Singapore to update climate pledge it made under Paris Agreement: Masagos

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli delivering Singapore's national statement at the annual United Nations climate conference in Madrid on Dec 10, 2019.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli delivering Singapore's national statement at the annual United Nations climate conference in Madrid on Dec 10, 2019.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES

SINGAPORE - The Republic will soon be updating its climate pledge to guide its policies over the longer term, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Tuesday (Dec 10).

This comes some five years after Singapore made its first climate pledge - which outlined its plans to limit its planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 - under the historic Paris Agreement in 2015.

In his delivery of Singapore's national statement at the annual United Nations climate conference in Madrid, or COP25, Mr Masagos noted that countries had to update their 2030 climate pledges, called nationally determined contributions, and communicate their long-term low-emission development strategies by next year.

That was what nearly 200 countries agreed to in Paris in 2015, and what they need to deliver, he said.

Mr Masagos added: "Singapore will play our part. We will update our nationally determined contribution and communicate our long-term low emissions strategy soon."

Under its 2015 pledge, Singapore said it would 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.

Overall, Singapore contributes about 0.11 per cent to global emissions.

However, in terms of per capita emissions, Singapore ranks 27 out of 142 countries - with each person here producing more emissions compared with each person in China, the United Kingdom and Indonesia, according to International Energy Agency data cited on the National Climate Change Secretariat's website.

 
 
 
 

Mr Masagos did not give any specific timeline for when next year Singapore will update its climate pledge.

Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute and a long-time observer of international climate negotiations, said updates to pledges should be made between nine and 12 months ahead of next year's climate change conference in Scotland in November.

So updates by nations can be expected by the first quarter of next year.

Ms Low, who is at COP25, welcomed Singapore’s intent to update its climate pledge, at a time where the impacts of climate change are being felt around the world.

She noted that when Singapore submitted its first target in 2015, it had been described as a “stretch target” – suggesting that it was not easy to meet it.

“The next update should be more ambitious than the earlier pledge to achieve a 36 per cent reduction in emissions intensity,” she told The Straits Times.

It will be important to see how the Government intends to make the pledge more ambitious, as the way the target is framed could have different implications on policies that will affect individuals or businesses.

Mr Eric Bea, a researcher at the NUS’ Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law who is also attending COP25, said Singapore’s updated climate pledge and its long-term low-emission development strategy would help guide future policies. 

“They will be the starting point of Singapore’s climate policy going forward. This will then shape individual ministries’ mandates. For example, how to provide a just transition for employees in the energy and transport sectors towards green-collar careers,” he said. 

National pledges

This is the first time that Singapore has officially said that it will be updating its climate pledge under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris conference in 2015 had requested that countries make new or updated pledges every five years, so that national climate action is periodically ratcheted up. This means the update is due by the end of next year.

However, as the Paris Agreement 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.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington DC-based think-tank, said nationally determined contributions can be updated or enhanced.

Said the institute in a blog post: "'Update' could include the provision of more transparent data and information, while 'enhance' could mean pledging to reduce more emissions or taking additional measures to boost resilience to climate impacts."

According to the WRI, which tracks the commitment of countries to update or enhance their pledges on its 2020 NDC tracker microsite, 41 nations - including Singapore - have stated their intent to update their pledges by next year.

Sixty-eight others, including Norway and the Maldives, have indicated that they would enhance ambition or action.

Only one country - the Marshall Islands - has submitted its second pledge.

The aim of the climate pledges made under the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, with the aim of limiting warming to just 1.5 deg C - the target scientists say is necessary for preventing the worst climate impacts.

However, the first round of pledges did not set the world on this path.

Scientists say that even if all current climate pledges are adhered to, the world would still warm by around 3 deg C.

This is why the Paris Agreement has a provision for countries to ratchet up their pledges every five years, based on the latest in technology and science.

On Tuesday, Mr Masagos told delegates gathered at COP25 that Singapore will work with others to support the efforts of developing countries.

This includes co-organising a workshop on updating climate pledges for Asean countries next month.

"This will also include sharing of best practices and support available," he added.

National efforts

On Tuesday, Mr Masagos highlighted the importance of having climate pledges that can be translated into policy action.

He said: "Countries' headline pledges must be backed by clear, effective domestic policies and plans. The focus must be on how we can generate and use energy sustainably."

The use of fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal, is the main contributor to global warming.

 
 
 

Mr Masagos highlighted different ways in which Singapore - which relies on natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuel, for its energy needs - was doing its part to use energy more sustainably.

It will, for example, ramp up its deployment of solar panels so that it can harness the renewable energy source most available to it.

At the same time, it aims to boost energy efficiency in all sectors.

Singapore is the first country in South-east Asia to implement a carbon tax, with revenue collected from the tax being ploughed back into support for emission reduction projects and energy efficiency schemes, said Mr Masagos.

The Republic also aims to improve its public transport network and provide greater infrastructure for electric vehicles.

On adapting to the impacts of climate change, he pointed to the Republic's efforts at boosting local agriculture as a buffer against global food supply shocks, and said Singapore was also looking into nature-based solutions, such as the restoration of its mangroves, to overcome the challenge of rising sea levels.

Dealing with climate change required all hands on deck, he said.

For its part, the Singapore Government will put in place the appropriate incentives and facilitate capacity development to ease the transition, he said.

"Youths, businesses and civil society will be an important part of this effort," he said.

"We are committed to work with our stakeholders to deliver a better and more sustainable future."