S'pore refutes report that gives its climate targets a poor rating

Govt says Climate Action Tracker assessment does not account for constraints faced by the country

A research consortium has pegged Singapore's climate targets as "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 does not account for constraints faced by the country, 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. This covers the biggest emitters and a representative sample of smaller emitters, which together contribute about 80 per cent to global emissions. Singapore's share is 0.11 per cent.

Last week, Climate Action Tracker published its analysis for Singapore's climate targets, labelling them as "critically insufficient". The other four ratings 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 under the almost sufficient category include Britain and Nepal. Jurisdictions with insufficient pledges include the EU, the United States, Germany and Japan, while countries with highly insufficient pledges include China and India.

Under the Paris Agreement, nations must take progressive action to reduce their carbon footprint so the world has a better 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.

Singapore said in its updated climate pledge last year that the country's emissions will peak at 65 million tonnes by 2030. In the longer term, 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 climate policies "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.

A spokesman for the National Climate Change Secretariat said 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."

Singapore's population density is more than 10 times higher than the next densest country in the Climate Action Tracker list, South Korea, he said, adding: "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 spokesman, citing Bloomberg data.

He 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. 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 countries are not obligated to submit entirely new ones.

Under the first pledge made in 2015, Singapore's main goal was to 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 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 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore refutes report that gives its climate targets a poor rating'. Subscribe