Who are the people involved in grading the climate scorecard, and what are their credentials in the field of environmental science and policy? Were experts in the respective fields or people working in these industries consulted when scoring those categories?
The Greenwatch team consists of people from SG Climate Rally and Speak For Climate. We undertook around 4-5 months of research, poring over policy papers, conversing with government officials and political parties, to obtain a thorough understanding of their climate policies. All facts presented in the government scorecard have been clarified with government agencies as well. Therefore, it is unnecessary to shore up the factual bedrock of our scorecard with our own ‘credentials’.
As for the scores themselves, they are entirely the opinion of the Greenwatch team, and we encourage Singaporeans to look at the details for each question in the scorecard and see for themselves the credibility of our justifications. If you believe that there are significant points that we might have overlooked, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Furthermore, in constructing the scoring methodology, we also consulted numerous notable academics in the environmental humanities and sciences, though many of them preferred to remain unnamed. This is because involvement in political activities in Singapore could threaten their livelihoods, an unfortunate reality of the present political climate.
Is politicising climate change the best way to bring attention to the issue?
Climate change is an inherently political issue. Around the world, companies that profit from or contribute to the climate crisis spend millions of dollars lobbying politicians to prevent stronger climate legislation, nationally or internationally; in many countries, fossil fuel industries are closely tied to structures of political power, entrenching their presence.
In Singapore, the de-politicisation of issues like climate change is, in fact, a political action. It privileges status quo understandings of the world and methods of governance, such as technocratic leadership and financial orthodoxy, over others. While these understandings are not inherently bad in all contexts, if left unchallenged they will uphold the existing global fossil fuel-led growth system, as they have for decades. This is the same system that will continue to exacerbate the climate crisis. Therefore, in acknowledging the politics of climate change, we are able to challenge the assumptions that underpin these understandings and methods of governance; only through doing so can the fossil fuel system be gradually drawn down, and a habitable climate preserved.
Are we holding the incumbent (PAP) government to a higher standard than opposition parties, who are able to voice policies that they are not in a position to implement?
We have designed our scorecard to be as comprehensive as possible, covering many different areas of environmental policy. Given this range of scoring categories, it can be expected that not every party, in particular the smaller parties, will have detailed solutions in every area. In such cases, we will give the party aN NA on that particular metric. More well-resourced parties will have more opportunities to score higher if they can come up with good ideas and proposals, but on the flipside they are also liable to more negative scores in areas where status quo policies are detrimental to a habitable climate. We designed our scoring system with this in mind so that we can grade parties with a degree of fairness in view of their relative capacities.
How can opposition parties help to bring about better outcomes for Singapore, even if they articulate a desire for stronger climate policies?
Even if opposition parties are not in a position to form a government in the next election, they play the critical role of voicing alternative visions to status quo policies. If opposition parties have bolder climate policies with clear support from voters, the incumbent party is forced to respond to win the support of climate-concerned voters.
How can Singapore draw down its fossil fuel industry if the establishment of renewable industries as an alternative is not feasible in Singapore?
One common misconception is that Singapore’s oil refining and petrochemical industry functions primarily to supply energy for Singapore’s power needs. These industries are in fact export-oriented and serve global markets. Decarbonisation requires reshaping these export-oriented sectors to reduce their environmental impacts, as well as a transition towards renewable energy sources for our domestic needs.
Another point to note is that increasing the share of renewable energy, namely solar, in our energy mix is feasible. A recent study published by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and commissioned by the Singapore government has highlighted that with the right mix of policies, Singapore’s solar capacity could grow to 5 gigawatt-peak (GWp) by 2050, up from 350 megawatt-peak (MWp) today. This means that by 2050, solar energy generated locally could meet 43% of electric power demand during mid-day. Furthermore, even if few off-the-shelf solutions are currently suited to Singapore’s context, there remains the potential to use novel and cost-effective urban solar applications.
Regional projects also represent untapped potential. As mentioned in our scorecard, the Singapore government could also deepen its commitments in regional energy projects, for instance through the ASEAN Power Grid or bilateral partnerships such as the Australian-Singapore Power Link, which is projected to supply a fifth of Singapore’s power needs through solar energy.
Are there viable replacements for other important by-products of the petrochemical industry if we remove it or reduce its presence in Singapore?
Non-fuel products of the petrochemical industry include the chemical building blocks for plastics, detergents, adhesive, and other products, known as synthetic polymers. These synthetic polymers are a small fraction of the yield from a barrel of crude oil; most of the products yielded are various fuels.
Some, but not all, of these materials will remain important. On the other hand, Singapore’s emissions will continue rising if we continue to expand the industry. Therefore, we must reconfigure production to retain necessary products while drawing down the industry so that it is no longer geared towards maximising profits at the cost of environmental and human harm. There are ways of making current processes more sustainable - such as by involving a mix of emerging technologies, from using sustainably-sourced chemical feedstocks to capturing carbon emitted as a by-product of industrial processes - but this must be done in tandem with a targeted drawdown of the industry, not an expansion.
Ultimately, if a habitable climate is to exist, emissions from the petrochemical industry will have to decline at some point, and preparing for that early by drawing down production, retraining workers, and heavily researching alternatives is the best way forward.
With a carbon tax, won’t corporations simply pass additional costs on to consumers, increasing cost of living without actually reducing emissions?
By putting an appropriate price on carbon emissions, we ensure that the prices of fossil fuels reflect the costs of climate disruption to society, and leverage the capacity of the market to enable emissions reductions. It also signals to polluting companies that their social legitimacy is dwindling.
That said, a large proportion of Singapore’s emissions are in sectors that serve export markets. This means that much of the share of these costs will be borne by corporations, as well as foreign consumers. With a well-designed carbon tax policy, wealth can be transferred from corporations and global consumers to the Singapore budget, which can then be distributed back to the Singapore people.
Greenwatch believes that revenues from carbon taxes should be held in a differentiated fund and progressively redistributed according to residents’ needs as carbon dividends. This arrangement should be instituted into legislation. Such an arrangement would be fundementally different from the current system, which gives households one-off utilities rebates to offset the rise in cost of electricity and gas. These rebates may or may not be drawn from the carbon tax revenues collected. Carbon dividends, on the other hand, give citizens a direct benefit from the carbon tax policy.
How will the government’s transport decarbonisation plan work, given that certain sectors like long distance road vehicles, ships and planes cannot be electrified and will need to rely on internal combustion engines?
The government’s attempts at decarbonisation in land transport focus mainly on last mile transport and moving away from a car-first public transport policy. However, there is room for more measures that reflect the full social cost of car ownership and reclaim car space through people-centric street design.
As for decarbonising the shipping and airline industries, there is still much scientific work to be done. Regarding emissions in these sectors, the government has articulated several policies. Singapore will participate in (1) the voluntary phase of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to freeze carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency and study the use of sustainable aviation fuels, and (2) launch the Maritime Singapore Decarbonisation Blueprint 2050 next year, placing $40 million under the Maritime GreenFuture Fund. More details on this have yet to be released.
Apart from renewables and divesting from fossil fuels, what are Singapore’s prospects for setting up an economy providing services for carbon sequestration?
The government has said that technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) are one of three key thrusts in its low emissions development strategy, but has not shared further details. The financial and technological viability of such a solution is still being explored. Therefore, a more detailed CCS R&D plan would be immensely helpful to further reduce industrial emissions, which make up 60% of our total emissions.
Will liquid alternative fuels such as biofuels, ammonia and hydrogen also allow the transition of jobs from the petrochemicals to renewable energy industry?
Alternative forms of energy are an important part of the green transition and the shift away from fossil fuels. The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) has mentioned in its Low Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS) that low-carbon hydrogen is an option that the Singapore government is keen on exploring. However, this alternative energy source is still in a nascent stage of development and may not be a viable option in the near term. Nonetheless, it is key that Singapore is proactive in researching and pioneering these alternatives to generate jobs for Singaporeans as the fossil fuel industry continues to decline globally.
How much R&D is the government putting into renewable energy, and should environmental groups also try to influence the private sector to develop the necessary technology?
The government is currently pushing for solar deployment through the SolarNova programme. Additionally, a few private actors have announced large investments into solar energy projects around the region. However, the outcomes of these projects are ultimately based on financial considerations, and the government has indicated that it does not want to “interfere” with market signals in this area.
As much as corporate initiatives are welcome, our green transition must not be dependent on market pressures; the government should take a stronger role in developing this sector, such as through Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which it has drawn up for other key industries, and the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, that it has set up to provide recommendations for a post-Covid-19 economy. The green transition is no less important.
Is data availability and disclosure an important issue around climate action; has it been evaluated in the Greenwatch scorecard and included in the #AskYourCandidate question list?
While data availability is not specifically mentioned in the scorecard or question list, Greenwatch does consider it a significant issue that overlaps with climate action. Under the ‘collective action’ category, the scorecard asks the following question: “How transparent and open to participation is the government with the public and other civil society groups during its policymaking processes?” The scorecard assigns a score of -1 to this question due to several factors associated with lack of transparency around government data and policy making processes. More information can be found under the ‘details’ tab of this question on the scorecard.