Future generations should share climate change burden: Sam Tan

(From left) Mr Manuel Barange, director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations; Mr Jens Frolich Holte, State Secretary at Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr
(From left) Mr Manuel Barange, director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations; Mr Jens Frolich Holte, State Secretary at Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr Stephen Sackur, panel moderator and BBC News journalist; Mr Sam Tan, Singapore's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Mr Evan Bloom, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries at the US Department of State; Mr Vladimir Ryabinin, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of Unesco and Unesco's assistant director-general, at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, on Tuesday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Junior minister says it's only fair that the young shoulder some of the responsibilities

Rising sea levels threaten Singapore's survival directly, and mitigating the effects is a burden that future generations of Singaporeans have to shoulder, said Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan.

"Climate change concerns the well-being of future generations. I think it is only fair that they would have to shoulder their share of the responsibility because it cuts across so many decades."

Mr Tan was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, where he attended one of the plenary sessions as a panellist.

"It's not sufficient for one generation to raise the funds. Our generation also has our own priorities and important infrastructure that we want to put in place to make sure we are able to grow the economy and create enough jobs."

Borrowed spending was identified last year as a possible source the Government would tap to fund infrastructural projects that are essential in the light of climate change, such as sea walls.

During the plenary session themed Sustainable Arctic Ocean on Tuesday, Mr Tan highlighted that developments in the Arctic could affect Singapore.

The melting of sea ice in the region leads to more heat being absorbed by the oceans, since sea ice serves to reflect sunlight.

As the ocean warms and expands, it also results in rising sea level.

Mr Tan told an audience made up of academics, businessmen and policymakers: "We have 5.7 million people living on this tiny island, and we have literally built our city to the brink of the land... With climate change, a melting Arctic and rising sea levels, Singapore is also in trouble. If this happens, our future prime minister will have to conduct Cabinet meetings in a scuba diver's suit, for we will be submerged underwater."

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year, sea levels could rise by up to 1.1m if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

The Republic is expected to spend an estimated $100 billion to mitigate the effects of climate change. Already, the island state has been gearing up for the changes to come by, for example, constructing new buildings higher and raising road levels. One-third of Singapore - including the country's central business district - is low-lying, or less than 5m above sea level.

 
 
 
 

Said Mr Tan: "We will raise our peripheral and low-lying areas by more than 1m by 2100. We have decided to set aside more than $100 billion to deal with the rising sea level. New developments will be built 4m above sea level, and critical infrastructure will be elevated 5m above sea level."

Mr Audun Halvorsen, State Secretary to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Straits Times that countries in the tropics like Singapore can affect the Arctic and vice versa.

He said: "The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The Arctic sea ice is retreating faster than ever, and the polar glaciers and ice caps are shrinking.

"But this development is mainly caused by factors outside of the Arctic, for example, emission from factories, cars and other pollutants. We therefore need to find global solutions to this problem."

During the session, Mr Tan emphasised Singapore's commitment to reduce carbon emissions, citing the carbon tax that came into effect last year as an example. The tax is imposed on facilities that generate 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year, and applies uniformly to all sectors.

Said Mr Tan: "Around 2030, we want to reduce our emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels. This is a very painful process. But compared with the pain of Singapore being overrun by seawater, it is a political price we think we should pay."

Arctic Frontiers is an international conference that brings more than 3,000 delegates from more than 35 countries together to discuss pertinent Arctic issues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2020, with the headline 'Future generations should share climate change burden: Sam Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe