Transcript of media interview with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Senior Minister S Jayakumar, and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim in Copenhagen, Denmark, 20 December 2009
TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA INTERVIEW WITH PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, SENIOR MINISTER S JAYAKUMAR, AND MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES YAACOB IBRAHIM IN COPENHAGEN, DENMARK, 20 DECEMBER 2009
Question 1: Prime Minister, could you tell us what your reaction is to the progress?
Prime Minister Lee: We are disappointed with the outcome so far.
This is a very difficult negotiation because we are dealing with a problem which is very long term - maybe decades, maybe beyond 100 years. And we are having to contemplate actions on a very long-term basis. What you do now is not going to show results before the next elections, not even after the next three elections. For governments to weigh these very far-off risks with the very far-off commitments that are involved is very difficult.
Secondly, the countries have very different perspectives on this issue. If you are a Scandinavian and have a high standard of living and have focused on green issues for quite some time, then naturally you want ambitious targets - deep cuts and binding commitments. If you are living in a developing country and worried about your three meals a day, as (Brazil’s) President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said yesterday, then global warming is not item one on your agenda, and you do not want to do anything which would compromise the possibilities for your people to grow, develop and prosper in the long term.
Thirdly, there are countries that have specific concerns, like the Association of Small Island States which are worried about the sea levels rising, or poor countries in Africa, which are unable to afford the measures needed to adapt to climate changes.
To bring all these together and develop a coherent proposal to move forward is a big challenge. The differences are quite deep ones, in perspectives and national priorities. So I do not see this reaching a full and harmonious conclusion this time. But I hope the work that has been done can be left alive and form the basis for further work. And hopefully within the next year or so, we will be able to reach a treaty.
Singapore has spoken up in this tone. We are a small island state too - not quite so low-lying as Maldives or Tuvalu, but small, vulnerable and alternative-energy disadvantaged. If there is no deal, we are in jeopardy. If there is a deal, we are committed to do our part. We have offered to reduce carbon emissions by 16 per cent below BAU (business-as-usual) as our contribution to an agreement. It is conditional on the agreement being reached and other countries also doing their part too.
Our offer stands. Whether or not there is an agreement, we will start to do part of it. But we must make sure that we get credit for the things we do on our own, and not, after we have done that, find that there is a new baseline and we have to cut more from there. Then there will be no end.
Senior Minister Jayakumar: We are disappointed. But what has been achieved, let us keep it alive and see how procedurally and substantially we can get more countries on board.
Question 2: Has Singapore been asked to do anything, in terms of making changes and making compromises?
PM Lee: No. We have made our offer of 16 per cent below BAU. It has been noted and welcomed. And we have not been the focus of the difficulties because even if Singapore were to stop breathing, it is not going to save the earth.
Minister Yaacob: In the small group meetings when they put up the figures of the various countries, Singapore’s figures were also put up. So they have acknowledged what we have put on the table and they know what we are committed to do.
SM Jayakumar: There was also an appreciation of the special circumstances and constraints that Singapore faces.
PM Lee: We will start doing some of the measures that we would have to do in order to get to a 16 per cent target. Whether we get to 16 per cent or not depends on whether there will be an agreement. If there is no agreement, we are not obliged to reach 16 per cent. Our Sustainable Development Blueprint has set a 7 to 11 per cent target, so that part, we will do regardless. But we must make sure that (everything) done, if there is subsequently a deal, we get credit for our merit.
SM Jayakumar: So that will not be discounted.
Question 3: Does that mean that we will not have any new measures in the Sustainable Blueprint?
PM Lee: No, that depends. To reach 16 per cent, we will have to take new measures. We have to consider what these will be. There will be regulations. For example, more stringent energy efficiency standards may be necessary. There may be other requirements for building, insulation, air-conditioning - Green Marks, Platinum Standards and so on and so forth.
There may have to be fiscal measures because if you look at other countries, either they have gone for cap-and-trade or they are thinking of some kind of a carbon tax. We would have to contemplate these too. And if we do them, then we will also need incentives and counterbalancing measures to buffer the impact on households and companies.
We have to plan and consider all these possibilities now. Whether we do them, when we do them,how we phase them in, it depends on what the final outcome will be, whether there is a new treaty.
Question 4: PM, you mentioned you were disappointed with the outcome. What is the most disappointing?
PM Lee: We have always known that reaching an agreement would be very difficult. When Danish Prime Minister (Anders Fogh) Rasmussen came to Singapore during Apec (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) in November, he already said that a legally binding treaty was out of the question and that we should aim for a political statement.
If countries had started contemplating what goes into a political statement at that point, and there had been a process to have systematic discussions to put up a reasonably balanced proposal for the whole plenary session to consider, we might have surfaced the basic disagreements earlier, and it would have been a more constructive exercise.
But over the last two months, there has been a lot of sound and fury, a lot of trench fighting over procedures. Every inch of ground has been contested repeatedly. When finally you join issue on the substance, you are not in a right frame of mind to take a considered view which is both practically realistic, politically feasible and also shows a certain vision and detachment from the immediate close-quarter combat.
One reason why it is so difficult to reach a climate change deal is that, actually, the mitigation measures are very difficult to do. Some studies claim that it costs only 1 per cent of world GDP to solve the climate change problem and reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent. I do not believe that.
For example, the Americans, who have been, as one writer said, brought up on abundant energy for 300 years: That was how the continent was - all the resources were there, you have water, you have timber, you build spacious suburbs, you drive big cars. Even poor people use cars as their principal means of transport. To change from that, to consume now one-quarter of what you used to consume in terms of fossil fuels - even with the best will in the world, you are not going to achieve that within one generation. And it is difficult to get that will, to have political leaders decide that they want to begin to change, instead of, as one American told me, just kick the can down the road.
Similarly, for the Chinese to compromise their growth is going to be very, very difficult to contemplate, because the momentum, the desire of so many people for a better life, to lift themselves out of poverty, is tremendous. And to say, no, you will not take the coal that is lying there on the ground and will instead put up solar panels or windmills that cost maybe five or 10 times as much as coal - even if Beijing were to issue such an edict, how many provinces will listen to it? The cost is very high, and therefore it is very difficult to do.
For us today, there is a cost to achieve this 16 per cent below business-as-usual, but if other countries are doing their part, then this is our small contribution to reducing the problem. If not, then it does not make sense for us to do it by ourselves.
Question 5: In your speech (to the conference), you asked developed countries to step in. What is the reaction?
PM Lee: The US has committed to doing something. They put down a target of 17 per cent. It is the first time they have put down a target because they never signed up to Kyoto. They repudiated Kyoto. The Europeans have committed to reducing by 80 per cent by 2050.
There will be arguments on whether you should do more or not. Certainly many countries think that America over the longer term ought to do more. But it depends on what their political system will accept. Even if the leaders say, I will do this, when the moment comes to cause it to happen, the legislatures may or may not back them.
That has happened in Australia, where the Senate has thrice rejected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposal for cap-and-trade. And in Europe, though they are trying their best, even they have not found it easy to hit the Kyoto targets, much less reduce by 80 per cent.
In terms of contributing finances, the developed countries have made certain commitments - promises of money - to help the poorer countries adapt. But they would want to make sure that the money is well directed and properly spent. And that will be quite complicated.
Question 6: What is Singapore’s position towards the deal or the agreement that has been reached by the US and a few major (developing countries)?
PM Lee: We think it is a useful basis to take the process forward… in order to try and reach a less imperfect arrangement.
Looking at the reaction of the countries that have spoken up at the plenary, including some of those who have participated in developing this agreement, my conclusion is: Although there is such a text that came up from a small group, it does not necessarily mean that even this small group wholeheartedly endorses it.