Photo credit: LIN JIACHEN VIA UNSPLASH

Achieving Net Zero by 2050 is a matter of galvanising the world into action

In the context of environmental sustainability, we need to keep pace with the global momentum of climate action.

Amanda Tan

Skills include buying the same jeans in different colours.

Published: 23 September 2022, 10:21 AM

What can youths do to take on a bigger stake in making Singapore’s future more sustainable?

As part of the Forward Singapore exercise, the National Youth Council (NYC) and Global Shapers Community (Singapore Hub) organised a National Youth Dialogue on “Towards a Net Zero Future” on Sep 21. 

Youths from various organisations voiced their concerns and discovered ways they can contribute to Singapore’s sustainability journey.

The dialogue, helmed by Minister for Sustainability and Environment Grace Fu, is the second in a series of seven National Youth Dialogues that address issues and considerations in strengthening our social Compact.

Besides Ms Fu, the panel comprised DBS’ chief sustainability officer, Mr Helge Muenkel; research fellow at the National University of Singapore Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, Ms Melissa Low; and a sustainability consultant at Unravel Carbon and Deloitte, Ms Woo Qiyun. Ms Qiyun is also the illustrator of @theweirdandwild, a sustainability communications Instagram page.

 

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The dialogue session was moderated by Ms Farah Sanwari, co-founder of FiTree. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

 

In line with Singapore’s Green Plan, the engagement highlighted how youths can catalyse change and capitalise on opportunities in the green economy.

The engagement also discussed how Singapore can remain competitive and relevant in a low-carbon future and contribute towards a Net Zero future for Singapore by partnering with each other and the Government.

These are some takeaways from the two-hour long session:

1. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact we can make as a small island state

When asked what concerns they have about the Net Zero goal, 17-year-old Nur Arifah Binte Zainol Abodin shared that she fears the impact that Singapore will have as a Net Zero country will be “kind of small” and that given the 2050 timeline, the 1.5 degree change seems barely feasible.

The Temasek Polytechnic student also asked if Singapore has thought of ways to help other countries reach Net Zero.

In response, Mr Helge pointed out that Singapore is “increasing its sphere of influence” and that we shouldn’t forget that it is “a major hub for trade”.

He cited how in the finance industry, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Mr Ravi Menon is leading the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), a group of 114 central banks from all around the world.

“If the gentleman from Singapore, Ravi Menon, is leading this, that tells you that the reputation of Singapore is extremely good internationally and because Singapore is such an important hub, we can actually also serve influence beyond our borders,” said Mr Helge.

As for the ways in which we can be of assistance to other countries, Minister Grace Fu added: “To be very frank with you, we are accountable for 0.1 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions but actually we get hit by the 99.9 per cent because we are such a small island so what the rest of the countries do has a major impact on us.

“I will try my very best to keep that topic on the agenda and keep reminding countries that we should ramp it up but I suspect that COP27 is not going to be so easy.”

 

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Minister Grace Fu assured that the ministries are running as quickly as they can and that she hopes Singaporeans will adopt a similar kind of confidence in the face of climate change. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

2. An increased need for transparency and accountability

Participants voiced out suggestions such as establishing a legal framework that periodically reviews the current budget for Singapore so as to make sure that we don’t exceed our available carbon budget before we reach the end goal by 2050.

Building on this, Mr Helge also talked about how “we need to have an ecosystem change” and that “we’re not going to transition our economies if only some of us are moving”.

For change to happen, we need the governments and regulators as well as private sectors and the community at large to move.

“There’s a huge movement globally, around actually being more honest and disclosing more data on our impact on social and environmental matters…”

He then proposed the idea of having barcodes on groceries to inform consumers of the product’s carbon footprint.

“Many people are thinking about it but it’s not yet actually implemented so better data will allow us to make better informed decisions and the ecosystem will drive it.”

Besides this, Ms Qiyun brought up an interesting point of how when she was reading about the United Nations Climate Change Conference and our nationally determined contributions, she learnt that carbon emissions from imported products are not attributable to us and not accounted for in climate targets.

“Is there more that regulators can do to make sure that companies that are making money in Singapore can actually do something about emissions that they don’t emit here but also elsewhere?

“What we’re doing here makes me think about what else we are doing that technically is more invisible than pollution on our shores.”

3. The carbon tax is a competitive advantage

“For too long, we’ve been generating GHG without a cost,” shared Minister Grace Fu.

She dubbed carbon tax as “a tool to correct” the externalities that we are generating on the environment.

Mr Helge also urged Singaporeans to look further and understand the higher purpose of the tax as opposed to simply viewing it as a price increase. 

“The purpose here is to incentivise, to be more creative, more innovative and produce new products and services that are fit for purpose in a low-carbon society. So the carbon tax actually serves a very beautiful purpose.”

Participant Sylvester Siew, 25, shared that the carbon tax could be adjusted to only levy on Singapore citizens so “we’re only affecting internal consumption”. He also said it could be further simplified by only being imposed on high-polluting products such as beef.

 

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Sylvester, who works at PUB, hopes for the tax to be expanded to certain polluting industries that are currently excluded. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

 

Introduced in 2019 through the Carbon Pricing Act (CPA), the carbon tax is set at a rate of $5 per tonne of GreenHouse Gases (GHG) emissions from 2019 to 2023.

4. Negotiating the tradeoffs between economic and social and environment

While there’s common consensus that climate change is a pressing issue, there are some non-negotiables which probe us to look at the bigger scheme of things – one such being maintaining Singapore’s competitiveness.

Unlike countries like China which have a large population of 1.4 billion, Singapore doesn’t have the appeal of a large market and as such, it will take us much more to entice companies to set up businesses here.

“We just have to be very mindful that while we want to drive some of the changes, we are always the issue of competitiveness, the issue about economic relevance,” reminded Minister Grace Fu.

She explained how in order for Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, to have the freedom to choose their passions, the country needs to maintain a diverse economic structure so that there are “more choices we can offer to Singaporeans”.

To wrap up the session, the panel encouraged participants to keep a positive spirit and start small by educating those around them.

Ms Qiyun also suggested for them to start within their organisations, within environmental groups or civil society groups “because that’s where (they’re) going to find resources and networks”.

As Minister Grace Fu highlighted, we’re living in an increasingly bifurcated world that’s battling geopolitical turbulence and climate change at the same time.

Against this backdrop, Singapore must continue to find its relevance in the world and collectively identify our vision for the future.

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