SINGAPORE - The existential threat of climate change is an issue that nations cannot ignore, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Monday (Oct 21) at the first Singapore meeting of scientists from the United Nations' climate science body.
"We must not take our eyes off the long-term, existential challenge of climate change. Otherwise, citizens will take their cause to the streets and reason will fail to rule," he said, highlighting the scale of the issue in his strongest comments on climate change to date.
Citizens around the world, including young people, have recognised climate change as a defining issue of their time, Mr Masagos said, citing the global school strikes for climate and Singapore's first climate rally at Hong Lim Park in September.
"We have to give them the confidence that we are taking their concerns seriously. It is our responsibility to work together with them to address this challenge," said Mr Masagos in a speech ahead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting in Singapore.
About 80 experts from the IPCC are gathered at Resorts World Sentosa's convention centre, where they will, over the next three days, hammer out details on what an upcoming report on the state of the planet will include.
The Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is due in 2022, and will provide governments with the most updated scientific information relevant to climate change that can be used to guide policies.
The report will also draw on three special reports that the IPCC released over the last year, ranging from the different impacts of a 1.5 deg C versus a 2 deg C warming scenario, as well as the impacts of climate change on land use, the oceans and the cryosphere - the frozen parts of the planet.
IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said Singapore is an active partner and contributor to international climate science and diplomacy.
Dr Lee, whose research includes the economics of climate change, energy and sustainable development, said he had met Mr Masagos several times, including at the UN climate change conference in Paris in 2015.
"There you said how the IPCC's reports had helped you to take strategic decisions on the capacity expansion of water reservoirs for Singapore, which lacks any significant, accessible natural aquifers," said Dr Lee, a professor at Korea University Graduate School of Energy and Environment.
"Thank you, Minister Masagos, for the confidence and trust in our work," said Dr Lee, adding that he hopes that the new synthesis report of the AR6 would help nations, including Singapore, "find the best solutions for the rapid transition we need for climate stabilisation".
Mr Masagos noted that the meeting of the IPCC in Singapore was taking place at a turbulent time.
Climate change is a multilateral issue, one that requires a strong, united global response, he said.
But the multilateral system is under strain, with the rise of nationalist, isolationist and protectionist sentiments, said Mr Masagos.
He added: "Despite awareness and concern about climate change being at its highest, some governments at one end of the spectrum allow forests to be burned to clear land for economic development, and use coal for energy generation. At the other end, other governments respond to green demands, and threaten to impose green border taxes and trade barriers."
Last month's climate summit in New York, convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, had helped to galvanise global action, Mr Masagos said.
But this momentum must be sustained.
Added Mr Masagos: "Everyone, every country, matters."
Singapore Management University's Associate Professor Winston Chow, a lead author for the IPCC AR6, said the panel's meeting in Singapore is significant, as experts and IPCC bureau members can interact with Singapore-based climate change authorities and government officials.
He said: "They can directly see steps taken in Singapore on local climate change research, current actions taken to reduce Singapore's vulnerability to impacts, and mitigation measures implemented now and in the future."
Even Singapore, which contributes just 0.11 per cent to global emissions, has a role to play, Mr Masagos said.
He said Singapore needs to work hard to curb its carbon emissions, but acknowledged that this will not be easy due to the Republic's limited access to clean energy.
Currently, about 95 per cent of Singapore's energy needs are met by natural gas - the cleanest form of fossil fuel, but a fossil fuel nonetheless.
While solar energy is the most viable renewable energy source for Singapore, the country's dense, built-up environment may pose an obstacle for using solar panels due to land scarcity and the possibility of surrounding buildings casting shade on the panels. Cloudiness and intermittent sunshine are other challenges.
Like many other countries around the world, Singapore is also grappling with the effects on climate change, Mr Masagos said, pointing to how last month was Singapore's hottest and driest September on record.
"The highest mean daily maximum temperature reached 33 deg C, exceeding the previous record of 32.2 deg C set in September 1997," he said. "Our weather is getting warmer, our rainstorms heavier, and dry spells more pronounced. Sea level rise threatens our island nation."
But Singapore will not be paralysed by despair.
It will tackle this challenge head-on, the Singapore way, he said, highlighting three key areas: adapting to and mitigating climate change; basing policies on robust science; and galvanising collective action.
For example, Singapore was the first country in South-east Asia to introduce a carbon tax, and the Republic is also investing heavily in research and development to decarbonise its infrastructure.
Singapore also recognises the importance of basing its climate change policies on science, which is why the Republic supports the IPCC - an independent body that provides robust, objective and transparent scientific assessments, Mr Masagos said.
"In today's world where the discourse on climate change has become politically heightened, the IPCC's role is even more critical in imbuing greater objectivity and scientific rigour in our dialogues and policy choices," he added.
But governments cannot tackle climate change alone, Mr Masagos said. "I therefore encourage the scientists and experts gathered here to share and communicate climate science to the public, to spur the growing global movement for climate action."
He also addressed the younger generation: "As for young people, let us put into the hands of our youth the tools of science, to take on the environmental challenges of tomorrow."