Speech by SM Teo Chee Hean at the PMO Committee of Supply 2020

SM Teo Chee Hean | 28 February 2020

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the PMO Committee of Supply 2020 on "A Low-Carbon and Climate Resilient Singapore" on 28 February 2020.


“A Low-Carbon and Climate Resilient Singapore”

Mr Chairman, Sir.

Addressing Climate Change

Across the globe, the effects of climate change are clear and present. Weather patterns have become more extreme; ice sheets and glaciers are melting. Singapore too has experienced more episodes of unusually heavy rainfall accompanied by some flooding. Prolonged dry weather exacerbates the smoke haze that affects our region. As a low-lying island, we remain fundamentally vulnerable.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change, which I chair, was formed in 2007. The IMCCC coordinates, formulates and monitors the execution of our national plans to reduce our carbon emissions (referred to as mitigation), and to prepare for the consequences of climate change (referred to as adaptation).

In his budget speech, DPM Heng stated Singapore’s intention to chart our vision for a low-carbon, sustainable future. Allow me, Mr Chairman, to inform the House of our plans.

Later this year, Singapore will submit our enhanced 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, to the Paris Agreement. We will also submit our Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy, or LEDS, for 2050 and beyond to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC). Our enhanced 2030 NDC and LEDS build on policies and initiatives we have progressively implemented over the years. They demonstrate our seriousness and commitment to support international climate action and a low-carbon future.

Setting out our vision well in advance, will provide a clear sense of direction, and give ourselves and our stakeholders, the time to effect a well-managed transition to a low-carbon economy. This will also allow us to grow new sectors in our economy, and create new jobs and opportunities.

Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah, Mr Desmond Choo Mr Ong Teng Koon, and Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked about the Government’s approach and strategies for climate change. The development of our enhanced NDC for 2030, and our LEDS aspiration for 2050 and beyond, is guided by a principled approach. It is Considered, it is Committed, and it is Collective.

A Considered Approach

We fully appreciate the significance and impact of climate change. This is why climate change policy is being strongly coordinated as a key whole-of-nation issue under the Prime Minister’s Office. Our climate policies and strategies are carefully and thoroughly considered. At the same time, we are not exclusively focused on climate change. We look at realistic and practical policies and measures we can implement, taking into account the best available science and technology, and fully integrated with the larger context of the entire range of challenges we face in our national policy framework. This is the approach we take to ensure a smooth and well-managed transition to a low-carbon economy.

We have always believed that the pursuit of economic growth can be compatible and mutually reinforcing with environmental objectives. This approach has allowed Singapore today to have one of the lowest carbon emissions per GDP dollar, or Emissions Intensity. We are ranked among the 20 best countries out of 141 countries in 2017. Our performance in the Human Development Index and UN Sustainable Development Goals are also very commendable.

This has been a collective effort. We invited views and consulted Singaporeans on important climate issues such as the carbon tax, achieving zero waste, and our LEDS. We received many suggestions on how to reduce our emissions, in fact over 2000. At the same time, our contributors also recognised that there are practical constraints and potential trade-offs.

In particular, we are very mindful of our limited alternative energy options. Singapore’s geography is a key limiting factor in our ability to harness renewable energy at scale. We do not have great rivers for hydropower. Wind power is limited both by space as well as light and variable winds. We continue to study the potential for nuclear power, but we assess that the current generation of nuclear power plants are not suitable for deployment in Singapore.

These are serious constraints compared to better-endowed countries. Nevertheless, we are committed to doing our best, and doing our part to combat climate change. Our enhanced NDC and LEDS set out realistic but challenging and ambitious goals for Singapore, drawing on citizens’ suggestions and taking into account our national circumstances. Let me elaborate.

Committed To Reducing Emissions

In 2015, we set our 2030 NDC target to reduce our emissions intensity in 2030 by 36% from 2005 levels, and to peak by around 2030. We are on track to meet this commitment. Ms Rahayu Mahzam will be glad to know that we will be enhancing our NDC by committing to an absolute peak emission level of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent around 2030. All countries are also now required to report on the 7th greenhouse gas, Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3) by 2024. We will go beyond reporting NF3, and commit to including NF3 in our pledge, within this same emissions ceiling.

Constraining our total emissions within this absolute cap up to 2030 means that every sector in Singapore will need to put in significant effort to limit our emissions. We will need to do so in order to move towards a low-carbon nation in the coming decade, with new commercial and industrial enterprises, and new growth areas such as the digital economy. We all have to play a part in reducing our emissions to meet our 2030 commitment.          

But we aim to do better than that beyond 2030. Our Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy aspires to halve the emissions from our  2030 peak, to 33 Million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, with a view to achieving net-zero emissions as soon as viable in the second half of the century.

This will be very challenging given our limited alternative energy options. We have studied the matter very carefully and developed a strategy to do so. With your permission, Mr Chairman, may I display a slide on the House screens, and request the clerks to distribute a document to Members?

There are three thrusts in our strategy. First, we need transformations in our industry, economy, and society. Second, we will have to draw on technologies, which are not yet mature such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), and low-carbon fuels. Third, we will need international collaboration in areas such as well-functioning carbon markets and regional electricity grids.

Each thrust will contribute to halving our emissions. We will pursue all three vigorously to achieve our aspiration. The extent to which potential emission reductions from each thrust can be realised will become clearer in the coming years, as we gain experience from implementing our programmes, as technology evolves, and as the modalities for international cooperation and collaboration become formalised. If the actual reductions from each thrust are larger than we now assess, or are available sooner, then we can realise our aspiration earlier. On the other hand, if the potential reductions turn out to be less promising, we will still strive to meet our LEDS aspiration to the best of our ability even though the task becomes more difficult. 

Let me now provide some details of the various programmes.

Keeping carbon emissions low from electrical power generation, which currently accounts for 39% of our emissions, will become more important, especially as we push for greater electrification of our nation. In October 2019, Minister Chan Chun Sing outlined how we will harness the four supply switches of “Natural Gas”, “Solar”, “Regional Power Grids”, and “Low-Carbon Alternatives”, together with greater efficiency in energy use on the demand side to accelerate our energy transformation.

While we are limited in hydro, wind and nuclear energy, we are pressing ahead with solar energy. We are significantly accelerating our deployment of solar, from 350 Megawatt peak by the end of this year, to at least 2 Gigawatt-peak (GWp) by 2030.

To achieve our current goal of 350 MWp by the end of the year, we are deploying solar panels on about one in two HDB rooftops, and in several of our reservoirs. To achieve 2 GWp, we will do more. We are deploying off-shore solar farms, and HDB aims to install as many solar panels as feasible on HDB rooftops. As an example, in Pasir Ris Town, almost all HDB rooftops will have solar panels by 2030, and deployment is already progressing. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong will say more about greening our towns in MND’s COS.

Even at such a scale, 2GWp of solar power will still only meet around 4% of our current annual electricity needs and 10% of our current peak daily electricity needs. To go significantly beyond this, we need technical breakthroughs, for example, to deploy safe and highly efficient and cost effective solar panels on vertical building surfaces, not just horizontal ones. These building surfaces will only receive solar radiation for part of the day.

This is why we still need the other three switches to decarbonise our grid. To provide our base load power generation, we had decided early on, in the early 2000s, to switch from fuel oil to natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel available. Many countries are still highly dependent on coal. We moved away from that in 1956 and we moved to natural gas in the early 2000s. We are exploring tapping regional power grids, and studying emerging low or zero-carbon alternatives such as solar-derived hydrogen to further reduce emissions from power generation. Having regional power grids is an alternative, but we also have to examine the issues of diversity and resilience. We have diversified away from piped water and piped natural gas. We should also have diversity when we are considering piped electricity.

For industries with sizeable electricity consumption, the progressive decarbonisation of our power grid will help to reduce emissions. But we will also need to reduce emissions all across our economy.

The industry sector at 60% is our largest contributor to carbon emissions. We will work closely with industry to make the necessary adjustments, capture new business opportunities, and build up their competitive advantage in this transition. We want to be at the forefront of the global move towards environmentally sustainable production, and seize the new opportunities this creates.

Our industries produce not just for Singapore, but also to meet the needs of the global market. We will work with our industries so that they are known to be among the best-in-class in global energy and carbon efficiency as we produce for the rest of the world. Last year, we enhanced our grant schemes to help companies improve their energy efficiency. We are also going beyond individual companies to bring companies together to achieve systems-level efficiency gains. We are also working with industry and our research community to study new technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and low-carbon hydrogen, to evaluate and plan the next steps for Singapore. The carbon tax, which we have introduced, will collect roughly $1 billion over the first five years and we intend to invest more than that into helping our companies to adapt, move and transform for a low-carbon future.

In urban transportation, we are already a global pioneer in limiting vehicle population and reducing traffic congestion. Major investments in public transport and active mobility infrastructure will pave the way for 9 in 10 of all peak period journeys to be made using "Walk-Cycle-Ride" transport modes by 2040.

These policies tackle the urban transport issue systematically, not just individual pieces of it. We tackle it at its root where the most gains in energy and carbon efficiency are reaped. But we will also move towards enhancing the overall carbon efficiency in urban transport through the large-scale adoption of green vehicles. As announced by DPM Heng, we will phase out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040, and have all vehicles running on cleaner energy. MEWR and MND will say more about how we will provide incentives and lay the enabling charging infrastructure to achieve this.

These efforts will make a significant difference. But how quickly they can be realised depends on technological advancements, and how quickly manufacturers can bring attractive, cost-efficient electric vehicles to the market. Our commercial and residential buildings are also major users of energy. Since the launch of the Green Mark scheme in 2005, we have greened more than 40% of our buildings by gross floor area. We will push on to achieve our goal to green 80% of our buildings by 2030, and beyond that we aim to increase the number of buildings that are even more energy efficient.

All of us have a part to play. We have introduced minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and mandatory energy labelling (MELS) for common household appliances. By purchasing more efficient appliances, consumers save on their energy costs while reducing emissions. This is truly win-win. With all light bulbs as energy efficient as LED bulbs from 2023, our households will save about $3.5 million annually in energy costs and reduce carbon emissions by around 6.3 kilo tonnes  annually.  MEWR and MND will provide more details.         

Collective Climate Efforts

Ms Cheng Li Hui, Mr Pritam Singh, and Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked how Singapore is contributing to international efforts on climate change. Singapore will do our utmost to work with the international community to tackle climate change. We need effective international cooperation - every country must do its part, or the efforts of each country will be nullified.

Singapore works actively in international forums to strengthen consensus among countries, especially at a time when the multilateral system is under strain. Singapore is often called upon as a constructive and trusted interlocutor to help forge solutions for difficult issues at international climate negotiations. For example, Minister Masagos played key roles in co-facilitating the topic of mitigation at COP-24 in Katowice in 2018, and the key outcomes of the climate negotiations in Madrid last December. We look forward to working closely with the United Kingdom, who will be hosting COP-26 in Glasgow this November.

We are also well positioned to support abatement efforts globally. As a major maritime and aviation hub, we work actively with the International Maritime Organization and International Civil Aviation Organization to address international transport emissions. These are counted separately from our national emissions. MOT will share more details later.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat asked about green financing. As a leading financial centre, we aim to be a green finance hub to spur investments in low-carbon solutions and drive climate action. MAS recently established the US$2 billion Green Investments Programme to anchor green activities of asset managers in Singapore, and support the mainstreaming of green finance. MAS also collaborated with the industry to develop Environmental Risk Management guidelines. These guidelines will set standards on governance, risk management and disclosure and encourage the right-pricing of loans and investments, to promote new green investments.  MAS will issue the guidelines for public consultation in March 2020. I think Mr. Saktiandi would be happy to know that our three local banks have stopped funding regional coal fired power plant projects, and the three of them are very active in financing regional alternative energy projects such as solar power.

Through our Research Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan, we are investing close to S$1 billion in Urban Solutions and Sustainability in areas such as new urban mobility solutions and a next generation energy grid.  As a "living lab", we will continue to serve as a test-bed for innovative solutions that can be exported globally.

Singapore also collaborates actively with international partners, such as the UNFCCC and ASEAN to build capabilities and share experiences.  Since 1992, Singapore has trained more than 130,000 officials from fellow developing countries under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) in key areas such as sustainable development, urban planning, water and transport management.

While Singapore’s efforts to reduce emissions on our own may be modest, our collective efforts with all nations can be substantial.

Asymmetrical Challenge

Mr Chairman, for small island nations like Singapore, climate change poses an asymmetrical challenge. On the one hand, our impact on global emissions is small, but on the other hand the effect of climate change on us is disproportionately large and indeed existential. We must thus plan seriously for the real prospect that sea levels will rise by up to 1 metre by 2100, in line with what climate science is telling us. We need to implement these adaptation plans to protect our country and people. We cannot rely on anyone else to do this for us. We are already taking action. In 2011, we raised the platform level for all new reclamation projects by an additional 1 metre, from 3 metres to 4 metres above the Singapore Height Datum (SHD). The highest high tide ever recorded in Singapore is about 2 metres above the Singapore Height Datum. Raising the level from 3 metres to 4 metres gives an additional 1 metre of clearance, and gives us a 2-metre buffer, so that if sea level rises by 1 metre we will still have 1 metre left.. For key new facilities such as Changi Airport T5, we are raising the platform level even higher, to at least 5 metres above SHD. Marina Barrage which was completed in 2008 already provides some flood protection for our city, but we are looking to see if we can raise that further and even increase the size of the pumps.

Protecting ourselves from sea level rise is a large-scale and long-term effort requiring considerable resources. Our assessments and plans are based on studies which have been commissioned by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change over the past several years.

In his National Day Rally last year, PM Lee outlined the threats from sea level rise, and our plans, estimating that this will cost $100 billion over the next 100 years. DPM Heng announced in the Budget a new Coastal and Flood Protection Fund, with an initial top-up of $5 billion, to start setting aside the resources we need for this. 

We have divided our coastal areas into hydraulically-distinct segments, to study different options for each area. We will now develop these studies into detailed plans and phase in our coastal protection measures. We must start implementing our plans, and be prepared to adjust and adapt them according to the latest sea level rise projections. Minister (EWR) will say more about this in his  COS.

All Must Play a Part

Mr Chairman, Sir, I have just outlined our Whole-of-Government strategy for climate action, which is considered, committed and collective. The relevant Ministries will provide more details on specific plans under their charge. As Mr Seah Kian Peng has highlighted, this is a collective effort. We need all Singaporeans – government, individuals, households, and businesses – all of us, to do our part, and work together as a whole of nation.

As part of Singapore Together, the Government will create more partnership opportunities for Singaporeans to advance climate action. So let us work together to secure the future of Singapore as a climate resilient nation – with a competitive economy, sustainable environment, an environmentally responsible and active citizenry, and a good quality of life for all.


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