Singapore to Zero (Part 1: Introduction)

A major global trend, Energy Transition, is now underway. 2020 marks a historic milestone for the world when countries representing >70% of the world’s GDP got round to committing to net zero targets by 2050-2060. Combatting climate change and developing sustainable energy systems have become a global agenda – a recognition that Earth is a common home shared by all humanity.

Singapore too has made progress on this front:

  • Aug 2019: Climate Change was first introduced at the national level by PM Lee Hsien Loong in the 2019 National Day Rally. And at its first introduction to the nation, PM Lee describe the issue as ‘existential‘.
  • Oct 2019: Minister Chan Chun Sing made a speech on the Singapore Energy Story at the 12th Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW).
  • Feb 2020: Singapore announced its target to peak greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 at 65 MT.CO2e, halve that by 2050, and get to net-zero by the 2nd half of the century.
  • Jul 2020: The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources was renamed to Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment to capture the broader implications of climate and sustainability.
  • Oct 2020: Minister Chan Chun Sing elaborated further at the 13th SIEW.
  • Apr 2021: Singapore unveils the SG Green Plan.

Climate Change and Energy are now forefront issues Singapore is fully committed to tackle. And to emphasize what PM Lee had described, Climate Change is an existential issue for Singapore. Climate change is inexorably linked to our use of fossil fuels that provide the energy to run our economy. Energy is the lifeblood of the global economy, and Singapore’s much the same.

Singaporeans have always been proud of the fact that despite having no resources, we’ve managed to build a world-class city that has earned the admiration of the world. In reality, Singapore has thrived only by remaining relevant to the world – including creating a conducive living and business environment, investing it its workforce and R&D, and strategically positioning Singapore’s industries in value add roles within global supply chains such that our economy is well integrated with other countries.

More importantly, we have been innovative in our approach to dealing with challenges. With innovation, Singapore has often not just overcome these challenges, but also turned them into new economic growth opportunities. I am confident Singapore can do the same in the global energy transition, and we must.

While we look at how we can do better within Singapore, the fact that we are an energy-importing country means we must also think about how we integrate upstream and downstream into new zero-carbon energy value chains. For as long as our primary energy supplies are fossil-based, we cannot fundamentally decarbonize our energy system.

Furthermore, GHG emissions are far from being just a Singaporean issue. It is global. Greenhouse gases respect no boundaries – how we progress affects the world, but more importantly how the world progresses on climate change will affect Singapore. In his opening remarks at the Parliamentary session on Singapore’s Green Plan 2030, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean aptly framed the situation that “While Singapore contributes around 0.1% of global GHG emissions, the totality of global emissions, including the other 99.9% of global GHG emissions affects us too, and often more seriously than it affects larger better endowed countries

So the fundamental questions for Singapore are:

  • How can Singapore, an energy-importing country, transition its own energy system and contribute towards a cleaner world?
  • How can Singapore be relevant to the global energy transition and carve out new growth opportunities?

These are the questions I aim to address in this 4-part series.

As Minister Chan Chun Sing described, “if water was our main challenge in the last 50 years, energy would be our main challenge in the next 50 years.” I could not agree more. How we transition will not only determine our continued relevance in the global economic system, but also our fundamental existence.

We will have to do this right!

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