The Low Down on Singapore’s Amped Up Climate Targets

We now have a strategy that involves industry transformation, research and innovation.

In case you missed it, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean dropped a huge update on climate in Parliament just yesterday. This was part of post-Budget discussions, where our lawmakers convene to debate and approve the new Budget.

What I’d expected were some discussions around Singapore’s newly announced transition to electric powered vehicles and the 5 billion dollar coastal and flood protection fund. What I did not expect was for Mr Teo to use the opportunity to announce Singapore’s new climate targets and plans. 

TL;DR – Singapore will update our global carbon emissions pledge. The target: Halve emissions by 2050 compared to 2030 levels. However, this target only partly fulfils what is necessary according to the science. Also, we now have a “three thrust” strategy that involves industry transformation, research and innovation.

Some background on how significant this is: Singapore is among the countries committed to the Paris Agreement, a global climate pact that aims to fix climate change. In short, we have promised to reduce our emissions in a measurable way, with clear, time-bound targets.

2020 is a milestone year for this climate pact. If we are to have any hope of stopping climate change (and the world-ending scenarios that come with it), countries need to increase their emission reduction targets. In other words, scale up or we’re screwed.

The science is clear – every half a degree matters. We must fight to stay below 1.5˚C.

So what are Singapore’s new targets?

  • Singapore will commit to an absolute peak emission level of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent around 2030.  
  • We will halve the emissions from its 2030 peak, to 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.
  • To achieve net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century.

Let’s break this down.

What does this mean? Singapore will peak our emissions in 2030, and the total amount of carbon emissions in 2030 will be reduced by 50% in 2050. After 2050, we aim to reach net-zero emissions in the second half of the century (which can be anytime between 2051-2099).

Is this new? Yes. Singapore’s previous target aimed for a 36% reduction in emissions intensity – which many have pointed out was not ambitious enough. There are two new aspects this time. Firstly, the emissions reduction committed to is an absolute amount. Secondly, we’ve set a deadline of 2050 to deliver on the commitment.

What do I love about it? This target sets a hard, absolute limit to our emissions. This is a far more robust standard instead of measuring “emissions intensity”, which allows for carbon emissions to grow as long as the economy grows. Also, it is currently mandatory for industrialised countries (determined by the United Nations) to have an absolute cap on carbon emissions, but Singapore is not among this group of countries. Going beyond what is officially required signals that Singapore is taking its commitment seriously. 

What am I not crazy about? The timeline. Net-zero by 2050 is the goal – one that is guided by science. The IPCC tells us that to put the world back on track, our emissions need to be halved by 2030, and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 latest. The only way to fulfil the ambition of the Paris Agreement is for all countries to have this target. So, halving peak emissions by 2050 is still not ambitious enough for Singapore.  

Fun fact: Did I hear right that we’re planning to put solar panels vertically on buildings, in addition to horizontally on rooftops? I’m all in for growing the market for renewable energy sources like solar. Cool beans! 

How much time do we have?

When WWF-Singapore put out our Climate Recommendations Letter along with our goal of #0by2050, some passionate people slammed us saying that 2050 was simply too far away. We loved it.

They were right.

Through WWF-Singapore, around 1,600 people submitted policy recommendations in 2019 as part of a public consultation by NCCS. A core part of the recommendations was for Singapore to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The reality is that in the last six months alone we have seen almost every major forest in the world burn. Around us, as Australia burned, Indonesia flooded – capping off the world’s hottest decade in recorded history. 

Even as governments around the world discuss their climate targets, fundamental changes are already underway in our biosphere, shaped by a changing climate.  

As a low-lying island with an externally oriented economy, Singapore is disproportionately affected by climate change. This just means that we have vested interest in aiming for bigger and better targets.

In his speech, Mr Teo gave us a glimmer of hope when he hinted at the possibility that Singapore might reach our emissions targets sooner rather than later. Knowing Singapore, we’ll get there – we have to. Our very survival is at stake.

With contributions from: Sandeep Chamling Rai, Senior Advisor- Global Climate Adaptation Policy, WWF

Want to know more? Read the report of the Public Consultation on Singapore’s Low Emissions Strategy by the National Climate Change Secretariat.

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