A closer look at Singapore’s emissions profile shows that households account for less than 20 per cent of carbon emissions. In fact, the share of households in the country’s carbon footprint has decreased since 2000.
The primary culprit for Singapore’s carbon emissions is not difficult to identify.
Looking out of my window in western Singapore, I can see Jurong Island’s petroleum and oil refining industry. It makes this country the world’s fifth largest refinery export hub, responsible for nearly half of national greenhouse emissions.
We can continue to reject plastic straws, but to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and future-proof its economy, Singapore must adopt a strategy to shift its reliance on the petroleum and refinery industry.
Global clean energy investment is at an all-time high. It topped US$300 billion in 2017 and is expected to increase over ten-fold by 2030. Singapore is missing out on a key investment opportunity, if it continues to hinge its economy on the oil and petroleum industry.
In fact, new energy innovations, including battery storage, electric vehicles, and energy efficient appliances, will create a business opportunity of nearly US$2 trillion by 2030 in Asia alone.
Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli has stated that the clean energy sector can create over 2 million jobs in Southeast Asia by 2030.
Instead of banking on the petroleum industry in a carbon constrained future, Singapore should refine its comparative advantage in developing, financing, and diffusing solutions for a clean energy future.
WHAT’S NEEDED? A MORE AGGRESSIVE SOLAR ENERGY ROADMAP
Singapore can embark on this long-term pathway through various short- to medium-term strategies.
First, the country can create a more aggressive solar energy roadmap. Currently, 95 per cent of the country’s electricity is from imported natural gas, a major reason global carbon emissions are a record high in 2019.
Despite the rapid decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) globally, solar PV accounts for less than 1 per cent of total electricity generation capacity in Singapore.
A significantly higher solar energy target is also likely to be in Singapore’s economic interest as the world’s most influential companies are increasingly committing to switching to 100 per cent renewable energy over the next decade or so.
A PUSH FOR GREEN BUILDINGS
Second, Singapore can complement its ambition of having 80 per cent of its buildings certified green by 2030 with a target for net-zero energy buildings.
A recent study found that a solar panel integrated façade can meet the entire electricity requirement of a landed house and over three-quarters of an HDB building’s demand. By using daylight and natural cooling, such a design can simultaneously achieve economic and environmental objectives.
Singapore has already benefited from its timely push towards green buildings and leadership in this area by greening over one-third of its building stock. Investment in net-zero emissions buildings will not only pave the way for robust mitigation but also complement the Smart Nation initiative by making Singapore a living laboratory for clean energy innovation.
Globally, we need all new buildings to be net-zero or near net-zero to reign in emissions.
A HIGHER CARBON TAX
Third, Singapore can adopt a carbon price trajectory that is better aligned with the latest research on climate change.
The 2018 UNEP Emissions Gap Report indicated that a price of US$40 and US$100 per tonne of carbon dioxide is necessary for realising the 2 degree and the 1.5 degree Celsius pathway, respectively.
Singapore’s current carbon price of S$5 – and even the intended price of S$10 to S$15 by 2030 – falls short not only of the global average of US$21.50 (S$29.50), but also that of several other high-income economies, such as California and Tokyo.
SINGAPORE NEEDS TO TAKE ACTION TODAY
As long as the country maintains its oil and petrochemical exports as the centre of its economy, climate action focused on other sectors will be akin to using a spoon to drain an overflowing bathtub.
So far, Singapore’s climate mitigation plan has focused on increasing energy efficiency, transitioning from oil to natural gas for electricity, making public transport more convenient, and greening its buildings.
In the past, emissions reductions achieved through these strategies, while substantial, have been offset by an increase in manufacturing and oil exports. Singapore’s low carbon price, reliance on natural gas, and further growth in manufacturing will only ensure the status quo.
In his National Day Rally speech this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong committed to long-term solutions to climate change. While this vision is laudable, framing climate change as “a 50- to 100-year problem” with “a 50- to 100-year solution” is too far-sighted.
We need Singapore to take action today and not delay plans for a 50- to a 100-year timeframe. Clutching at straws – whether bamboo or plastic – while dodging much harder climate choices is short-sighted.
If any country has the financial resources, technological capacity, and long-term vision to demonstrate leadership in climate action, it is Singapore. Now, it is critical for Singapore to stand up to the challenge.