisis. My colleagues, from 5 ministries which are taking key measures for climate action in our Green Plan, are collectively responding to the points that Members have raised during this Budget debate and COS, and presenting the comprehensive action we are taking to put words into action to fight climate change.
I chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change which was established in 2007 to coordinate a whole-of-nation response. While we respond as individual Ministries, we have a collective action plan behind this. This committee has two important tasks. First, to formulate and execute our national plans to prepare ourselves for the impact of climate change. Second, to ensure that Singapore contributes to global climate action.
Last year, we submitted our enhanced 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution and our Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy under the Paris Agreement – our NDC and our LEDS. We made these commitments, well aware that they are challenging given our national circumstances. Mr Louis Ng, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Poh Li San will be glad to know that the goals which we have set are not meant to be static. We will press ahead with the measures which are within our control, and we will halve our emissions by 2050. But how soon we can achieve net zero, that means eliminate the other half, depends not only on what we do, but it depends on what is done internationally, in areas such as evolving and maturing key technologies, as well as international collaboration on key areas such as carbon markets, as well as the import and export of green electricity. We will continue to review our climate goals with the aim of achieving net zero emissions as soon as viable.
Allow me, Mdm Chair, to take a step back to explain the thinking and guiding principles behind how we approach this global crisis.
Galvanising Global Action
For a small island city-state like Singapore, climate change poses an asymmetrical challenge. While Singapore contributes around 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the totality of global emissions, 100%, including the other 99.9%, affects us too – and often more seriously than it affects larger, better endowed countries. So we must do our best to tackle climate change, but ultimately we depend on a collective global effort to address the issue at a global level. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about what Singapore is doing to promote this global action. Singapore has been working hard to strengthen consensus and galvanise climate action regionally and globally. This has been especially critical at a time when the multilateral system is under strain from protectionism and unilateral action, further exacerbated by the challenges of COVID-19.
Singapore is often called upon, as a knowledgeable, fair and honest broker, to facilitate discussions to forge consensus for the work under the UNFCCC and its implementation rules. Unfortunately, COP-26 did not take place in Glasgow last year due to COVID-19. But our officials have continued to work actively on important international issues such as rules for carbon markets and more stringent reporting of national emissions and climate action. We are also actively shaping multilateral discussions on reducing international transportation emissions, as suggested by Ms Mariam Jaafar.
Managing Synergies and Trade-offs in a Low-Carbon World
At the same time, we have been carefully planning and implementing, in an integrated and coordinated long-term manner, the measures we need to take domestically for a low-carbon future. As a small country with limited alternative energy sources, land and manpower, our trade-offs are much starker than what most countries face. Our carbon emissions set real cross-cutting constraints on our development and the daily lives of Singaporeans. We need to find ways to break out of these constraints through careful long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology. We look for synergies to give ourselves the space to grow, but when it is needed, we also have to make well-considered, real trade-offs. Ms Rachel Ong, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, and Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about these trade-offs and how we are pursuing decarbonisation despite our constraints. Let me cite a few examples.
First, land use. Singapore is both a city and a country. Within our small land space, we need to accommodate not just housing, parks and commercial centres, but also power plants, reservoirs, air- and sea- ports, and industries. The trade-offs are real, and often the choices are difficult. We cannot wish these away. For example, unlike bigger countries, we do not have large plots of land for extensive solar farms. There are many competing land uses, as we have debated in this House over these last few weeks. But we do strive to maximise solar energy by aggressively deploying panels on the rooftops of suitable HDB blocks. My colleague from the Ministry of National Development will update us on this later. Nationwide, we aim to deploy at least 2 Gigawatt-peak (GWp) of solar power in Singapore by 2030, which supplies energy equivalent to the consumption of about 350,000 households for a year.
We look for synergies. To supplement our limited land, we are also using our reservoirs for floating solar farms, something which several members asked about. This allows us to use our reservoirs not just for water but also for solar power, and to provide green lungs for recreation and water activities as well. Last year, the new solar farm at Tengeh Reservoir began construction, and this will be among the world’s largest such facilities. It will generate enough solar power to meet the demands of our five local water treatment plants, making Singapore one of the few in the world to have a fully green waterworks system.
Second, securing our water and food supply is a key national priority. We are making significant progress for water. When I hear members speak about recycling, don’t forget that water recycling is recycling too, and we are one of the leaders in the world in water recycling. And when we count water recycling, our recycling rate is really very high. Last year, our desalination plant in Marina East commenced operations – our fourth such plant. We are making a major push for food security as well. DPM Heng announced the new Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund for technology adoption in our agri-food sector. We actively engage A*STAR and our Institutes of Higher Learning to develop novel, resource efficient approaches for food and water. These will help us break out of our constraints to secure our food, through careful long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, and keep costs affordable while minimising carbon emissions. In that one long sentence, we can see the dilemmas and the trade-offs we have to make in each one of the steps that we take.
Third, economy and jobs. Since the time Mr Lee Kuan Yew called for us to create a metropolis out of mudflats, we have always balanced development, conservation and the environment. This is reflected in Singapore being among the best 20 countries in the world today in terms of Emissions Intensity, that is emissions per GDP dollar. We have been able to grow our economy, create jobs, while keeping our emissions per GDP dollar one of the lowest in the world. And this is in spite of all of our constraints. I listened very carefully to the speeches made by all the members but was particularly struck by the thoughtful analyses made by Ms Mariam Jaafar and Prof Koh Lian Pin. They have deep knowledge of these areas and they understand well the trade-offs as Singapore seeks new ways to grow our economy within a carbon-constrained envelope, and how we can balance conservation, development and jobs. They have made several good suggestions and useful proposals which we will certainly study very closely.
Companies will have to adjust their business models. Our workers have to shift to jobs in new areas of growth. One example is the energy and chemicals sector. Mr Abdul Samad, who is with us in this House, will be well-aware of this. He and his unions are doing the actual work – they are doing the work helping workers to cope with this challenge and make the transition. The switch to cleaner energy will reduce demand for more carbon-intensive fossil fuels. However, demand for sustainable fuels, and higher value-added petrochemical products and specialty chemicals will grow. The modern green eco-system needs such products, such as in solar panels, batteries, thermal insulation for buildings, durable and light-weight parts for electric vehicles. And we are investing in sustainable energy too. Neste, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, is expanding its production capacity here. They are already here, and they are expanding their production. When completed, Singapore will be home to Neste’s largest renewable products plant, creating new jobs. Many of the major energy and chemical companies in Singapore have also committed to reach net zero by 2050, and Singapore will partner them in this shift.
The public sector will lead by example, by embarking on a comprehensive whole-of-government programme, called GreenGov.SG, to reduce our resource footprint and carbon emissions, and to enable the rest of the economy to do likewise. Minister for Sustainability and the Environment will speak more about this later.
At the national level, our comprehensive carbon tax, which covers 80% of Singapore’s carbon emissions, one of the most comprehensive coverages in the world, encapsulates these trade-offs by better aligning the real cost of carbon emissions with the emitter. Mr Sharael Taha asked about our plans for carbon tax and the resulting impact. As DPM said in his Budget speech, the Government will be reviewing the trajectory and level of the carbon tax, post-2023, in consultation with industry and expert groups. We seek a carbon tax level that will incentivise companies and consumers to switch to carbon friendly products, services and activities, while promoting industry innovation and new green growth.
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
There are already significant new investments in sustainable industries in Singapore. I just spoke about Neste. Hyundai is constructing a research and development centre and electric vehicle pilot production facility in Singapore. These examples illustrate how Singapore can leverage and is leveraging our strengths in R&D, advanced manufacturing and logistics to create more opportunities and good jobs for Singaporeans.
In addition, we are taking steps to establish Singapore as a centre for carbon credits trading and services, for sustainability consultancy, and to play a significant role in green finance for sustainable development in a growing Asia. In fact we are calling on Professor Koh Lian Pin on his expertise to help us develop in this area. This will also create new high quality jobs.
Being Prepared for the Future
We are similarly taking a proactive approach to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change. This requires forward planning as climate change threats require solutions that span many decades. We have not been sitting on our hands. In fact, we are taking significant steps to protect ourselves from a rise in sea levels of up to 1 metre, which can be upon us by 2100. Ten years ago, in 2011, we had raised the minimum level for new land reclamation by an additional metre to take this into account – to bring the minimum reclamation level of new land to 2 metres above the highest ever recorded tide in Singapore. 1 Taking early action will often cost less in the long run, than trying to raise land levels or put in protection later. Minister for Sustainability and the Environment will be elaborating on our plans.
1. The highest tide recorded is 1.988m above Singapore Height Datum at the Tanjong Pagar tidal station in December 1999. ↩
Being prepared for the future also includes developing new sustainability solutions, not just for ourselves but also for the rest of the world. Our $25 billion 5-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan includes a significant portion for Urban Solutions and Sustainability (USS). R&D plans in our USS domain include enhancing our resilience in energy, water, and food, and developing more cost-effective solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We will also increase our R&D efforts in the use of renewables and emerging low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage – a subject which Ms Cheryl Chan is very knowledgeable about and spoke very lucidly on. We will also develop solutions against rising sea levels, urban heat island effects, and other challenges brought about by climate change. As a “living lab”, we will continue to serve as a test-bed for innovative solutions that can be exported globally in cities around the world.
Cultivating a National Mindset
Mdm Chair, I have outlined the principles which have guided our Considered, Committed and Collective strategy on climate change – first, supporting and galvanising global action; second, finding synergies and addressing our trade-offs with creative solutions; third, turning constraints and challenges into new opportunities; and fourth, planning many decades ahead to prepare for the future and taking action now, and not waiting for the future to be upon us. But most important of all, we need to overcome this existential challenge Together - as a whole-of-nation.
Ms Hany Soh asked how the Government intends to achieve this whole-of-nation effort.
Mdm Chair, I am heartened that on 1 February this year, this House unanimously passed a Motion moved by Mr Louis Ng and his fellow GPC members, that acknowledged the seriousness of the global threat of climate change and called for action.
This augurs well. Last month, five ministries collectively announced our Singapore Green Plan 2030. The Green Plan reflects this Government’s aspirations and commitment towards sustainable development for us. Many Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, are motivated and energised by this vision and want to play an active role. And our desire is to partner every Singaporean to transform Singapore into a glowing global city of sustainability. My colleagues from the respective Ministries will be elaborating on the initiatives under the Green Plan and responding to the specific comments from members.
Our enhanced NDC, LEDS, and Green Plan have set challenging and ambitious goals for Singapore. I am confident that by rallying together as one, we will rise to the challenge, re-invent Singapore, and create a brighter and sustainable future for all Singaporeans. Thank you Mdm Chair.
For more information on the Joint Segment on Sustainabiility at the Committee of Supply debates 2021, please visit: https://www.greenplan.gov.sg/cos/.