Analysis panning S'pore's climate targets as 'critically insufficient' lacks nuance: Govt

Singapore's Government said the Climate Action Tracker analysis does not account for constraints faced by the country in its decarbonisation journey.
Singapore's Government said the Climate Action Tracker analysis does not account for constraints faced by the country in its decarbonisation journey.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A climate research consortium has pegged Singapore's climate targets as being "critically insufficient" - the worst rating on a five-point scale - putting the nation alongside Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

But the Government has refuted the Climate Action Tracker assessment, saying the analysis lacks nuance, as it does not account for constraints faced by the country in its decarbonisation journey, such as its high population density and limited access to various renewable energy sources.

The Climate Action Tracker is a collaboration between two Germany-based research organisations - Climate Analytics and the New Climate Institute.

It analyses the climate pledges of 39 countries and the European Union, covering the biggest emitters as well as a representative sample of smaller emitters, which together contribute about 80 per cent of global emissions.

The Republic contributes about 0.11 per cent to global emissions.

What the report said about Singapore

On Sept 15, Climate Action Tracker published its analysis for Singapore's climate targets, ranking them as being "critically insufficient".

This is the worst rating on its five-point scale.

The other four are: highly insufficient, insufficient, almost sufficient and 1.5 deg C Paris Agreement compatible.

Only one country - the Gambia - has targets deemed suitable for the highest category.

Nations whose targets were labelled "almost sufficient" include Britain, Nepal, Costa Rica and Ethiopia.

Jurisdictions with "insufficient" pledges include the European Union, the United States, Germany and Japan, while countries with "highly insufficient" pledges include Indonesia, China, Australia and India.

Under the Paris Agreement, nations must take progressive action to reduce their carbon footprint so the world has a greater chance of limiting warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels - the threshold to which warming must be kept to avoid harsher climate impacts.

On this front, Singapore said in its updated climate pledge last year that the country's emissions will peak at 65 million tonnes by 2030. This means that even if the economy continues to grow, the amount of emissions produced should not.

Over a longer time horizon, Singapore wants to halve the amount of emissions it produces from its 2030 peak by 2050, with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions "as soon as viable in the second half of the century".

But the Climate Action Tracker said Singapore's rating showed that the nation's climate policies and commitments "reflect minimal to no action and are not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement".

"If fully implemented, Singapore's current policies would result in emissions reductions beyond its targets, but still only in line with 3 deg C warming," the analysis added.

"Singapore needs to set a more ambitious target for emissions reductions and establish associated policies to improve its Climate Action Tracker ratings."

Singapore Government responds

In response to this assessment, a spokesman for the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) told The Straits Times that the Government is still reviewing the methodology.

But he added: "Our preliminary sense is that the Climate Action Tracker may not have fully accounted for our unique challenges as a small city-state with limited access to alternative energy sources."

The spokesman said Singapore's population density is more than 10 times higher than the next densest country in the Climate Action Tracker list, South Korea.

He added: "Given our lack of land, Singapore is unable to pursue the same types of solutions as the other countries on the list, for example hydro or nuclear power."

But Singapore is still working to manage its emissions within these constraints through careful long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, he said.

Singapore's energy mix has a low proportion of coal at 1.2 per cent, compared with other countries, including Japan's 29.8 per cent and Germany's 29.2 per cent, said the NCCS spokesman citing Bloomberg data.

Coal is the dirtiest form of fossil fuel. Singapore relies largely on natural gas, a fossil fuel cleaner than coal, for its energy needs. More than 95 per cent of its energy comes from this source.

The NCCS spokesman also said Singapore is exploring ways to diversify its energy mix by harnessing greener options such as solar energy, clean energy imports, and low-carbon alternatives.

The Government is also reviewing the trajectory and level of the carbon tax, post-2023, in consultation with industry and expert groups.

He added: "Even as we implement existing initiatives, we also look to enhancing our sustainability goals and actions. Singapore is committed to doing our part to contribute to the global fight against climate change, through tangible action."

Climate policy observer Melissa Low from the National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute, acknowledged the country faces constraints in decarbonisation.

She said Singapore's updated climate target is closely linked to its first one, and represents progression from an emissions intensity to an absolute peak target.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are urged to make new or updated pledges every five years, so that national climate action is periodically ratcheted up.

But as these pledges are determined by nations, it also means that countries are not obligated to submit entirely new ones. They could, for instance, simply resubmit what they had pledged to do in their first one.

Under the first pledge made in 2015, Singapore's main goal was to become greener economically and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, come 2030.

It also pledged to stop any further increases to its greenhouse gas emissions by the same timeline.

In its updated climate pledge last year, Singapore committed to the absolute peak emission level of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030.

Ms Low said the Government had publicly said that Singapore, in the formulation of its 2030 target of reducing emissions per dollar of GDP, had already expected emissions to stabilise at around 65 million tonnes of emissions by then if the former was achieved.

"The aim to peak emissions highlights that Singapore will work towards reducing emissions after 2030," she said. "The enhanced target allows for better accountability but is not necessarily more ambitious."