Budget debate: S'pore must tackle climate change while balancing trade-offs, says Teo Chee Hean

The nation is taking a considered, committed and collective approach to the global climate crisis.
The nation is taking a considered, committed and collective approach to the global climate crisis.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Climate change poses an existential challenge for Singapore, but the country's unique constraints mean the trade-offs it faces in cutting its emissions are much starker than what most other nations face, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Thursday (March 4).

Singapore has limited alternative energy sources, land and manpower, he pointed out.

"Our carbon emissions set real cross-cutting constraints on our development and the daily lives of Singaporeans," he told Parliament during a debate on the Government's sustainability plans.

But the country is attempting to break out of these constraints through careful, long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, said Mr Teo, who is also coordinating minister for national security.

In a wide-ranging speech, he outlined how the nation is taking a considered, committed and collective approach to the global climate crisis.

The carbon tax, for one, which covers 80 per cent of Singapore's carbon emissions, better aligns the real cost of carbon emissions with the emitter, said Mr Teo.

He assured the House that the Government will be reviewing the trajectory and level of the carbon tax post-2023, in consultation with industry and expert groups.

"We seek a carbon tax level that will incentivise companies and consumers to switch to carbon-friendly products, services and activities, while promoting industry innovation and new green growth," Mr Teo added.

In terms of employment, Mr Teo also noted that the switch to cleaner energy will reduce demand for more carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

On March 3, ExxonMobil announced that it will be cutting about 300 positions from its workforce here by the end of the year. This came after fellow oil giant Royal Dutch Shell said last November that it would be axing 500 jobs here and halving the processing capacity on Pulau Bukom in the next three years.

But Mr Teo said demand for sustainable fuels, and higher value-added petrochemical products and specialty chemicals will grow.

These are needed for the modern green ecosystem, such as in solar panels, batteries, thermal insulation for buildings, and durable and lightweight parts for electric vehicles, he added.

He cited how Neste, the world's largest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, is expanding its production capacity here.

Companies will have to adjust their business models, and workers will have to shift to jobs in new areas of growth.

"Many of the major energy and chemical companies in Singapore have also committed to reach net zero by 2050," he added. "Singapore will partner them in this shift."

Overcoming constraints

Under the Paris Agreement, Singapore's long-term goal is to achieve net zero emissions as soon as viable. Its shorter-term goal is to, by 2050, halve the amount of emissions it produces from its 2030 peak.

Responding to MPs such as Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) who had asked if Singapore plans to set more ambitious climate goals, Mr Teo assured them that these goals are not meant to be static.

"We will press ahead with the measures which are within our control, but how soon we can achieve net zero will become clearer as we gain experience from implementing our programmes, as technology evolves, and as the modalities for international collaboration become formalised," said Mr Teo.

For instance, in terms of energy, he pointed out that Singapore's ability to harness renewable energy is limited.

"Within our small land space, we need to accommodate not just housing, parks and commercial centres, but also power plants, reservoirs, air and sea ports, and industries. The trade-offs are real, and often, the choices are difficult ones. We cannot wish these away," said Mr Teo.

While Singapore does not have acres of land for extensive solar farms, it is tapping sunshine on other fronts - such as on rooftops and reservoirs, he said.

Construction for a new solar farm on Tengeh Reservoir started last year, and when up, it will be among the world's largest such facilities, generating enough solar power to meet the demands of our five local water treatment plants.

This will make Singapore one of the few in the world to have a fully green waterworks system, said Mr Teo.

Water and food security are also key national priorities for the country, he noted.

Singapore is leveraging science and technology to do so, he noted, pointing to Singapore's fourth desalination plant in Marina East which started operations last year.

On the food front, the Government is encouraging farmers to harness technology through funding schemes, including the new Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund.

"We actively engage the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and our institutes of higher learning to develop novel, resource-efficient approaches for water and food production," said Mr Teo.

"These will help us break out of our constraints to secure our water and food, through careful long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, and keep costs affordable while minimising carbon emissions," he said.

On the novel food front, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of cultivated chicken - manufactured in bioreactors and which will not involve the slaughter of a live chicken - last December.

He said that even as efforts are made to turn Singapore's constraints into opportunities, and to balance trade-offs with creative solutions, climate change is a challenge that requires all hands on deck.

He added that he was heartened that the House had unanimously passed a motion moved by Mr Louis Ng and several of his colleagues, that acknowledged the seriousness of the global threat of climate change.

The Singapore Green Plan 2030 - an initiative of five ministries - also reflects this Government's aspirations and commitment towards sustainable development.

"Many Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, are motivated and energised by this vision and want to play an active role," he said.

"Our desire is to partner every Singaporean to transform Singapore into a global city of sustainability."