Singapore asked to help facilitate on key issue at international climate talks

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, speaks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) on Dec 12, 2018 in Katowice, Poland.
Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, speaks at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) on Dec 12, 2018 in Katowice, Poland.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli during a plenary session at COP24.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli during a plenary session at COP24.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli with Mr Albert Chua, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, at COP24.
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli with Mr Albert Chua, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, at COP24.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

KATOWICE, Poland - The presidency of UN climate talks being hosted by Poland has asked Singapore to play a lead role in resolving a key topic of contention among countries working to hammer out a deal to limit global warming.

As co-facilitator with Norway on the thorny issue of mitigation, Singapore's role is to listen to the views of the various countries, and bridge divisions between them so a consensus can be reached, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (Mewr) told The Straits Times.

The climate talks in the southern Polish city of Katowice aim to agree a set of rules, or rulebook, that will allow the 2015 Paris Agreement - a framework for keeping global warming to well below 2 deg C - to go into force by 2020.

At the end of the 2015 Paris climate conference, nations were set a three-year deadline to agree on the complex set of rules, and the hope is that a robust rulebook will be finalised by the end of this week. But negotiations to seal a deal at the Katowice talks, called COP24, have hit a few road bumps, as nations struggle to agree on a few key points, one of which is mitigation.

Mitigation refers to how countries can reduce their emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Scientists have found that when gases such as carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture, it warms the planet and disrupts the climate. This is fuelling extreme weather patterns, melting glaciers and ice caps and rising sea levels.

Discussions on mitigation have been stonewalled as nations disagree on issues such as when they should start reporting their emissions data - whether it should begin in 2022, 2023 or 2024 - and what information they would need to include in their climate pledges, called nationally determined contributions.

Said Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore, who is taking part in COP24: "Establishing a set of guidelines on nationally determined contributions is important to give countries clarity on what information they would need to submit to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for their next and subsequent climate targets."

"This includes information to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding among countries, such as baseline emission data, the assumptions used, the planning processes and so on," she added.

A Mewr spokesman said: "As co-facilitator, our role is to listen to the concerns and views of different parties on the crunch issues on mitigation and to put up proposals for the consideration of the Polish COP presidency that can help to bridge divisions and bring parties closer together."

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, will be co-facilitating the discussions with Norway's Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen.

Later on Thursday (Dec 13), Mr Masagos provided the Polish presidency with an update on the discussions. 

He said during a plenary: “We had a good discussion on the issues of the bindingness of the guidelines, the timing of their applications, and the timing of review...” 

However, one key issue on the full scope of mitigation remained unresolved, he added.

“We hope that the suggestion we have offered will help you to present a cleaner text on the issue that can be the basis for us to take our work forward,” said Mr Masagos.

 
 
 
 

Mewr said Singapore's selection to co-facilitate the discussion reflected its active role in the ongoing climate negotiations that have taken place over the past 11 days, and as an "honest broker who can bring constructive solutions to the table".

Added the spokesman: "This is significant for Singapore as it reinforces our reputation internationally as a constructive delegation that supports multilateral solutions to global problems, such as climate change."

This is not the first time that Singapore has played an outsized role at the international climate talks.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan was also asked to play a similar role during COP21 in Paris and at COP18 in Doha when he was Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

COP refers to the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. COPs are held annually and serve as the supreme decision-making body for the convention. The first COP was held in Bonn in 1995.