PARIS -Singapore called for an ambitious climate pact at the United Nations-led talks Paris on Monday and singled out illegal forest and land fires as being detrimental to the global fight against rising temperatures and extreme weather.
During his delivery of Singapore's National Statement at the Paris talks, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, praised the nearly 190 nations, covering about 95 per cent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions, that have submitted their national climate action plans. These plans form the foundation of a Paris agreement.
"We must now match these pledges with a global agreement that promotes the ability to raise ambition over time and bring our world closer towards climate safety," he told delegates to the conference. The Paris talks, called COP 21, aim to seal a global deal to ease the threat from more extreme weather and rising sea levels.
He said an ambitious agreement was only meaningful if all nations that are party to the deal were on board.
"Reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions is not only about mitigating emissions from our industrial sectors; it can also be about protecting our forests and preventing peatland fires," he said, noting that peatlands were major carbon sinks, storing up to 20 times more carbon than tropical rainforests on mineral soils.
"However, with peatland fires caused by slash and burn practices of errant companies, they are no longer carbon sinks but a source of CO2 emissions" and haze pollution that causes widespread health and economic impacts, he said.
He said the huge amount of carbon emissions from forest and peatland fires risked undermining the carbon-cutting efforts made by other countries.
He said it was important nations sign up to "a robust measurement, reporting and verification system" of national actions and to strengthen the capacity of nations to curb their emissions. "Amongst others, capacity to combat illegal burning and other forms of abuse in the land sectors will address this recurring problem."
As part of its national climate plan, Singapore has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and stabilise its emissions with the aim of peaking around the same time.
Singapore also has a large programme to train up officials from developing countries. To date, nearly 11,000 officials from developing countries have been trained in climate change issues in Singapore. "We will continue to expand capacity building courses in both mitigation and adaptation, with a focus on helping fellow developing countries implement the Paris Agreement," the minister told delegates.
During a doorstop interview afterwards, Mr Masagos said the negotiations will be tough over the next few days. "But I am hopeful that members understand how important this agreement is."
He said it will take time to achieve Singapore's target. "It's a period of 15 years. But I think if we understand what and how big this problem is facing not just us but the world, particularly Singapore being an island, we all ought to be serious about it."
Asked for his view about criticisms that Singapore's target is not ambitious enough, he said the government had to be pragmatic about how and when it could achieve its commitment.
"We look from our condition where we do not have natural resources to rely on to power our economy. We therefore need to work on what we have right now and to adjust our economic mix so that we can still provide the livelihoods and economy that Singapore needs to thrive on. At the same time, be a responsible player in this climate change initiative."
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is in Paris at the head of the Singapore delegation, said in a Facebook posting on Monday: "Since touching down in Paris on Sunday, we have been immersed in an intensive series of meetings. Still significant gaps, but there is a positive spirit in finding 'landing zones' that we can agree on. It's going to be a long week."