During an hour-long ministerial forum with students of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) on 4 September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong answered several questions from the audience.
Videos of the premier’s answers were uploaded into a playlist on the Prime Minister’s Office Youtube Channel.
Having talked about Singapore’s progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, PM Lee reiterated that climate change specifically is a global problem, the solution to which requires that other countries also contribute.
“If other countries don’t do their part and reduce CO2 emissions and slow down the global warming and slow down sea-level rise, it endangers all countries,” says PM Lee.
Even so, he explained that it’s not possible to force other countries to do what we want them to do. All Singapore can do is play its own part, and in doing so, that gives us the “moral standing” to urge other nations to follow suit.
“All we can do is our share, and because we are doing our share…we have the moral standing to say “I’m doing my part, please do your part”,” he said.
But even then if other countries do not do what is necessary, PM Lee says that means Singapore will have to prepare for the impacts of global warming.
“I must spend, if need be, S$100 billion over 100 years, if need be more than that in order to make sure that if the sea levels rise, Singapore does not become a smaller island.”
“We can afford the money and we will make our plans carefully, we make sure that the money is well spent. But we have to protect ourselves,” he added later.
The PM also noted that both right- and left-wing governments around the world are facing pressures from their own citizens on this issue, where there are many who find it difficult to consider the long term, focusing instead on the here and how.
“I need land to plant new crops. I need money, so I’m mining coal and selling to other countries. I have oil, I’m not very good at doing anything else very much and therefore I’m taking the oil out of the ground and I’m going to sell the oil to people who burn it and put CO2 in the atmosphere.”
These are pressure which government cannot easily ignore, PM Lee asserted.
“It’s money for jam. And the government which wants to be green is kicked out and somebody else comes in and he despoils the planet.”
The PM then noted that the Paris Accord was the first step in countries coming together to address this issue, noting that while it may not be enough, it is a step in the right direction.
“Other steps will have to be taken later on but this is the first step and everybody is signed up. So if we don’t do our part, we are not a good global citizen. And whether you are big or small, if you don’t do your part, you are not a good global citizen. And we hope that has some impact.
The world is an imperfect way and that’s the way difficult problems can be solved or at least tackled with partial solutions.”