Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, on the Private Member’s Motion: Towards a Low-carbon Society
It is too hot and too wet!
Sir, if you recall, this was what I said one year ago, when this House came together to declare climate change a global emergency.
Yet, somehow, the world has become even hotter and even wetter. July 2021 was the world’s hottest ever month. Regions, from sunny California to snowy Siberia, faced their largest wildfires in history. The Arctic hit a record high of 38 degree Celsius. Catastrophic floods struck India, Europe, Malaysia, Australia and China. In China’s Henan province, a year’s worth of rain fell in a single day.
And it’s not just heat and rain either. Extreme winter weather left nearly 10 million people in the US without power and water. It killed 318 people and caused nearly US$200 billion of damage, making it the deadliest and costliest natural disaster in US history.
The science is clear: climate change will increasingly usher in extreme weather and throw lives and livelihoods into disarray. As an open country, Singapore will undoubtedly be hit hard.
This is a grim picture and we are running out of time.
This is why my fellow GPC Members and I have returned to the House just one year later to call again for the Government to take further steps to tackle climate change, to sharply reduce Singapore’s carbon emissions and urgently move towards an inclusive low-carbon society.
We are not alone in this fight. As the climate crisis worsens, the people of Singapore have taken up the fight in their personal and professional lives.
I shared the stories of some of these inspiring individuals in this House last year including Esther, Lastrina, Xiang Tian and Wei Shan. I am happy, today, to share more about what they have done to further the fight against climate change and I am happy they are up in the gallery, joining us in Parliament for this important debate.
CDL and Esther
Let me start with an update on Esther, the Chief Sustainability Officer of City Developments Limited.
Last year, I shared how it really is not common to see a business leader advocate about climate change like she does and how despite all her time working with titans of industry, her inspiration comes from youths.
She continues to walk the talk. This past year, she attended COP 26 in Glasgow as a private sector representative with our activists. At COP 26, Esther proudly flew Singapore’s flag and spoke at the Built Environment Leaders Panel, a main stage event.
But it is not just at COP 26 where Singapore’s activists and business people stand together. Back home, Esther led CDL’s partnership with young activists from the Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA).
Together, CDL and SYCA launched a campaign called “Keep Calm and Love Our Planet”. Climate change can feel too big, too difficult a problem for the youth of the world. The campaign aims to dispel the sense of paralysis and instead motivate youth to take action against climate change.
If you have not spoken to Esther before, I strongly encourage you to do so. She is a breath of fresh air, overloaded with enthusiasm and passionate about working together with our youth to save this planet we call home.
SYCA, Lastrina, Cheryl and Swati
And this brings me to the young leaders at SYCA – Lastrina, Cheryl, and Swati who Esther works closely with.
Last year, I shared how Lastrina co-founded SYCA in 2015 to shine a light on what young people can do for the environment. Her message is one of empowerment.
I am happy to share that SYCA celebrated their 6thbirthday in November last year. With this milestone, other leaders have stepped up. Lastrina has empowered and inspired many others and this movement has grown.
Two of the leaders at SYCA are Cheryl and Swati. Passionate about fighting climate change, they attended COP 26 as youth representatives. But their journey to COP 26 was full of challenges, involving complicated logistics and fund-raising. Yet their go-getter attitude exemplify exactly what we want to see from our young people today.
They shared with me that, “We are cautiously hopeful because we see changing mindsets and positive action all around us. We have seen our peers push for change and encourage positive impact through conscious food choices, recycling and sustainable energy-use. There are students, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists and individuals in various professions among us who work tirelessly to achieve this. They inspire us to keep going and empower other individuals who have this shared vision of the world”.
LepakInSG and Xiang Tian
Last year, I also shared the story of Xiang Tian, a young man who leads LepakInSG, a youth initiative that circulates environmental events to motivate others to get involved.
One year on, Xiang Tian remains optimistic about what we can achieve through collective action. He told me, “One thing that makes me hopeful is the increasing number of people who are learning more about the climate crisis and other environmental issues, and taking actions to push for change.”
In the past year, LepakInSG has been active on social media, explaining the important environmental impact studies and baseline studies we have done. Importantly, Xiang Tian is still doing this infamously in his slippers. Although I am aware he is finally not wearing his slippers today. He sacrificed them to be able to enter Parliament.
His work makes these complex but important topics more accessible to the public and makes it easier for the public to get involved, such as in consultations on land use and development plans.
Xiang Tian tells me that LepakInSG has exciting plans coming up to facilitate discussions between green groups in Singapore. I cannot wait.
YP and Wei-Shan
We are also very fortunate that at the PAP Youth Wing, we also have young activists working tirelessly on climate change issues.
Wei-Shan is one such activist, leading a team of volunteers who are passionate about making a serious difference.
We have been on many late night calls with the YP team led by Wei-Shan. Last year I talked about the familiar sight of her two young children on our many Zoom calls.
Like my daughters, they remain a regular and welcomed presence on our calls over the past year. Welcomed in most cases, except when my daughter Katie appeared completely naked when I was on zoom listening to PM’s National Day Rally live. I was horrified and I sure hope that no one, including PM saw.
Sir, Esther, Lastrina, Cheryl, Swati, Xiang Tian, and Wei-Shan inspired us. Along them are countless other activists and citizens who have fought so hard against climate change in their own ways.
Their call for action is loud and clear. I hope we can heed their call. In this spirit, I come to this House with three proposals.
First, we should commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
Second, we should increase the carbon tax to a price necessary to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Third, we should expand coverage of the carbon tax to include all reportable facilities.
Commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050
Let me start with my first ask. The Government should commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. I’ve pushed for this many times in this House.
Sir, 2050 is not just a random year. It is based on science; global emissions must be net zero by 2050 ifwe want to have any hope of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Singapore’s current commitment is to reach net zero as soon as possible after 2050. This runs not just against what science says is needed. It runs against what many other countries are doing.
Already, 136 countries have set concrete target years for carbon neutrality. This is 70% of all the countries. It includes nearly every developed nation in the world. Last year, the US, Australia and Israel also committed to reach net zero by 2050. What is stopping us?
I understand that the Government may want to focus on actions, not targets. And I do thank the Government for taking the right actions: releasing its Green Plan and for sharing how it will transform Jurong Island into a sustainable chemicals and energy hub.
But actions are motivated by targets. It will be harder to get to net zero by 2050 if we aren’t actually intending for that to happen.
In addition, setting a target in line with scientific and international standards sends a strong message to Singaporeans. This would help the Government achieve what it says is needed: a whole-of-nation response to climate change.
Last October, Minister Grace Fu said, “We will continually review and enhance our climate targets.” I thank the Government for its openness to revising its targets.
Given the increasing severity of the climate crisis and the potential for sparking a whole-of-nation response, will the Government commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050?
Increase the carbon tax
My second proposal today is that we increase the carbon tax significantly.
There is no question that the carbon tax is the most powerful tool we have to slash emissions. Everything else – from green jobs to green financing that we are debating is important, extremely important. But the carbon tax has the highest potential to reshape incentives and motivate action.
But our current rate is $5 per tonne. Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said last October that this is too low. I agree with him.
How high should it be to sufficiently slash emissions?
One range from the High Commission on Carbon Prices, which is supported by the World Bank, proposed that US$50 to US$100 is needed by 2030.
The IMF similarly recommends a rate of U$100 by 2030. Even higher prices have been suggested by LSE’s Grantham Institute, which proposes US$145 and the OECD, which provides a central estimate of U$147.
My ask is that we look at the studies that have been done by these institutions and the principles for how they arrived at these prices. I hope we can adopt the principles and approaches to derive a price that Singapore needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
An increase in the carbon tax will also mean an increase in tax revenue. I hope the Government will use this to help subsidise decarbonisation projects in the private sectors as well as limit the impact on low-income Singaporeans by issuing more U-Save rebates or vouchers under the Climate Friendly Households Programme. Let’s make this transition an inclusive one.
Expand coverage of carbon tax
My third and final ask is that we expand the coverage of the carbon tax.
Currently, carbon tax applies only to facilities emitting at least 25 kilotonnes of CO2equivalent in a year. This covers around 50 facilities that contribute about 80% of our total carbon emissions.
We should aim for a higher coverage.
I understand that the Government set a high threshold to limit compliance costs by smaller emitters. But smaller emitters, those emitting at least 2 kilotonnes of CO2equivalent, are already “reportable facilities” and have to pay the costs of monitoring and measuring their emissions.
Given that any additional compliance costs would likely be minimal, it make sense for the carbon tax to cover all reportable facilities. This would, after all, be in the spirit of a whole-of-nation fight against climate change. Emitters, small and large, have a role to play.
In conclusion, let me summarise my proposals.
First, the government should pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Second, it should increase the carbon tax rate significantly.
Third, it should expand coverage of the carbon tax to include all reportable facilities.
The fight against climate change must involve decisive action. On the matters of net zero targets and carbon taxes, we need to move much faster.
I thank the Ministries and agencies for their hard work so far in helping Singapore play its part in the global fight against an existential crisis.
Sir, during last year’s climate change motion, I spoke extensively about how Captain Planet, that children’s cartoon, motivated me to care more for the environment.
Through that sharing, I learnt that many people didn’t know who on earth Captain Planet is and that I really am getting old. But I’m glad many went to find out about Captain Planet and the important message of protecting our planet.
Sir, let me end with a quote from Gaia, the spirit of Earth in Captain Planet.
“The feeling that one person can’t make a difference is the greatest obstacle of all.”
Small as Singapore may be, I hope we can all believe in her ability to make a difference in the global fight against climate change.
Watch the speech here.