“The government doesn’t need reminders of what should be done, they just have to do it”, says young environmental activist Ho Xiang Tian

At Singapore’s first climate rally organised by Singapore Climate Rally, 23-year-old environmental activist Ho Xiang Tian delivered a passionate speech about the drastic measures that Singapore should take in order to play its part in this battle against climate change.

The rally, which coincided with the global climate change youth movement initiated by Swedish teen environment activist Greta Thunberg, saw over 2,000 participants on the hazy Saturday, 21 September. Despite the low air quality, many people turned up to show their support for the cause and make their voices heard. Many of the participants were young people.

Speaking at the rally, young Mr Ho who is also the co-founder of the informal environmental group LepakinSG, asserted that the world is not in the midst of a climate crisis and that individual action alone is not enough.

“We need systemic change to deal with the climate crisis. We need governments and businesses to act, and we must let them hear our voices,” he said.

Mr Ho said that the messaging from the government and businesses seem to be that if individuals do their part, we can solve climate change.

However, he pointed out that household carbon emissions are far less than emissions by industries. Based on the National Climate Change Secretariat, the projected 2020 business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions for households is 7.4% compared to 60.3% by industries in Singapore.

Mr Ho says, “It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when not in use, but the lights on Jurong Island never seem to be switched off.”

Addressing the government directly in his speech, Mr Ho outlined Singapore’s climate journey starting in 2012 when the country’s first coal-fired power plant came into operation. In 2013, Singapore experienced its most severe haze ever and in 2014, the Jurong Rock Caverns was opened by the government to allow the expansion of Jurong Island which increased the country’s carbon emissions.

In 2015, Singapore adopted the Paris Agreement but is currently not on track to meet the aim of limiting temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

He then mentioned the massive coral bleaching event in 2016 and the flooding of the MRT tunnels in 2017 which he says shows that “your [the government’s] adaption measures do not always work”.

In 2018, the carbon tax was first proposed at S$10 to S$20 per tonne but was then reduced significantly to only S$5 per tonne.

Finally, in 2019, PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the government’s plan to spend S$100 billion over the next 100 years to adapt to rising sea levels which a result of global warming.

The common thread of these events, said Mr Ho, is that there is little any individual person could have done to about it. The onus lies instead on the government.

“Climate change is not a looming threat, it is already happening. We’re forced to think about it because the climate crisis affects us now. And if we still don’t take strong mitigation measures, it’ll turn into a climate disaster,” warned Mr Ho.

Mentioning his fellow young speakers, aged between 11 to 19, Mr Ho lamented that they shouldn’t have to worry about a future without a stable climate, instead, they should be free to enjoy their youth.

“None of us wants to be worrying about the climate crisis. But we don’t have a choice.”

After observing a moment of silence to honour all that has been and will be lost to climate change, Mr Ho went on to berate the government for staying silent on Singapore’s contributions to climate change.

“Singapore only takes responsibility for 0.11% of the world’s emissions, and that is always the reason cited for our lack of climate action,” said Mr Ho, adding that Singapore is the world’s fifth-largest refinery export hub and that the fuel provided to ships and planes emits carbon at almost three times the national level.

He insightfully pointed out, “We don’t talk about emissions in other countries for the imported products we consume, or from the investments we make. We are happy to reap the economic benefits, but we ignore the carbon emissions that they create.”

Mr Ho urged the government and Singaporeans to start taking responsibility for carbon emissions beyond 0.11%.

Mr Ho urged that coal has to be cut out from the country’s power generation, carbon taxes should be raised to at least S$190 per tonne by 2030 and for the entire country to move away from fossil fuels entirely.

He asserted that we have to act now and that it will require a massive collective effort from the government and business in order for change to happen. As for individuals, Mr Ho called for members of the public to make their voices heard in any way possible to get the message across to the authorities that something has to be done immediately.

“Politicians are right to say that Singapore can’t mitigate climate change alone,” acceded Mr Ho, but added that the country can still make an outsized impact and become a model to other nations in this area.

“But first we have to take really serious climate action. That means no more talk about carbon intensity, individual action, and recycling.”

“There have been countless speeches on the need for climate action. The government doesn’t need reminders of what should be done. They just have to do it,” he emphasised.