Singaporeans are Already Ashamed Of What Isn’t Being Done to Fight Climate Change
Top image: PSMag

Give a good start to our children. A brighter future for our children. Build a better Singapore for our children.

This seemed to be the main message of the National Day Rally (NDR) 2019. The word ‘children’ was used 13 times, and one of those was during the climate change segment of the speech, when PM Lee said, “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.”

That day has already come. I am ashamed of what your generation is not doing for climate change.

I am not alone, or at least that’s what my Facebook feed tells me. On Instagram, lots of people vented their frustrations over the lack of mitigation measures raised during the NDR.

At the start of the NDR, PM Lee said, “Let me start with how we are giving our young the best possible start in life,” before going on to talk about pre-school education. The thought that crossed my mind when I heard this segment was, “The best possible start you can give to the next generation, the young and the unborn, is a stable climate.”

It’s great that we’re having pre-schools be more affordable to the masses and making education more affordable for those who need it so young parents don’t have to worry about costs, but the costs of raising a child is just one factor when young people think about starting a family. One major factor is also whether we’ll be bringing a child into a world that is getting less and less hospitable to humans, and this is a sentiment shared by many youths in my circle. Want birth rates in Singapore to increase? Consider looking after the climate.

Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, more extreme weather, more frequent pandemics, food shortages, forced migration of displaced populations, and even wars were mentioned as examples of the impacts of climate change. There was even mention of a Swiss study which found that by 2050, Singapore will experience unprecedented climate shifts.

Climate change sure sounds like it’s going to screw us up real bad. But what are we doing about it? PM Lee says: understand climate change, mitigate climate change, and adapt to climate change.

Something must have gone wrong when writing the portion about mitigation because after mentioning that we must do our part to reduce CO2 emissions, he gave the carbon tax half a sentence, and spent the rest of the time talking about how people should switch off the lights and practice the 3Rs. What about the fact that industries are responsible for more than 60% of Singapore’s emissions, compared to households which are responsible for 6%?

Image: Nas Daily

Yes, Semakau is filling up, and we don’t want to have to figure out how to do Bukit Semakau or Gunung Semakau. But the solution shouldn’t be for ordinary Singaporeans like Farah to start movements like Repair Kopitiam to advocate for individuals to reduce waste and consumption. Businesses are the ones who should be responsible for reducing waste generated from their products, and the government should be responsible for regulating businesses to ensure they do so, instead of pushing the responsibility to ordinary citizens.

PM Lee also mentioned that we must do our fair share of reducing emissions before we can be credible in asking others to reduce their emissions, and work towards a global solution to climate change. But how can we be credible when we aren’t going to be reducing our CO2 emissions till 2030? In fact, we’re simply going to increase our emissions at a slower rate until 2030!

I have nothing against adaptation since it secures Singapore against rising sea levels. But can we adapt our way out of rising temperatures, diseases, food shortages, or forced migration? I don’t think so.

One statement that stood out was this: “Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation.”

I fully agree with this, but it seems like our economy isn’t bending at the knee to take on the threat of climate change. All we seem to be doing is trying to increase GDP while continuing business as usual, and trying to extract every last cent we can from the fossil fuel industry on Jurong Island before it becomes unprofitable.

Sea levels rising due to climate change is one of the existential threats to Singapore. But instead of trying to limit sea levels by mitigating climate change, we’re trying to adapt by raising ourselves higher.

To all the points on mitigation, the government would probably say, “Yes, mitigation is important, but we only contribute 0.11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and therefore our contributions to global emissions are negligible. However, everyone should do their part by switching off the lights when not in use and recycling.”

And that would distract from the fact that we contribute more than the 0.11% of emissions we are willing to be accountable for. Singapore is a major shipping and aviation hub, but emissions from international shipping and aviation fuels don’t count to our emissions even though they are almost 3 times of Singapore’s emissions. Our refineries also produce fossil fuels that are exported overseas and contribute to emissions elsewhere.

The most ironic thing? We’re going to be spending money to defend Jurong Island from the very sea level rise it has helped to create.

A view of ExxonMobil at Jurong Island.

Another ironic thing is that climate change is causing the ice in the Arctic to melt, which also affects Singapore’s position as a shipping hub, since ships will be able to traverse the northern passage and bypass Singapore in the future. But climate change and the melting Arctic seems to have been forgotten in our plans to double our port capacities to 72 million TEUs.

PM Lee ends his speech with this: “What we talk about, this Government, we will deliver.”

I have no doubt that this is true. But what if what I want is not what you’re talking about?

What could have been shared at the NDR instead?

Raising the carbon tax to at least USD$135 by 2030 as recommended by the IPCC. Announcing more ambitious targets on carbon emission reductions. Even announcing that Singapore plans to shut down the Tuas Coal Power Plant would have been more welcome than the segment on mitigating climate change with nothing new.

Can we afford to not do more on climate change mitigation? I don’t think so.

And PM Lee, that is why I am ashamed of what your generation is not doing.

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