SINGAPORE - There are opportunities to be reaped in the world's quest to rely less on fossil fuels, and Singapore should start preparing itself to capture them, a group of People's Action Party (PAP) MPs have urged.
In the party's second motion on climate change, which will be heard during the parliamentary sitting next week, MPs under the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Sustainability and the Environment are urging the Government to enhance green financing, create more green jobs, and strengthen corporate accountability.
This, they say, should be done "in partnership with the private sector, civil society and community, to advance Singapore's inclusive transition towards a low-carbon society".
Globally, there is the concern that the burden of the green transition could fall unfairly on workers, such as those in the fossil fuel sectors, who face unemployment as gas, oil and coal are phased out in favour of renewables. In Singapore, oil giants ExxonMobil and Shell have, over the past two years, announced that they are shrinking their workforce, axing about 800 jobs.
The MPs behind the motion told the media during a press briefing on Thursday (Jan 6) that they hope to push for initiatives such as building a new academy to train workers and focus on sustainability-related research and development.
"The Green Space Academy would be a dedicated facility to help aspiring (workers) transit to the green economy and quickly pick up the skills and knowledge needed to work in such sectors," said deputy chairman of the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC).
Other aspects that the motion hopes to facilitate discussions on include creating more jobs in the sustainability sectors, helping local businesses adopt more green practices, and preparing the country to become a regional hub for the trade in carbon credits, said the MPs .
Ms Poh had filed the private member's motion, which is supported by MPs including the GPC's chairman Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), and Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), as well as the GPC for Finance and Trade and Industry.
Their private member's motion allows all MPs to take part in the ensuing debate, and at least 15 MPs are expected to speak on the motion in parliament next week.
The latest motion follows the first one that was debated in February last year, which saw the House agreeing that climate change was a global emergency and that the Government should accelerate efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The first parliamentary motion was also filed by the GPC for Sustainability and the Environment.
In 2020, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment estimated that the sustainability sector - including the agri-tech and waste management industries - is expected to add 55,000 new and upgraded jobs in the next decade.
But citing a recent survey done by HSBC Bank, Ms Nadia said the lack of qualified staff could reduce the amount of funds that investors concerned over environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues pour into Asia. ESG refers to investments that consider environmental, social and governance principles.
The survey had found that 40 per cent of investors in Asia have a firm-wide policy on sustainable investing in ESG areas. But 40 per cent in Asia is lower compared with 91 per cent in Europe and 72 per cent in the United States, the survey found.
"What we really want to ensure here is that Singaporeans of all backgrounds can be front and centre to participate and take advantage of these opportunities (in the green sector)," added Ms Nadia.
The GPC is also concerned about how local businesses of all sizes can survive and thrive as sustainability concerns become more integrated into the global market.
Mr Wee said local corporations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have told him that they wish to adopt more sustainable practices, but many of them do not know how to go about it, and are concerned with costs.
To address that, Mr Wee and other MPs will speak on the need to provide more guidance for companies to reduce their carbon emissions. They will propose that the Government publish a catalogue of firms with low or reduced carbon emissions, so that other companies are incentivised to follow best practices.
The MPs speaking on the motion will draw on a paper by the youth wing of the PAP (Young PAP) that had focused on developing a green economic ecosystem, which proposed changes to Singapore's carbon tax policy, among other areas.
Singapore's carbon tax, which is currently at $5 per tonne of emissions until 2023, has been pegged as being too low by climate change observers. The revised rate for 2024 and beyond will be announced during next month's Budget.
The MPs said they will suggest a tiered carbon tax rate so that larger emitters pay more than middle-tier emitters, to incentivise firms to reduce their carbon footprint.
Mr Wee said: "As sustainability standards become essential in the global marketplace, we need to help our businesses get ahead of the curve. When the firms have more opportunities, I'm sure Singaporeans will also have better jobs and higher income."
Issues to be raised during the second climate change motion
1. Developing a green workforce
A SkillsFuture report released in December 2021 estimated that there are more than 450 job roles across 17 sectors in the green economy, with opportunities for urban farmers, energy traders, environment health and safety managers, sustainability managers and solar project engineers.
Ms Poh noted that to prepare the economy for the additional thousands of jobs, the education system needs to get ready. She said the speeches on the motion next week will cover the need to have more internship opportunities for students, and have educators optimise course materials for their students.
Beyond green jobs, as Singapore develops into a sustainability-related finance and accounting hub, more roles will be created for accountants and auditors in this space, added Mr Wee.
2. Changes to the carbon tax
A carbon tax provides the price signal to encourage companies to reduce their emissions.
Singapore's carbon tax currently applies to all facilities producing 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions in a year, covering 30 to 40 large emitters that contribute 80 per cent of Singapore's greenhouse gas emissions.
The current rate, which is $5 per tonne of emissions, has been pegged as being too low by climate change observers.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recommended that by 2030, various economies should each implement a carbon price floor based on a tiered system to reduce emissions enough to keep global warming below 2 deg C - the threshold to avoid catastrophic climate change outlined in the Paris Agreement, the world's climate pact.
Based on the IMF's recommendation, the 2030 price floor should be US$75 (S$100) per tonne of emissions for advanced economies, US$50 for high-income emerging- market economies such as China, and US$25 for lower-income emerging markets such as India.
3. Green finance
Singapore has ambitions to become a leading green financial hub.
The instruments driving a green economy include the trade in carbon credits. Carbon credits represent one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions that is either avoided (renewable energy plant) or removed from the atmosphere (forest conservation projects).
Buying a carbon credit essentially entails paying someone else - such as a company embarking on a forest conservation project elsewhere - to reduce one tonne of planet-warming emissions on the buyer's behalf.
Nominated MP and conservation scientist Koh Lian Pin, who helms the Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions at the National University of Singapore, said that during the parliamentary discussion, he will raise the importance of how the use of high quality carbon offsets can be part of Singapore's low-carbon transition.
"I will also mention that it is important to address issues around the lack of transparency in the global carbon marketplace to ensure that carbon offsetting actually delivers the benefits it promises," Professor Koh told The Straits Times.