On 8 February, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) launched its climate change policy paper titled “Climate change in Singapore: Taking urgent measures towards a smart and green future” via a livestream led by four of its Young Democrats. The presentation was done via livestream as the party took into consideration the escalating situation with the coronavirus outbreak.
During the launch, party chairman Dr Paul Tambyah noted that climate change would be an issue that is raised in the upcoming general election which is due by April 2021.
One Young Democrat, Mr Naresh Subramanian, laid out the dangers that loom over Singapore with this worsening crisis, noting that the effects of global warming on weather patterns bring about prolonged dry spells and excessive rain in the region, thus affecting farming. Consequently, this could shock the country’s food supplies of rice and vegetables.
In its paper, the SDP slammed the PAP for “talking a good game” about taking action on climate change while showcasing a “lack of political will and urgency” on the matter.
Pointing to the country’s assessment as “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, SDP noted on its website that the PAP “continues to drag its feet over implementing pressing and meaningful measures to slow down and even reverse climate change.”
“The present arrangement is untenable and something needs to be done and done urgently if we want to leave the planet and our country habitable for future generations,” urged the party.
SDP’s climate change policy paper, therefore, presents eight policy changes to ensure that future generations in Singapore will have a country and planet that is habitable.
Encourage use of electric vehicles
First, is to incentivise and mandate motorists to switch to electric vehicles. SDP targets to have 25 percent of cars be electric by 2030, 50 percent by 2040 and fully electrified by 2050.
To do this, SDP proposes switching public transportation like buses and taxis to electric vehicles. Private owners would be incentivised by reducing the road tax for such vehicles and by increasing the number of charging points across the island.
Switching to renewable energy
Another policy is to expand the country’s use of renewable energy, especially solar power. SDP aims to accelerate the installation of solar panels in public spaces as well as increase research and development funding on solar projects and collaborate with neighbouring countries to develop clean energy.
The policy paper notes that the country currently relies on liquefied natural gas (LNG) for 95 percent of its electricity need. In 2013, the LNG terminal was completed to allow the import of LNG not only from neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia but also from Australia and the United States. It is also becoming the LNG trading centre of Asia.
However, SDP highlights that while LNG is cleaner than oil, it still pollutes the environment with methane – a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more harmful than carbon dioxide emissions, according to experts.
The paper quoted Ted Nace, founder and director of the Global Energy Monitor, who warned that “LNG is not a good answer climate-wise.
As such, SDP stressed, “It seems clear, both financially and from the standpoint of reducing global warming, for Singapore to switch sources from which we buy and produce our electricity. Instead of purchasing natural gas, we should buy our power from renewable sources.”
Other renewables that the party proposes be explored further include wind and hydroelectric energy.
Curb population escalation
SDP’s policy paper highlights the government’s target to expand the country’s population to 6.9 million by 2030, as stated in a 2013 white paper on population. There is even talk of taking it up to 10 million, says the paper.
This increase in population also increases the demand for land reclamation to an “alarming rate”. To provide substrate for the reclamation, the country imports sand from neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia. The mining of sand in those areas has caused major conservation issues and destroys local ecosystems. As such, sand mining has been banned in those countries.
This means that more concrete will have to be used in Singapore’s land reclamation project, says SDP, which in turn means that temperatures will only go higher. Singapore is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, and more built-up areas only generate more heat which increases the environmental pressures on the island.
Under SDP’s plan, forests in the country will be left undisturbed and HDB estates will replace existing golf courses.
“Given the scarcity of land in Singapore, golf courses reserved for the recreation of the wealthy few make little sense.” said the paper.
The party also proposes an immigration and population policy that complements the Singaporean workforce instead of displacing it, focusing instead on quality over quantity of foreign talents brought in to realise the goal of making Singapore a Smart Nation.
Take strong measures against forest fires
Next, the SDP’s policy paper outlines measures to be taken in addressing the problem of haze in the region.
While governments have signed on to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002, the problem of haze from agricultural forest fires has persisted.
SDP proposes firmly enforcing the agreement by directly targeting commercial entities responsible for the fires, and banning banks and financial institutions owned by or operating in Singapore from investing in companies that are found to be involved in the burning of forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.
It also proposes imposing strict directives that carry severe penalties on corporations operating in Singapore if they continue to finance climate harmful activities.
A Young Democrat, Mr Kenneth Lin, noted during the livestream that another problem the country faces is with big corporations which are major contributors to the declining situation here.
He said, “Big corporations take from Earth and return to it waste to create wealth,” he said. “While this wealth is amassed in their hands, it is the vulnerable, the poor, the common folk who are left to suffer the disastrous effects of climate change.”
The party also proposes that GIC be directed to adopt good corporate governance and maximum transparency and accountability by publishing its annual reports on management funds, investment activities, and more to ensure that investments made under the government adhere towards efforts on fighting climate change.
Taking international lead
Following on from that, SDP’s policy paper proposes a significant upgrade to Singapore’s Nationally Determined Contributions that it signed under the Paris Agreement to lower and eventually remove harmful emissions.
Thought a small nation, it is greatly affected by major polluters. As such, SDP stressed that the country has to play a more active role on the global stage and be a leading voice in urging international political and business communities to take the necessary urgent steps to curb pollution.
The paper stressed, “But not only is Singapore not taking the lead in pushing for action on climate change, the PAP government is slacking in its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.”
The Climate Action Trackers noted on its website, “Despite its high economic capacity, Singapore has a very weak climate target, which we rate as “Highly insufficient”, and is likely to over-achieve it without implementing any additional policies. Singapore needs to substantially strengthen its target.”
Built smart, cool buildings
Another measure proposed by SDP in its climate change policy paper is to encourage the development of smart systems and more efficient cooling technologies to reduce the country’s use of air conditioners, which contributes a significant chunk of total energy consumption and generates a tremendous amount of heat.
Not only that, but it also proposed that buildings be designed with the natural tropical climate in mind and not require too much artificial cooling. The party will adopt several criteria to assess future development projects under the Green Concept Building Plan including using non-toxic recycled/recyclable materials, efficient water use and recycling, and minimal disturbance to landscapes and site conditions among others.
Ms Min Cheong noted during the presentation of the policy paper that spending S$1.8 billion on building Jewel Changi was “not a smart investment”.
“It is breathtaking to admire but consumes excessive amounts of energy,” Ms Cheong said, adding that it is essentially just another shopping centre with the usual shops and restaurants.
She called on the ruling government to spend the people’s money more wisely.
On top of greener building designs, the party also proposed educational programs to encourage the raising of air-conditioning temperatures and mandating the reduction of air-conditioning in government buildings and offices. The latter would be done under the Public Sector Taking the Lead on Environmental Sustainability Programme.
Moving on, SDP proposed a greater push to increase individual and public action towards adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, which includes reducing waste and instilling better recycling habits. The paper noted that recycling among households in Singapore is “almost non-existent” and that recycling bins are not readily available.
The paper outlines the implementation of a policy to reduce hawker stall rentals to encourage them to use less plastic, as well as a curriculum in schools to teach recycling and greater socio-environmental consciousness.
The party would implement legislation to prohibit corporations from manufacturing products that depend on single-use packaging, switching to recycled containers instead.
Amending the carbon tax rate
Finally, the SDP focused on the carbon tax rate. In 2019, the government introduced a carbon tax with a rate of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions to be levied on industrial facilities that emit pollutants equal to or above 2,000 tonnes annual. The rate applies from 2019 to 2023 with plans to increase it to between $10 and $15 per tonne by 2030, notes the paper.
SDP noted its concern on the effect that the increasing carbon tax would have on consumers, assuming that industrial polluters would merely pass on the cost to the public. The paper explained that if this happened, it would negate the objective of lowering emissions through taxation.
As such, the party does not recommend increasing the carbon tax rate at this time but instead prefers to turn its attention and energy to switch to using renewables.
The paper concludes that “the challenges for Singapore’s future in as far as global warming are concerned are complex but not insurmountable.”
“What is needed is a clear-eyed government singularly determined to deliver the country from global warming catastrophe,” it added.