Opening Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, on the Private Member’s Motion: Accelerate and deepen efforts against climate change
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Sustainability and the Environment, I beg to move, that this House calls on the Government, in partnership with the private sector and the people of Singapore, to deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore.
Sir, it’s too hot! And I’m sure everyone has also realised, it’s too wet!
This past January was the wettest January in the past 100 years. Floods submerged our pathways and toppled our trees. Many of our deliverymen got stranded in rain shelters because it became too dangerous to ride.
The past two decades were also the hottest decades on record. But if you think you’re sweaty now, get ready to sweat more: Singapore is becoming hotter twice as quickly as the rest of the world.
Our climate is changing for the extreme. Our science and our senses tell us so. As Minister Grace Fu shared last month, “With climate change, we can expect more of such erratic weather in future.”
Sir, I remember learning about climate change when I was still a little boy. In fact, I was ten years old when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988. It saddens me that my daughters Ella, Katie and Poppy will grow up facing the same environmental issues I learnt about when I was in school so many decades ago. Sir, we must do more – a lot more and a lot more urgently.
Today, my fellow MPs and I will present recommendations on ten topics. The GPC for Sustainability and the Environment as well as the Young PAP have worked hard and worked together – in partnership with climate activists, business leaders and members of the public – to come up with these recommendations.
We are pushing hard for changes but at the same time, we are mindful not to push people and businesses away.
We are mindful of the trade-offs, particularly for our economy and jobs, and we have sought to find the right balance. All of us believe that a healthy economy and a healthy environment can, and should go hand in hand.
Sir, let me start by sharing why my fellow MPs and I have brought this motion to the House today.
Reason 1: Protect our people
Our first point of departure is the common understanding that climate change is a global crisis that strikes at the very foundation of how Singaporeans live.
In his 2019 National Day Rally speech, PM Lee called climate change “one of the gravest challenges facing humankind.”
He outlined how Singapore will be hit. Rising sea levels may put coastal areas underwater. Floods may become more frequent. Developers will have to build at higher ground than before. Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars will have to be spent on massive projects such as building polders.
Singapore has always managed to build our way around our problems. We built upwards, touching the sky with skyscrapers and HDB blocks. We built outwards, reclaiming land from the sea.
We built our NEWater plants, turning waste into water.
But climate change is not an ecological threat that our engineers can just build around. It is an economic and political threat.
Near and far from our borders, cities and villages will face the test of climate change. Some will sink into the ocean. Others will be consumed by wildfires. Farms and fisheries will be reshaped, disrupting supply chains.
The polar ice caps will melt, opening new shipping routes that bypass Singapore’s port. There may be price instability. Businesses and consumers will both be affected. There may even be geopolitical conflicts over water resources.
In other words, we cannot hope to escape climate change through superior engineering and high-quality design. Globalisation means climate change will find a way to hit our livelihoods, our breadbaskets, and our peace.
Reason 2: Fulfill our international commitments
That brings me to the second reason we have brought the motion to this House: it upholds Singapore’s reputation of fulfilling our international commitments.
As Minister Vivian will tell you, we are a little red dot, but there is nothing little about our voice.
We have led negotiations in the most significant multilateral agreements of our time.
We have hosted peace summits, had UN conventions named after us, and had our people elected to lead UN agencies.
All this is made possible because our diplomats at MFA and our public service work so hard. But it is also made possible because Singapore has a reputation for responding when the international community calls.
So our motion today responds to what is perhaps the most critical call of our century – former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call that every country must take urgent, immediate action to combat climate change.
More than anyone else, Singapore understands the significance of going together, not going alone. On these rough tides, every pair of hands counts.
We have signed the Paris Climate Agreement. But we must do more. Our recommendations today provide specific proposals on what we can do.
Reason 3: Listening to Singaporeans
Our third and last reason for bringing this motion here today is that it responds to voices members of this House must all have heard.
These voices come from Singaporeans, young and old. In the past few years we have seen them build, organise, research, educate, and advocate to move the needle on climate change.
Let me start with a voice from the private sector.
Esther has been City Developments Limited’s Chief Sustainability Officer for over 25 years. It really is not common to see a business leader advocate about climate change like she does.
In one breath, she is talking about Sustainable Cities Index; in another, she is casually dropping data about Canada’s climate change policy.
Let me quote her interview with Eco-Business: “We should ask ourselves what sort of solutions can really tackle the climate emergency and how we can take action. There is no point in just talking if you do not take action.”
Good thing, she also walks the talk. She has worked with her company to cut emissions, secure green loans, fund green startups and create awareness campaigns. She has won the SDG Pioneer award, given by the UN to business leaders who have done an outstanding job advancing their Sustainable Development Goals.
Despite all her time working with titans of industry, her inspiration comes from youths. To quote her interview with The Edge, “Given their energy and desire for a bright future, youths play a vital role in helping our planet to recover from the harm humans have inflicted. We need to engage, encourage and empower youths to drive the green agenda and impart them with the necessary skillsets and tools to drive sustainability for decades to come.”
I could not agree with her more about youths being the future. I have spoken with many of them in the past few years and decades. Let me share a few of the personal stories they shared with me.
Xiang Tian is a young man studying at the Singapore Institute of Technology. You may have seen him holding a microphone and giving a heartfelt speech at the Singapore Climate Rally in 2019. But his passion for the environment goes much further back. It started in kindergarten, when NEA gave out a “Green Package” to his class. His memory is vivid: it was three books and one music CD, instructing him on how Singapore will pile up with trash if he didn’t reduce, reuse, recycle.
And so he did. But that wasn’t enough. He learned, as we all do, that big problems require big solutions. So he started studying engineering, with an eye on finding solutions. He connected with other passionate people. He founded LepakSG, which consolidates environmental events in a single calendar.
“Lepak” means relax, but he is nothing but hard work. In fact, what he finds energising is that the climate change community are the kind of people who, like him, are happy to volunteer their Friday nights and weekends discussing problems, researching solutions, gathering feedback, reaching out to our public agencies.
“No one is Superman,” he told me. “We cannot save the world by ourselves. But we can move others and we can change systems.” And that’s exactly what he’s doing and as many of us know, he is doing this while infamously always wearing his slippers.
Like Xiang Tian, Lastrina found a connection with the environment at a young age. Her dad came from Pulau Sakijang Pelepah, or what some of you may know as Lazarus Island.
Growing up around sea captains and divers, she gained a natural appreciation for the environment.
But almost 10 years ago, she heard what the experts were saying about climate change. “Something worrying was happening,” she said. It was time to graduate from appreciating the environment to helping it.
And so, in 2015, she started the Singapore Youth for Climate Action with some friends. She understands instinctively how powerless other youths feel in today’s world.
The solution, she says, is to shine the light on what they can do. Speak up. Organise. Collaborate. Build a movement. Talk to decision makers. Everyone has a role to play. Her message is one of empowerment, and Singapore is lucky to have her.
I am happy to share that our People’s Action Party’s youth wing also has its own activists passionate about sustainability and climate change.
For Wei-Shan from our Young PAP or YP, sustainability has a lot to do with changing people’s minds.
She has first-hand experience with this. Running a business that designs gifts, she found that clients would almost always opt for plastic packaging even when she recommended greener alternatives. Hard to change people’s minds, she says.
It’s a challenge, but it’s one we can’t shy away from. That’s why the many public consultations organised by Wei-Shan and her passionate team mates at YP brought industry experts and climate activists to the same table. Each party gets the chance to persuade and be persuaded. Good policy, she says, must balance the viewpoints of different groups.
Wei-Shan is also a mother of two young children. We are used to seeing their faces during our many Zoom calls. These little ones fuel her passion for sustainability. “I want the world to be better for them in ten, twenty years’ time, not worse,” she says.
Like Wei-Shan, Cynthia’s passion is informed by her work.
Having worked for over 10 years in the maritime sector, an industry at the heart of global business, she recalls that MNCs were working on sustainability even before it became a buzzword in Singapore.
That’s why she believes good climate policy must be pragmatic. Of course, it must reduce emissions, and of course it must ensure the welfare of Singaporeans.
But the path to that outcome should involve working with the private sector. Acknowledge their concerns. Help them find alternatives. They have the capacity to change, and we all benefit if we help them do so.
That’s why Cynthia and her passionate team of activists at the YP climate change policy team envision such an important role for businesses in their position papers.
But business aside, climate change is, for Cynthia, about responsibility. “We have treated the Earth badly,” she says. It’s time we do what’s right for the future generations.
I hope members of this House don’t make the mistake of thinking any of these people work alone. Xiang Tian, Lastrina, Wei-Shan and Cynthia were all at pains to emphasise the work of others. They are just four names among thousands in Singapore who are waging the battle against climate change in their own ways.
We may not agree with everything climate activists say or do.
But let us pause and remember: these are Singaporeans who care deeply about helping and protecting something other than themselves. Is that not something we should cherish?
Just as importantly, they speak up because they believe in the capacity of this government to listen. Is that not something we should respond to?
And so we should. This motion today responds to their call.
Proposal 1: Step up sustainability standards in the public sector
Today, my fellow MPs and I will discuss ten topics. Let me kickstart the discussion with the first topic: stepping up sustainability standards in the Public Service.
Government is big business. In 2016, our 35,000 government contracts were worth a whopping $22.6 billion. As the largest employer and one of the biggest business clients in Singapore, the government can move the standard business practices of entire industries just by enhancing its sustainability standards.
It is good that we have the Public Service Taking The Lead in
Environmental Sustainability initiative. It is also good news that Minister Grace Fu said last year that the government is already looking at a sustainable framework for government procurement.
We should ensure that these higher standards are robust.
First, life cycle costing should be expanded to more categories of products.
Life cycle costing is simple. It means when we buy something, we look not just at the price tag, but also at how much it will cost us to maintain, use and dispose.
This practice helps us spend less and waste less.
The government currently requires its agencies to do it only for electrical appliances. We should do it also for vehicles, furniture and other products.
Second, government contracts should measure and set standards for carbon footprints.
It is already a common practice in Europe. We should mandate it, especially, for high-emissions infrastructure projects.
In addition, we can increase standards on accredited efficiency.
For example, public procurement standards currently require air-conditioners to have only three ticks of efficiency. We can raise the standard to four or five ticks, which will save us money in the long run while cutting emissions.
Third, every ministry should be required to publish a yearly Sustainability Report.
This can just be an adapted version of the confidential Resource Management Plans that they already must prepare. It will tell the public how each Ministry is greening its operations.
To sum up, we can do a lot by enhancing our government’s sustainability standards.
I will also note that many of our government’s contractors also service other clients.
When we tighten our sustainability requirements, it can spark process improvements across the supply chain, creating a multiplied effect.
The government’s work doesn’t stop at its procurement or its operations. It sets policies, and this means there are a lot more things it can do.
My colleagues will focus on nine other topics and propose changes in policies.
Again, these proposals were formulated from over a year of public consultations with business leaders, researchers, activists and fellow Singaporeans.
Some of the ideas were sparked by YP’s Climate Change policy team. The MPs’ various legislative assistants also contributed to making this happen. My thanks to my own climate change team, led by Elliot. They have done extraordinary work.
Sir, the first topic is carbon tax. The carbon tax is perhaps Singapore’s most important policy tool against climate change. I agree that we needed to start low to avoid spooking investors, and I agree that our economy needs to emerge from COVID first.
But our 2030 target of $10 to $15 per tonne is far too low. Some feel that it simply will not work as a way to slash emissions. IMF, which has one of the more conservative models out there, says our rate needs to be no lower than S$99 in 2030 to keep climate change at a safe level.
Even if we decide that $99 is too high, $15 is not anywhere near enough. We need to be honest with ourselves: without a high enough carbon tax, even with all the other things we do, our emission level might remain high – far too high.
Research studies from Ireland, Scotland and British Columbia find that a revenue-neutral carbon tax, where the money collected is poured back into the economy, could slash emissions while boosting the economy. That is the path we need to take. Mr Don Wee will share more of his thoughts on this topic. Mr. Henry Kwek will also share his views about cutting our emissions.
The second topic is professionalisation of the carbon documentation industry to heed the UN’s call for global harmonisation of carbon documenting standards.
The third topic is the embedding of sustainability into our industry transformation map or having an ITM for the sustainability sector.
Both of these topics flow from the reality that climate change is terrible, but the fight against it can create good jobs for
Singaporeans and grow our economy. Ms. Cheryl Chan will share her take on these two topics.
The fourth topic is the Green Mark scheme. Green Mark sets standards and certifies sustainable construction. It is a good idea, but its standards need to be improved.
A Green Mark Silver or Green Mark Gold building, today, may not be very green at all. The scheme needs to be tightened. Ms. Poh Li San will speak on this topic.
The fifth topic is climate education, and the sixth topic is increasing public access to emissions data of top-emitting entities. Both of these topics are about empowering our citizens.
How can we better teach our young ones about climate change? What can we do for them outside the classroom? And can we release more data on carbon emissions to the public?
Sustainability is an increasingly integral part of people’s lives. We must provide the education and the data needed for people to act in line with their moral compass. This will also help Singapore cut emissions. Ms. Nadia Samdin will share more on the topic. Ms.
Hany Soh will also speak about community involvement.
The seventh topic is charging points for electrical vehicles. EVs are the future of motor vehicles. Singapore aims to phase out cars with internal combustion engines by 2040.
But this shift will be hard if we don’t have enough charging points for them. The government needs the private sector to build more charging points. We need to find new ways to help them do so. Mr.
Gan Thiam Poh will speak on this topic.
Mr. Gan will also speak on the eighth topic, data-sharing mechanisms. The world of business competition is a treacherous place, but robust data-sharing frameworks can help provide the trust needed for industry players to share data, become more efficient and reduce emissions.
The ninth topic is climate defence. Total Defence has six pillars. It is time to add climate defence as the seventh pillar to reflect how climate change is an existential threat for Singapore. Mr. Seah Kian Peng is passionate about this topic and will discuss this in his speech.
Save our forests
Beyond the ten topics, we are all also concerned about our forests in Singapore.
Recently, the government shared an environmental baseline study carried out by Housing & Development Board to guide future plans for the Ulu Pandan Forest.
I thank HDB for consulting nature groups on the findings and also publishing the study online to seek further public views. I thank Minister for his comprehensive reply during question time earlier.
Many Singaporeans have spoken up. I share their concerns and I too hope that the Ulu Pandan Forest and other forest like the Clementi Forest will be protected. I believe we can work together to find a middle ground and embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore.
Sir, our forests are carbon sinks. They are our vanguard in our fight against climate change. In fact, because we have cut down so much forest in recent years, Singapore’s land now emits more carbon than it absorbs.
It is needless to say that forests are also sites of great, irreplaceable biodiversity.
The importance of biodiversity in forests is why when I amended the Wild Animals and Birds Act through a Private Member’s Bill last year, we included a new Section 10 that empowers the Director-General, Wildlife Management to “issue directions to developers to carry out wildlife-related measures to safeguard wildlife, public health or safety, or the health of the ecosystem.”
This was meant to give our Environmental Impact Assessment reports more teeth. It allows wildlife-related conditions in our EIA reports to be formally issued as directions. Developers must comply, or they may be punished by $50,000 fines or 6 months’ imprisonment.
Sir, I am glad that there is good news in that we are protecting more green spaces that were previously not protected. Indeed, we are setting up the new Khatib Bongsu Nature Park and the Sungei Buloh Nature Park Network.
I’ve brought many people young and old to explore Khatib Bongsu in the past few months and they are all in awe of the amazing biodiversity we have in Singapore and the need to conserve the precious green spaces we have left.
Just last Saturday, my GRC colleague Mr. Derrick Goh and I kayaked with students from secondary schools in Nee Soon to explore Khatib Bongsu. The kids are now brainstorming and coming up with ideas on how to build this new nature park. They are excited.
There is more we can do to protect our flora and fauna. It starts by not destroying their natural habitat. Many of these species have inhabited this land long before us.
They bring life to our island. They remind Singaporeans that a world exists beyond the containers of steel, glass and concrete that we live in. They provide enriching spaces for scientific research. We call it nature, but it is also identity and it is also heritage.
Buildings can be rebuilt. Art can be preserved. But it will take hundreds, if not thousands, of years before a living, breathing ecosystem like a forest regrows itself.
Sir, we have committed to planting a million trees in Singapore over the next 10 years. Let us also commit to protecting a million existing trees in our existing forests.
Ms. Rachel Ong will share more of her thoughts on this topic. Mr. Christopher De Souza will also discuss this in his adjournment motion.
Sir, let me end with a quote as always. This is from the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“We are the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.”
Sir, way back in 1956, the New York Times published an article, titled “Warmer climate on the earth may be due to more carbon dioxide in the air”. It was a warning about climate change and how human actions will contribute to it.
I live this moment with sadness and optimism. Sadness because we are somehow fighting the same battle that our forefathers fought decades ago.
But also optimism – because we are now much clearer about what we can do. Optimism because Singaporeans, more than ever before, are speaking up and taking action.
The government is listening and has done a great deal.
We are spending more than $1 billion in carbon tax revenue for the next five years to help our industries become more efficient.
We are building solar panels on our flats, reservoirs, ports and even airbases to increase our use of renewable energy.
We are making aggressive plans to replace conventional vehicles with EVs and hybrids to cut transport emissions.
We are facilitating green loans and green bonds to help green businesses grow.
We are making big bets on carbon capture, hydrogen and other aspects of climate science as part of a massive $25 billion research blueprint.
We are doing a lot. But still, we need to do more. Let us deepen and accelerate our climate change efforts.
Let us slash our emissions while building new industries and creating new jobs.
Let us commit to 2050 as a target year for net zero emissions so we catch up to the many countries we often compare ourselves to, such as Korea and Japan.
Sir, three years ago, I was in London for a conference. I listened to HRH Prince William as he delivered a passionate speech that has stuck with me all these years.
He shared about how he had just returned from a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya, and how some of the rhinos he saw are under such threat that they have more bodyguards than he had.
He said, “It is heart-breaking to think that by the time my children George, Charlotte and Louis are in their twenties, elephants, rhinos and tigers might well be extinct in the wild. I for one am not willing to look my children in the eye and say that we were the generation that let this happen on our watch”.
In the same vein, Sir, let us not also in our twilight years, have to look our children in the eye and tell them we saw climate change coming and did not do all that we could to avert this climate crisis.
There is more work to be done. I hope our government will continue working with the private sector, with our activists, and with all Singaporeans to do it. I’m confident that by working together, we will win this battle against climate change.
Sir, I beg to move.
Watch the speech here.