After Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Government will spend an estimated $100 billion in the long term to protect Singapore from rising sea levels, some people asked him: Why not take those funds to help the needy now?
"But if we don't pay attention to 50, 100 years from now, I think you are going to have a big problem before 50 and 100 years come," PM Lee said yesterday at a forum with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) students.
Climate change is something that will happen in Singaporeans' and their children's lifetimes, and the Government's approach is to look ahead and prepare for such future challenges, even while tackling short-term priorities, he noted.
In his National Day Rally last month, PM Lee had set out the threat of climate change and measures to mitigate its effects.
Speaking at the SUSS' inaugural ministerial forum, he said responses to his National Day Rally showed that climate change resonated more with young Singaporeans because they saw the urgency of the problem and wanted to do something about it. Older Singaporeans focused more on immediate issues like the economy.
A student asked whether Singapore's spending on climate change mitigation was futile, in the light of the United States pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a global climate change pact agreed to by nearly 200 countries. PM Lee replied: "We can't force other countries to do what we think we would like them to do. All we can do is our share."
But if other countries still do not do their part, then Singapore has to protect itself, he said. "And if need be, more than ($100 billion), in order to make sure that if the sea levels rise, Singapore does not become a smaller island, which otherwise is very much on the cards."
He also contrasted Singapore's long-term approach with the immediate political and resource pressures facing governments around the world, from population growth to agricultural land and coal mining.
"I don't think those are pressures which governments can easily ignore because if you ignore, then somebody else will turn up... the government which wants to be green is kicked out.
"All we can do is to say, let's work at this together. There is a Paris accord, it is a first step. It is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction... If we don't do our part, we are not good global citizens."