Opening Plenary Speech  by Mr Andrew Tan, Director, CLC



Professor Ooi Giok Ling, President of SEAGA,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


The Warming Climate

So much has been said about climate change that I can add very little to the discussion.

Suffice it to say that climate change is taking place. We see it in the increasing temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising sea levels.

No one really knows when and how climate change will affect all of us.

The interaction between mankind’s activities and the natural variations in weather patterns is hard to ascertain, given that the climate is an inherently complex system with many feedback loops.

However, scientists are unanimous on one point. Mankind has significantly contributed to global warming, particularly since dawn of industrial era.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report is on the verge of being outdated as new data comes to light that climate change is taking place faster than expected.

But lagging behind the scientific data is the policy response. There has been much less consensus on what needs to be done to tackle climate change at the global level.

Underpinning this is the difficulty in assessing the risks of climate change and determining how best to share the burden of climate change.


The Big Picture - Assessing the Risks 

Some may recall that Bjorn Lomborg, a political scientist and author of “Cool it - The Skeptical Environmentalist” (2001) sparked a lively debate when he argued that many of the costly actions taken to address climate change are based on emotional rather than strictly scientific arguments. Many of these measures may have no significant impact at all.

Lomborg adds that the risks associated with HIV/AIDS and malaria take a far greater toll on human lives than climate change and require just as much, if not more urgent attention.

Rather than spend 1% of our GDP as Nicholas Stern recommends in tackling climate change, we might as well give everyone clean drinking water, basic healthcare and education right now.

While many of us may not agree with Lomborg in the way he has couched the debate, many parts of the world do require urgent attention – wars are being fought, diseases are widespread, and millions of people are living under the poverty line.

Other global threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation similarly pose a threat to our societies.

At the heart of this debate is how do we assess risks such as climate change? And how do we manage different types of risks? History has shown that societies are not very adept in managing risks that they cannot ascertain.

Central to the assessment of such risks is the availability of more accurate data and modeling tools that can help assess the magnitude of the impact of climate change and hence the scale of response needed.

Once the extent of risk is known, the next step to implement measures to reduce or minimize the risks, as well as pooling or sharing of such risks becomes possible.


Determining What’s Fair & Equitable 

So how best should the world share the risks of climate change?

Currently, the world generates the equivalent of about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year.

The IPCC states that annual global emissions must fall to 20 billion tonnes by 2050 to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

As the world’s population is projected to reach 9-10 billion people by that time, we are in effect talking about 2 tonnes per person.

Jeremy Oppenheim, from McKinsey, calculates that this translates into 5.5 kg of carbon dioxide per day. He adds, “If one had to live on such a carbon budget, one would be forced to choose between a 25-mile car ride, a day of air conditioning, buying two new T-shirts (without driving to the shop), or eating two meals. In short, without a big boost in carbon productivity, stabilizing greenhouse-gas emissions would require a huge drop in lifestyle for people in the developed countries and the loss of hope in the Third World for greater prosperity through economic growth.”

The difficulty is that to reduce everyone’s emissions to the level of India or Africa at about 2 tonnes per person, this would involve bringing down the US from well over 20 tonnes, EU and Japan from 10 tonnes, and China from 6 tonnes. The world’s average is about 8 tonnes. To realize these drastic cuts would require painful adjustments.

So when Premier Wen Jiabao was in Singapore in 2007 for the 3rd East Asia Summit, he explained: “In China, there are still more than 20 million rural people living in poverty and over 22 million urban residents who are below the poverty line, and the country's economic and social development is uneven between urban and rural areas and among different regions. China's "development emissions" will see some increase, as we are endeavoring to improve the living standards and quality of life for 1.3 billion people.”

Likewise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was also in Singapore for the Summit, spoke in the same vein. At a subsequent event in 2008, Singh said, “We cannot continue with a global development model in which some countries continue to maintain high carbon emissions, while the development options available for developing countries get constrained.” 

Indeed, Wen and Singh could well have been speaking for many developing nations facing the same dilemma. It is therefore no coincidence that much of the global talks on climate change hinges on how the international community allocates the cuts in global carbon emissions.

Developed countries are asked to shoulder a larger part of this burden for their historical emissions, but even those who agree in-principle on the basis of “common but differentiated responsibilities” are reluctant to commit to deeper cuts in their emissions without emerging economies like China and India included.

Whether any global deal emerges will essentially depend on the positions of the major players, particularly the US and China. Without either of them, there can be no global deal.


Role of Cities and Climate Change – Sustaining the International Momentum


In its recent report on the State of the World’s Cities 2008/9, UN-HABITAT highlighted that there are more than 3,300 cities in the low elevation coastal zones around the world.

Of these cities, 64 per cent are in developing regions; Asia alone accounts for more than half of the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 per cent) and Africa (15 per cent).

In the developed world, close to 1,200 cities are at risk. Two-thirds of these cities are in Europe; almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in low elevation coastal zones.

By virtue of their natural location, cities will be particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Many of these cities lack the infrastructure as well as funding to take the necessary action.

Unfortunately, many of these cities in the developing world that are prone to climate change are also where most of the urban population growth will occur in the next few decades.

All too often cities are blamed for climate change, but cities should see themselves as an integral part of the solution to addressing climate change.

With their knowledge, power and resources, many cities have the wherewithal to deal with climate change, particularly where the climate change agenda is aligned to issues of liveability like air quality, traffic congestion and energy efficiency already on the local agenda.

Many cities in the developed and developing world have taken steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and devise their respective climate change plans. For example, the Covenant of Mayors is a European initiative involving more than 100 cities in the EU seeking to reduce their emissions through energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In the US, the US Conference of Mayors has initiated a Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The C40 Initiative is another example. There is yet an Asian equivalent, although last year, Singapore hosted the first East Asia Summit Conference on Liveable Cities comprising mayors and governors from the East Asia Summit.

Such city-wide efforts will help sustain the international momentum on climate change. Indeed, there are even calls for cities to be included in any global deal on climate change.


Think Global, Act Local - Singapore’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation Efforts 

Let me now touch on Singapore’s response to climate change – much of this still works in progress.

Given our geography as a low-lying island-state, we have to take the threat of sea level rise seriously. A warmer climate may also favour the spread of vector-borne diseases.

In 2007, the National Environment Agency (NEA) commissioned a study to better understand the long-term effects and impacts of climate change in Singapore.

The study team, led by the Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) from the National University of Singapore, is finalizing the first phase of the study that covers effects such as sea level rise, temperature and wind patterns. The second phase of the study will look at the impacts of climate change on pubic health, biodiversity as well as energy demand in buildings.

Singapore’s proactive and long-term planning approach puts us in a good position to deal with climate change. For instance, the development of drainage infrastructure over the past 30 years has reduced flood-prone areas significantly. Our current land reclamation levels, which are set at 1.25 m above the highest tide level, will help us to address future sea level rises.

The recently completed Marina Barrage, first mooted by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew more than two decades ago, also serves to alleviate flooding in the low-lying areas in the city by acting as a tidal barrier.

We have also invested into water technologies R&D. The introduction of NEWater and desalination, which are relatively independent of rainfall patterns, will increase our water resilience in the face of climate change.

Likewise, our push for urban greenery will help reduce the urban heat island effect. Besides city parks and open spaces, our agencies are now exploring rooftop greenery and vertical greenery on residential and commercial buildings.

Well-planned roads linking different parts of the city, coupled with an efficient public transport system, with congestion control measures as the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) have also reduced congestion and pollution.

There is of course much more to be done. Moving forward, promoting greater energy efficiency will be a key strategy to reducing our emissions and saving costs for households and businesses in this economic climate.

We are encouraging our public sector agencies to take the lead by undertaking energy audits, setting air-conditioning temperatures at a level that is not too cold, as well as achieving the Green Mark standard.

For industries, we have also introduced various incentives to encourage them to adopt energy efficient processes, such as the Design for Efficiency Scheme and the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies.

For households, we have launched initiatives such as the 10% energy challenge to encourage energy efficient habits. Mandatory Energy Labelling for common household appliances ensure that consumers can make more well-informed choices.

Beyond these areas, the government is also investing significant R&D into the clean water and clean energy programmes. For example, the National Research Foundation (NRF) has set aside $170 m for research into clean energy over the next few years. The Ministry of National Development has also set aside a $50 m research fund to intensify R&D efforts in green building technologies and energy efficiency.

We are as much interested in learning from the best practices of other countries as we are happy to share our experience with others.


Conclusion – Strong Political Will Essential 

Climate change may be the most complex challenge that mankind has ever encountered. Notwithstanding the state of international negotiations on climate change, we should persevere in our mitigation and adaptation efforts as our understanding of the science of climate change improves and technological developments open new realms of possibilities.

At the national level, cities can adopt practical ways to deal with the challenge. But a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work given the need for many cities to balance between multiple priorities.

A proper assessment of the risks will be necessary as a first step towards minimizing the vulnerabilities, as well as a good system to manage the various policy trade-offs.

Ultimately, whether at the national or international level, it will require strong political will to put in place effective mitigation and adaptation measures.

Any global deal will have to include the world’s largest emitters, with developed countries taking deeper commitments and developing countries doing their part taking into account their respective national circumstances, as well new financing and technology transfer mechanisms for the most vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change.

I would like to thank Prof Ooi and her team in bringing together excellent speakers and such a wide range of participants for this exchange.

I wish you all a fruitful and rewarding session.

Thank you.


[1] Text of Dr Manmohan Singh's address at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, 7 Feb 2008. news