Budget debate: Climate change plans are long-term investments to secure S'pore for future generations, says DPM Heng

Singapore has an ambitious plan to meet the challenge of climate change, said Mr Heng Swee Keat. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The efforts made to tackle climate change are long-term investments that represent the Government's commitment to coming generations of Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

This is an existential battle that Singapore, as a small, low-lying island state, is waging, and one that will take place over the long haul, he said on Friday (Feb 28) in a speech to round up the debate on the Budget statement.

Fighting climate change was a major limb of this year's Budget.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, had announced fresh measures to tackle this global problem, including phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, expanding charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs) and injecting $5 billion into a new coastal and flood protection fund to protect Singapore from rising sea levels.

"I could have chosen instead to spend it on more 'hong baos' or red packets, to make myself more popular," said Mr Heng, referring to the fund.

"But by making the commitment today, these resources will go towards pumps, tidal gates and infrastructure that will keep our children, and their children, safe from rising sea levels in decades to come."

He pointed out that Singapore has always risen to the challenge in the face of adversity and turned its "constraints into opportunities and strengths", as it has done in dealing with its limited water, land and manpower.

The country has an ambitious plan to meet the challenge of climate change, he said.

"We are not only securing our coasts, but also transforming our sources of food and water, and remaking our entire economy and city for a green and sustainable future," he added.

The National Climate Change Secretariat is coordinating this inter-agency effort, he noted.

During the debate, MPs had asked about the Government's bet on electric vehicles (EVs), pointing out that a rebate it would offer on the Additional Registration Fee for such vehicles seemed insufficient.

Responding, Mr Heng said he expects the cost differential between EVs and conventional vehicles to drop as technology improves, but added that "a car-lite vision continues to be the main focus" of Singapore's transport policy.

"While we want to encourage drivers to replace their internal combustion engine vehicles with EVs, we should bear in mind that the cleanest and most efficient mode of transport remains public transport," he said.

MPs had also noted that the fight against climate change required a mindset shift among Singaporeans, and that everyone had to participate.

Agreeing, Mr Heng said this was a "whole-of-society, multi-generational effort" that could span "50, even 100 years".

"If we take the long-term view, and each generation plays its part, Singapore can face the future with confidence," he said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.