ScienceTalk

My Christmas climate wish list for 2019

What do I want for Christmas? Hope for our climate.

In November last year, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli declared 2018 Singapore's Year of Climate Action - elevating the topic into a national conversation. Since then, we have seen climate action across different industries in Singapore:

• The Carbon Pricing Bill was passed at $5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions from next year to 2023. While lower than the price of carbon (about $55-$110) required for a climate-safe world, it sends clear signals to our businesses.

• The Building and Construction Authority introduced a new Super Low Energy/Zero Energy building code that can drive a further 40 per cent reduction in energy use.

• Energy company SP Group committed to a roll-out of 1,000 electric chargers by 2020, encouraging taxi companies such as HDT Taxi to increase its all-electric fleet.

• The Monetary Authority of Singapore's Green Bond Grant Scheme has attracted a variety of issuers. This year, renewable energy firms like Star Energy Geothermal and International Finance Corporation raised $1 billion worth of green bonds through Singapore.

The Year of Climate Action created momentum for action. And we cannot stop now.

  • About the writer

  • Tok Xinying, 37, is a co-founder of Climate Conversations, a non-profit group that facilitates group discussions to connect climate change to what we care about most. She works professionally with non-governmental organisations and companies to highlight the risks of, and opportunities for, a climate-safe future.

    She has worked with philanthropic organisations to mitigate climate change in China and the United States since 2014. Last year, she was a Fellow at the Climate Strategies Accelerator run by Packard Foundation, Oak Foundation and the Good Energies Fund. This article was put together with the help of Climate Conversations' volunteer research team. Find out more about how you can support climate action at www.climateconversations.sg

As I read The Sunday Times' six-part special on climate change, two things stood out. Many of the people who lost their homes and became refugees due to global warming are in their 30s, just like me.

Climate change is not merely a problem of science and technology, but of humanity and our responsibility towards one another.

Things are going to get worse, but only if we do not act. The impact of rising temperatures will be the most strongly felt in the tropics, including South-east Asia. Our long and densely populated coastlines mean homes and people are at the mercy of rising sea levels and intense storms. Our fisheries - a key source of protein - could collapse.

Media headlines focused on this dire reality in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report, which was released in October. But the same report also painted a pathway that can lead to a safer and more equitable future for all of us - through deep system changes driven by a large redirection of investments, policies and technology innovation, on top of behaviour change.

Mr Masagos has pointed out that taking climate action cannot just be a year-long affair. So here's my wish list for the country in 2019.

• For Singapore to continue to deepen our climate awareness. We may read about melting icebergs and wildfires, but most people here do not yet associate these with events around us. The truth is, our temperatures are rising; droughts are recurring at Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which supplies water to Singapore; the runway of Changi Airport's Terminal 5 is being built higher to prepare for higher sea levels.

Media coverage this year has helped us join some of these dots. For example, linking rising sea levels in the Mekong delta region to our nutrition.

This year, plays, games and festivals were dedicated to climate change with the support of government agencies, the private sector, including the City Developments Limited Singapore Sustainability Academy, and individuals.

Continued support and media focus are necessary to ensure we continue to hear and talk about climate change, and connect it to our lives.

• For businesses in Singapore to turn their focus towards target setting and staff engagement to drive climate-aligned strategy.

While over 600 companies and organisations signed Singapore's Climate Action Pledge, only a handful had longer-term climate strategies in their pledges. Notably, Sembcorp has released its climate change strategy, Singtel has developed science-based targets, and Marina Bay Sands hotel has set clear carbon footprint reduction goals.

Globally, we see strong action from firms. Ikea has committed that by 2020, customer deliveries in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Shanghai will be mostly completed by electric vehicles. Standard Chartered Bank committed to not funding any new coal power plants as air and water pollution from these plants costs lives and impacts livelihoods. Several global insurers, including AXA and Nippon Life, have also pulled support from the coal industry.

A business coalition dedicated to moving companies beyond reporting and towards carbon reduction target setting can help businesses move faster. Businesses also need to invest in engaging their staff about climate change, to power their business towards the accelerated change needed.

• For Singapore to punch above its weight in climate change by looking outwards.

A Climate Action Package was launched for Asean this year and Singapore will share experience and resources that will reduce carbon emissions, as well as reduce damage from climate impacts. We can go further to accelerate Asean's low carbon transition by leveraging Singapore's role as a regional financial hub. This year, for example, interest rates for loans to palm oil giant Wilmar and agri-business leader Olam were pegged to environmental performance. Our banks should continue to innovate products to take sustainability into account, set targets for renewable energy loans, and work with international sustainability benchmarks.

Globally, pension funds and hundreds of governments, including those of New York City and Ireland, are looking at impact beyond their shores. They have committed to redirecting investment away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. The investor coalition, Climate Action 100+, are getting firms to cut greenhouse gas emissions across their value chains.

What can you do?

• Be vocal about our concern for climate change and grow support for the system changes required for our safe future.

• Discuss climate change with our friends and colleagues. Non-profit group Climate Conversations facilitates small group discussions to link climate change to what we value most.

• Deepen our understanding by attending activities by green groups such as the People's Movement to Stop Haze, Green Drinks and other green groups. There is a weekly list at Lepak In SG on Facebook.

• If you are ready to choose green, consider a green electricity retailer on the open electricity market. Climate Conversations will have a list of green retailers by the year end.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2018, with the headline 'My Christmas climate wish list for 2019'. Print Edition | Subscribe