Budget debate: Transform mindsets, not just infrastructure, in fight against climate change, say MPs

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan urged the Government to set a "bold green agenda" for the future. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Mindsets and consumption habits need to change as Singapore moves to tackle climate change, Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan said in Parliament on Thursday, as he urged the Government to set a "bold green agenda" for the future.

To encourage "buy-in" to this mission from Singaporeans, public education efforts should be ramped up, said Mr Tan, responding to measures given in the Budget statement on tackling climate change.

He suggested that the National Climate Change Secretariat work with research agencies to translate and make the latest research on climate change accessible to Singaporeans.

"Translating this research into readable, digestible commentaries for Singaporeans gives further buy-in and builds awareness," he said.

Mr Tan was one of five members of the House who spoke on climate change, a number of them calling for greater action.

Singapore's efforts, announced last week when Budget 2020 was unveiled, include phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, expanding charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs) and setting up a new coastal and flood protection fund to protect Singapore from rising sea levels.

While he welcomed these measures, Mr Tan asked for specifics on how the fund - which has an initial sum of $5 billion - would be used.

He also said that phasing out vehicles with internal combustion engines will increase demand on Singapore's power grid, suggesting that "battery swap stations" be set up.

These are stations where cars can exchange spent batteries for freshly-charged ones quickly, and which also have the benefit of helping manage demands on the power grid.

Mr Tan also asked if the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles will extend to foreign vehicles that enter Singapore.

"If there is no infrastructure in place in Malaysia to support commercial EVs, would that also impact our businesses with a top partner in trade?" he added.

Other MPs, such as Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad, urged the Government to not shut the door on other alternatives like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, even as adoption of electric vehicles is being encouraged.

"Rather than putting all our eggs in one basket, I would like to suggest considering other alternatives to not replace, but supplement EVs," said Mr Ang.

He added that China, Japan and South Korea were already working to put hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads - and these have comparable driving ranges and refuelling times as gasoline cars.

Mr Ang also raised a point that some MPs had mentioned in the previous day's debate, that the Government's intention to offer a 45 per cent rebate on the Additional Registration Fee (ARF) of EVs, capped at $20,000, was insufficient to offset higher costs from additional road tax on EVs.

Others like Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) suggested that the Government study whether climate-friendly infrastructure can be installed in housing estates.

"Are we ready to allow town councils to install PV (photo voltaic) panels on roofs and vertical areas such as lift shafts?" she asked.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) pointed to the realities of rising sea levels, noting that research-quality data points at Tanjong Pagar, Raffles Lighthouse, Sultan Shoal and Sembawang have shown that average sea levels have risen from 1984 to 2011.

"Because of the dire consequences rising sea levels has on Singapore's future, it is good that the Budget takes these longer-term challenges into account and prepares for it," said Mr de Souza.

Mr Irshad said Singapore needed to think boldly to meet this long-term challenge.

"We must transform our mindsets. We must transform our infrastructure. We must take the lead in moving toward a fossil fuel-free future in our region," he said.

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