A new report from a local environmental initiative and politically nonpartisan campaign Greenwatch reveals that the incumbent Singaporean government “has not walked the talk” on climate action. The report looks at various categories including climate ambition, equity, energy, collective action, nature, and more. The result? On a scale of -90 to 90, it scores an 8. Here’s a round-up of its insights.
But first: what is Greenwatch?
The campaign is co-organised by two citizen groups in Singapore: SG Climate Rally (SGCR) and Speak for Climate (S4C). The former is the team behind the city-state’s first-ever physical climate action rally. (It took place last year with 2,000 attendees!) Beyond the rally, SGCR focuses its efforts on “collective action, systemic change and justice”, towards more ambitious climate policy in Singapore. S4C shares the same broader goal. But it focuses on building “greater collaboration and transparency in the public consultation process within the environmental community in Singapore”.
They have teamed up to create Greenwatch: “a campaign aimed at garnering greater awareness of the climate crisis and provoking deeper commitments to climate policy during the upcoming General Elections (GE) in Singapore”. The campaign kicked off with a Policy Brief, outlining climate policy suggestions, that was sent to all political parties in March. Last week, the campaign followed up with the release of the Climate Scorecard for the incumbent government.
According to the team, they’ve worked on the Climate Scorecard for 4-5 months. “The development process,” involving consultations with numerous academics and experts in environmental policy and humanities, research of the incumbent government’s policies, conversations with government officials and political parties, and much deliberation and tweaking in between, “was laborious because we wanted the scorecard to be as accurate and encompassing as possible so as to do justice to the environmental movement.”
How does the Climate Scorecard work?
The report aims to serve as a guide on climate policies, which they have organised into 11 broad categories. It scores each category on a scale of -3 to 3. A positive score meaning that the government has met their asks. While a negative score means that they have doubt or concerns about the legitimacy of certain commitments, or that policies exacerbate the climate crisis. Its scoring reflects Greenwatch’s assessment of current climate policies, which they made with an environmental criteria in mind. This criteria was based on the recommendations of the UN IPCC and other relevant climate research.
With a score of 8/90, the scoring might seem rather low to some. And Greenwatch acknowledged this. “Not everyone will agree with the results,” said the team, “and this is to be anticipated.” They emphasised that the Climate Scorecard “is not meant to be the final word on environmental policy in Singapore.” Rather, it’s a “starting point for giving people a way about thinking and talking about the environment.” They want people to ask: are Singapore’s current measures are good enough? Where do we want to go from here?
Now that you’re all caught up on the context of this report, let’s dive into the details.
THE KEY INSIGHTS
1. CLIMATE AMBITION: Singapore’s climate target is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, and we need a more coordinated approach overall.
The IPCC recommends halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. Instead, Singapore’s target lacks ambition. It allows for absolute emissions increase until 2030, and reaching net-zero by 2050 has been declared not practical.
Additionally, current policies, while encouraging in some respects, lack coordination. For example, Budget 2020 introduced new policies. These involved transport, business- and household-centred policies, on top of ongoing efforts regarding energy efficiency, and adaptation policies. However, the report recommends “a coordinated government approach, informed by a legally binding climate change legislation”. It adds that dedicating “a portion of the annual national budget to climate mitigation or adaptation measures, under a centralised body” would be more effective.
2. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INEQUITY: No articulation of policies that acknowledge the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis.
The effects of climate crisis discriminate. To this, the government has “alluded to how senior citizens, the sick and communities living along the coastlines will be disproportionately affected”. But currently, there are no clear adaptation policies that target and protect specific groups, nor have they spoken about other communities such as “migrant workers in dormitories, low-income households, [and] domestic workers with limited agency”. Worse: a statement from the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs about future generations shouldering “their share of the responsibility” “unfairly puts the burden on younger and future generations”.
3. ENERGY: Despite energy efficiency measures and the encouraging growth of solar, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Singapore-based companies have become more energy efficient in the last 5 years, thanks to various financial incentives and standards. However, overall energy demand is still increasing, and will increase until 2030, mostly because of the industry sector. In addition, 95% of Singapore’s electricity comes from natural gas, which is still carbon-intensive. The government also intends for natural gas to be the dominant energy source for the next 50 years.
Progress on moving towards renewable energy in terms of regional collaboration “remains slow and mooted in the distant future”, and solar energy has limited potential. The government has rejected renewable energy subsidies, while continuing to subsidise fossil fuels. Worse, the petrochemical industry is relentlessly expanding. The government calls ExxonMobil, in particular, a “close and trusted partner”. The industry now accounts for “close to half of Singapore’s emissions together with the oil and gas industry.”
4. CARBON PRICING: Current and projected carbon tax rates are highly insufficient, and while coverage is commendable, there is a key loophole. And where do tax revenues go?
The current tax rate of $5 per tonne of carbon emissions, and plans to increase it to $10-15, is too low. It does not reflect the true social cost of carbon. While there is no ideal number, experts recommend tax rates of anywhere between $40-100, in order to meet Paris Agreement targets. Additionally, even though the carbon tax “is commendable in the sense that it is applied to all sectors without exemptions and covers 80% of Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions”, there is a loophole. Which means “corporations [can] get away with having many emitting facilities which individual emissions level falls below the minimum level required for them to be taxed”. Yikes.
And ultimately, the report recommends that the government progressively redistribute tax revenues to citizens, but it isn’t clear whether this happens or not.
5. INDUSTRY: Green investments galore, but we’re not planning to break up with fossil fuels any time soon.
The report highlights that industry accounts for 60% of Singapore’s emissions and that the petrochemical sector is “the single largest contributor”. The government has “signalled its support for green investments to turn Singapore into a green finance and circular economy hub”, which is encouraging. However, there is no clear road map, nor has the government standardised the terms “green” and “sustainable”.
Worryingly, the government’s “longstanding” support of the petrochemical industry has not ceased. It continues to receive investments from the industry, and the effect of “financial guidelines [regarding divestment] remains unclear”. Furthermore, the government has said that it “does not interfere or influence [businesses and financial institutions’] individual investment decisions”. (Aka: don’t get your hopes up.)
6. ADAPTATION: The choice strategy of the incumbent government.
Adaptation policies are aplenty with the incumbent government. It has established a National Resilience Framework, to identify and respond to climate risks and impacts. Notably, it has committed a whopping $100bn on coastal defences over the next 50-100 years. On food, an area of concern, it has also articulated a “30 by 30 Strategy” to increase Singapore’s food production. And for the region, it has even set up a Southeast Asia Disaster Risk Insurance Facility, to “better cover emergency response costs in the aftermath of catastrophes”.
However, as mentioned earlier, current adaptation policies don’t take into account the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis.
7. TRANSPORT: World-class public transport and a promising push towards EVs. But what about car ownership?
While Singapore could be more bike-friendly, there’s no doubt that Singapore’s public transport system is world-class. The government has also declared that “all vehicles [will] run on cleaner energy by 2040”. In this regard, it has introduced a slew of EV-friendly initiatives and incentives. However, the report notes that EVs might not be as impactful in reducing emissions, since these EVs will be powered by natural gas. And finally: the government is not doing enough to discourage the rate of private car ownership.
8. COLLECTIVE ACTION: The government supports some initiatives, and there are efforts at engagement with the public, but these are limited.
The government supports select initiatives and ground-up movements through various means, and it engages with the public through various platforms, Meet-The-People sessions and public consultations. However, there is limited space for dissenting views, and a general lack of transparency. This makes it difficult to keep the government “accountable to targets and metrics”. The report adds that instead of transparency, the government employs “rhetorical diversion”. And with closed-door meetings and selective releasing of data, there may be “manicuring or selective showcasing”.
Public education and state-wide campaigns, that inform collective action, are limited. “There is no emphasis on localised impacts of and national complicity in the climate crisis”, nor an acknowledgement of the role of “the biggest emitters- industries. Many campaigns choose to disproportionately highlight the role of households and individuals.”
9. NATURE: Conservation of biodiversity is insufficient.
Despite being a “Garden City”, Singapore “has lost an incredible amount of its rich biodiversity due to development”. Unsurprisingly, the government has (and continues to) “prioritised economic gains over environmental protection”. It puts some effort into “restoring or re-establishing lost species and natural ecosystems” and setting targets related to vegetation and land use, restoring ecosystems and tree planting. But development plans do get in the way.
Environmental Impact Assessments, which would theoretically help, are not mandatory by law. The government also does not penalise the non-implementation of impact mitigation measures. Overall, Singapore’s land use has become a “net emitter of carbon”. Huge imports of sand, for development, “has also led to the destruction of natural spaces in other countries”.
10. WASTE: Current policies are encouraging, but they prioritise waste treatment, rather than reducing waste regeneration.
The report highlights that “waste makes up a small proportion of Singapore’s total emissions through its incineration”. However, it also adds that: “when we account for the entire carbon footprint involved in creating new products, reducing waste can result in substantial emission reductions”. Managing waste is still important. In this regard, the government launched a Zero Waste Master Plan in 2019 and announced measures to address emissions from refrigerants and air-conditioning.
However, the fatal flaw is that current policies prioritise waste treatment rather than preventing too much waste from being generated in the first place. In fact, Singapore had the 9th highest waste generation rate among 216 countries in 2017! You know what they say: when the bathtub is overflowing, you have to turn off the tap.
11. BUILDINGS: Despite standards and incentives in place, no net-zero operation carbon targets nor emissions-target approach exist yet.
The report notes that buildings do “account for a significant proportion of Singapore’s carbon emissions throughout their lifecycle”. This is because of their materials’ footprints, energy use and demolition. Presently, Singapore has green building certification and sustainability standards and policies like grants and incentives in place. These support the development of green buildings. However, the government has not set targets to manage emissions from buildings comprehensively. The report highlights that the government can do more to “avoid the lock-in of high emission buildings that will be in use for decades to come”.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
Overall, Greenwatch’s Climate Scorecard reveals that the incumbent government’s “policies show a tendency to maintain the status quo and lack consideration for the disproportionate effects on vulnerable communities”. With a score of 8, the situation seems rather bleak. However, this also means that there is much to do. In fact, the Greenwatch team “hope[s] that people will read up more about climate policy – if you were surprised by any of the scores, you have the agency to lobby your political representatives for better policies.”
Which is why Greenwatch’s most recent initiative, #AskYourCandidate, is so crucial. It’s one #LittleGreenStep you can action immediately. The Greenwatch team has prepared a list of questions you can ask your candidate. Conveniently, they’ve broken down the list into question categories that conveniently align with the Climate Scorecard. All you need to do is pick the categories you care about, and #AskYourCandidate. And if you’re feeling up to it, film your question, their response and post it on your social media account with the #AskYourCandidate. (With the elections coming right around the corner after this Circuit Breaker ends, now’s a good a time as ever to interact with politicians!)
2. Keep an eye out for Greenwatch
This is just the beginning of Greenwatch. What can you look forward to from the team? Greenwatch told Green Is The New Black that they “will be releasing climate scorecards for other parties in Singapore once the [General Elections] is announced.” They will also be providing “additional resources for voters to learn more about climate policy and how to engage with politicians.”
While staying updated and informed about climate policy might seem like a small step, the Greenwatch team highlighted that individuals have power “if they are channelled towards collective action – one of them which can be exercised through our roles as citizens.” And since the government has thus far framed much of Singaporeans’ role in climate action in terms of individual lifestyle changes, “reclaiming this narrative of what ‘collective action’ could look like is key to calling for our political leaders to consider the systemic transformations we need to deal with the climate crisis.”
Basically: don’t lose heart. Reclaiming our civic power is more important than ever now, and (thankfully) we have campaigns like Greenwatch that are making this much more accessible.
Meanwhile, you can follow SG Climate Rally on their social media channels on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @sgclimaterally, and sign up for their mailing list on their website. As for Speak for Climate, they’re “thinking of other ways to make climate policy accessible to people beyond writing easy-to-understand summaries, such as through virtual teach-ins.” Stay updated on what they’re doing via their website.