Singapore to shift to even greener footing

It has committed to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 36 per cent in 2030, from 2005 levels, for the UN climate change talks in Paris

Starting on Monday, world leaders from 190 countries will gather in Paris over the next two weeks to finalise a new global climate accord aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

If successful, the agreement - a historic first - will have wide-ranging implications for sectors ranging from energy and transport to building and construction.

Regardless of the outcome, Singapore is intent on continuing its path towards a greener economy: not only in reducing carbon emissions across industries and households, but also in seizing the economic opportunities that come along as cities prepare themselves for climate change.

The Paris summit kicks off amid a cautious optimism that has grown over the past few months - in sharp contrast to the acrimonious talks during the Copenhagen conference in 2009 due to a deep mistrust between developed and developing nations - as countries including China and the US committed to cutting emissions.

Over 170 countries, representing more than 90 per cent of the world's emissions, have already submitted commitments, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), to reduce emissions ahead of the Paris summit. Some of the world's largest multinational firms, ranging from Ikea to Pepsi and Siemens, have also rallied behind the goal.

Singapore has pledged to reduce emissions intensity - measured by emissions per GDP dollar - by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise emissions with the goal of peaking then.

This follows a pledge in 2009 to cut emissions by 16 per cent from 2020 business-as-usual standards, if a legally binding global agreement comes into place. Ahead of that, the country has already put in place policies and measures that will reduce emissions by 7-11 per cent from 2020 business-as-usual levels.

The city-state currently ranks 113th out of 140 countries in terms of carbon intensity, and contributes about 0.11 per cent of global emissions.

The new commitment is a "stretch target", the government has sought to emphasise, with efforts needed across both businesses and households.

"For a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious efforts by everyone," Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in July when Singapore announced its submission for the Paris climate change talks.

Earlier action to develop in a sustainable manner means Singapore is reducing emissions from an already small base, the government says.

About 95.5 per cent of electricity in Singapore is currently generated using natural gas - the cleanest form of fossil fuel - up from 19 per cent in 2000. Fuel oil was the main energy source until the country switched to natural gas piped in from Malaysia and Indonesia and, since 2013, liquefied natural gas (LNG), after the opening of the LNG terminal.

The country has limited options in terms of alternative energy such as geothermal resources, wind and tidal power; it is banking on solar as the only technically feasible renewable energy.

To this end, the government - in efforts led by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Housing and Development Board (HDB) - has started the SolarNova programme to aggregate solar demand across various agencies, so as to generate economies of scale and accelerate solar deployment. Singapore currently has about 33 megawatt-peak (MWp) of photovoltaic capacity installed - around 8 per cent of the national target of 350 MWp by 2020.

Nevertheless, Singapore's use of solar energy is limited by its small size and dense urban landscape, though recent developments such as a study by PUB (Singapore's national water agency) to install solar panels at reservoirs could open up new possibilities.

The government has therefore identified energy efficiency as the key to reducing emissions and, in turn, pushed out levies, rebates, training programmes and stricter standards across sectors from transport to building and construction.

In particular, in the refining and chemicals industry - which is expected to contribute about half of Singapore's 2020 business-as-usual emissions - it has put in place various schemes to facilitate the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and processes such as co-generation plants.

"To date, the government has supported S$1.6 billion worth of fixed-asset investments to improve energy efficiency in the energy and chemicals sector, and to work towards being more carbon-efficient than other such sectors in the region and globally," said EDB energy and chemicals director Damian Chan, adding that Big Data will play a key role going forward in helping petrochemical firms to become more resource-efficient.

The energy and chemicals sector contributed the most to Singapore's manufacturing output last year, accounting for 34 per cent of its total manufacturing output.

Even as Singapore works to reduce carbon emissions, it is also adopting various measures to protect against the future impact of climate change.

Changes in average temperatures, rainfall and sea levels are expected to affect public health, biodiversity and greenery, and reliability of water supplies, as well as lead to erosion and flooding of coastal areas, among others.

Still, it is not all doom and gloom - there is a silver lining in the form of a clean-technology sector that is growing globally. It is also one that the Singapore government has identified as a growth sector and actively courted since 2007.

"The climate challenge also means greater global demand for clean technology and growth in green jobs," Mr Teo noted in July.

It was a view echoed by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran in late October, when he said the sector is one with "significant potential" for Singapore - there is demand for it in Asia, not just in terms of technology but also in financing models and business structures that Singapore can develop.

"Regardless of the outcome (of the Paris talks)," he told delegates at the Asia Clean Energy Summit, "many countries and cities are already planning their economic growth within an increasingly carbon-constrained operating environment."

It is in Asia that the tension between growth and energy requirements versus carbon constraints will be the sharpest, and this will contribute to demand for sustainable forms of growth, he added. A study released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) last week revealed that Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, in particular, are at high risk of climate-related disasters.

EDB, which had earlier set a goal of having the sector create 18,000 jobs by the end of this year and contribute US$3.4 billion in value-add to Singapore's GDP, told BT that it is confident of reaching the target.

The general awareness and global commitment towards reducing carbon emissions work in the cleantech sector's favour, Mr Iswaran said.

"The prospects are there because of government priorities and the need in the market . . . Industry players see significant potential - in Asia, in particular."

This article was first published on Nov 30, 2015.
Get The Business Times for more stories.