Tag Archives: climate change

Thoughts on the National Day Rally

“We should treat climate change defences like we treat the SAF – with utmost seriousness.”

On the 18th of August, 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech, addressing, among other issues, climate change and Singapore’s plan to meet the coming challenges. The title of my blog is a quote from his speech, which I took the liberty of making a minor edit that reflects my personal view. In this post, I’ll be picking out and summarising what I feel are the most important parts of the rally (that pertain to climate change), and giving some of my comments along the way. I understand that the measures listed out during the NDR are not comprehensive, and I must mention that my opinions are greatly summarised as well. While there are too many aspects of climate change to cover in this article, hopefully I’ll be able to give you an additional perspective!

What is climate change?

PM Lee began with a summary on the concept of climate change. He mentioned the greenhouse effect of rising CO2 levels – due to the effect of these greenhouse gases, we have already seen an increase in global average temperatures of 1°C and he even emphasised the gravity of this seemingly small increase. He later went on to list some of the issues Singapore will face: food shortages, diseases, extreme weather. Amongst the problems listed, he singled out the issue that he felt Singapore is the most vulnerable to: sea level rise. He then goes on to mention Singapore’s three-pronged approach to tackling climate change: Understanding, Mitigation and Adaptation.

Understanding Climate Change

Make no mistake, the effects of climate change are already being felt right now, but the scary part is what comes in the next few decades. These effects are difficult to predict, given the complexity and unpredictability of the world’s atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. PM Lee introduced us to the Centre for Climate Research Singapore which was set up in 2013 for research on climate science, to better understand the effects of climate change in the context of Singapore.

While having scientific basis behind policy-making is paramount, it is just as important for Singaporeans to be educated on climate change. An addition or integration of environmental studies into the formal education system would increase the literacy of Singaporeans towards key ideas like sustainability and stewardship. This would prepare the future generation for tackling problems like climate change and biodiversity loss while working towards a sustainable future.

Mitigating Climate Change

PM Lee mentioned Singapore’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and mentioned one of the steps the government has taken to limit our CO2 emissions is through a carbon tax. At $5 per tonne of CO2 emitted, however, could this tax be a bit too low? Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli explained that this tax is a nudge to businesses to begin improving efficiency, and that taxes will be increased with certainty, just over a longer time frame. Still, The World Bank estimates that to keep warming to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we would need a carbon price of US$40-80/tonne of CO2 by 2020 and US$50-100/tonne of CO2 by 2030. So is Singapore doing enough to persuade businesses to shift to greener technology?

Furthermore, PM Lee mentioned that the aim was to cap Singapore’s emissions by 2030. However, the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C explicitly states that to keep temperatures within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world would have to peak our carbon emissions in 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Is Singapore setting too lenient a goal?

These are just a couple of signs that Singapore isn’t taking its mitigation measures seriously enough, and this sentiment was echoed by the thousands of Singaporeans that attended the Climate Rally a few weeks ago. PM Lee goes on to say: “Although Singapore may not be able to stop climate change by ourselves, we can contribute to solutions, and we must do our fair share. Then we can be credible asking others to reduce their emissions too, and work towards a global solution to climate change.” Are we doing our fair share?

Adapting to Climate Change

PM Lee focuses solely on sea level rise. The grand plan is to build polders, inspired by the Netherlands. Polders are pockets of land reclaimed from the sea. Seawalls are first built around an area, and the area is pumped dry. PM Lee explained that these measures would likely be necessary for our eastern coastline, which is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels.

These polders increase our land area while at the same time, keeping the sea out. They could even potentially be used to harness tidal energy. The drawbacks would be the cost of building them, which is estimated to be more than 100 billion dollars. Additionally, there are the costs of maintaining these polders as water has to be constantly pumped out. Constructing these polders may also be destructive to the marine ecosystem around the eastern shoreline. There is also another problem.

Let me introduce you to a graph.

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Transient sea-level rise versus committed sea-level rise. (Hardy & Nuse, 2016)

Hank Green explained this graph well in his Youtube Video: “This is the scariest graph I’ve ever seen”. In a nutshell, while sea level rise by 2100 may be about 1m as we have planned for in our adaptation measures, the sea level rise that we subscribe to due to the additional heat in our atmosphere is far greater. If we do nothing about our emissions, sea levels could rise as much as 6 meters in the future. So how high are we going to keep building our sea walls?

While sea level rise is an issue that will affect Singapore significantly, other issues posed by a warming climate are just as serious. We import over 90% of our food, and climate change may soon render agriculture more difficult in many places. We may face a huge problem with food security. Singapore is also a hot and humid tropical country, which means we are especially vulnerable to fatal heat waves. All these problems will have to be addressed in the coming decades, perhaps even sooner than our rising sea levels.

Conclusion

While the measures that PM Lee went over in his NDR speech are laudable, there are still some areas where Singapore can do better. Though I’m no expert, it does seem that our mitigation measures are severely lacking. I understand that with every tax/investment/solution that is proposed, there are certainly challenges and costs. But Singapore is a wealthy country and if we do not take responsibility for our emissions, how can we expect other countries to, especially when they might not have the luxury to do so?

PM Lee said this in context to sustained effort to building adaptation measures: “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.” The government has to realise that this applies to our mitigation measures too. More emphasis has to be placed on mitigating climate change, even if the upfront costs may be great. Because the longer we wait, the greater the costs will become. With each tonne of CO2 we continue to release into the atmosphere, we increase human suffering in the future. Climate change is a moral issue, and it’s time treat it with utmost seriousness.

References:

Hardy, R.D. & Nuse, B.L. Climatic Change (2016) 137: 333. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1007/s10584-016-1703-4

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A Rally Memorable Event

Singapore Climate Rally

On 21st September 2019, Singapore had her first ever climate rally. For some, this event was a monumental occasion – they had hopes that it will be the catalyst for greater climate action from the government.

If you were unable to attend the SG Climate Rally, here is a detailed account of my experience!

Pre-main event – Activities and Booths

When my friend and I reached Hong Lim Park at about 3.30pm, I was pleasantly surprised to see a tremendous turnout. The registration queue was long but also really quick as the smiling volunteers were hard at work in managing the crowd. Immediately as we entered the park, you could not only feel the blazing heat, but a fiery atmosphere full of passion and excitement to match!

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Sources say over 1,700 people turned out!

As the main event was slated to start at 4.45pm, we had plenty of time to explore the ‘booths’ (or Welcome Activities) and meet people. The “What on Earth is the Climate Crisis” booth was situated near the entrance, so this was the first activity we went to. Here, we could listen to the volunteers giving a crash course on the climate crisis (and related concepts) while also providing a safe space to discuss and ask questions about the whole topic! It was nice to see people openly talk about a wide variety of issues and their specific interests like geoengineering or environmental justice. Additionally, there was a quiz that you can attempt to test your knowledge on climate change 😛

The next booth which caught my eye was the Community Mural Painting; throughout the event, it was constantly being swarmed by people waiting to write or draw messages to express their thoughts and feelings towards the climate crisis! In fact, the volunteers had to roll out an extra banner just to accommodate more people.

Next, we headed to “A Postcard to My MP”. As the name suggests, the booth provided us with postcards, stamps and addresses for us to mail a letter to our MPs! Beyond expressing our concerns for the climate crisis to the government, this activity was also an introspective one for me. It really got me thinking about climate-related issues and what I personally hope an individual with power can and should do. Do I describe my fears and anxiety for the future and hope that their humanity understands mine? Or should I expect more from the ministers and demand something to be done, since it is a crisis after all? I found myself reflecting a lot about my role in environmental advocacy and what I should do as someone who wants to pursue this as a career – because of this, “A Postcard to My MP” was my favourite activity!

By the end of the activity, my friend and I were parched and proceeded to the water station to refill our bottles.

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BES Drongos guides Hoyan and Lydia volunteering for the event!

On the way, we saw many interesting signs that were quite well thought out! Some were also hilarious and uniquely Singaporean like “Respect Your Mother” and “O-Levels are soon, so is this irreversible climate crisis”. Here are some of my favourites but do check @SGClimateRally on Instagram for more!

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Unfortunately, we missed other activities like “Share Your Climate Crisis Story” and “Kids Read for Our Future” as it was already time for the main event – the speeches and the die-in.

Main event – Speeches

The speeches were all pretty neat. Each speaker had their own unique perspective (from an 11-year-old boy to an NGO’s co-founder) with their own take on the issue at hand. At the same time, there was a connecting theme between each speech – the weariness of being told about individual action which translates to the demand of the government and industries to take major action. I highly recommend anyone interested to visit The Online Citizen and watch the recorded speeches! Notably, I admire Oliver’s passion at such a young age and Karen’s wholesome honesty about her fears in speaking out to the government.

It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when not in use, but the lights in Jurong Island never seem to be switched off – Ho Xiang Tian

Main event – Die-in

Honestly, I was quite skeptical about the whole “die-in” spectacle and felt that it was going to be an awkwardly uncomfortable experience. The idea was to have us “collapse domino-style” as a show of solidarity to everything we have lost to the climate crisis; thereafter, we can extend our reach to neighbouring attendees as a symbol of the interconnectedness between all things. Even as I type it now, the concept still seems quite peculiar to me!

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Taken form @SGClimateRally instagram!

Alas, perhaps it was because of the impassioned speeches right before, or perhaps it was because of the activity lead who was listing off all the elements of the 6th mass extinction, but the actual die-in felt surprisingly poignant. Despite whatever feelings you have for this segment of the event, I think that it made the rally a whole lot more memorable. Just like the annual Pink Dot, the die-in was SG Climate Rally’s big spectacle that had involved all attendees and meant something profound.

Conclusion

I personally found Singapore’s first Climate Rally to be a huge success! The organisers definitely didn’t bite off more than they can chew and everything seemed to have gone quite smoothly. Despite the heat and haze, it was also refreshing to see people still so energetic about wanting more to be done. While I believe that such rallies will still be needed in the near future, it was amazing to see Singapore’s environment-based civil society come together to demand better.

Written by: Afiq

What are the millennials up to lately?

Self-centred, self-absorbed, self-entitled. They are always on their phones, can’t let go of what they love, and seriously, they always think they deserve better in this world.

They are the millennials the society all so frown upon this day… right?

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Article posted by The Straits Times last week!

If you have seen young people watching their instagram feed every moment at noon on 15 March, looking disconnected and dissatisfied with the world, you have probably just encountered someone who has joined the Global Climate Strike 2019 (Tan, 2019). And he or she is probably more conscious about her surrounding and the world than you did at that moment.

Advocating for greater climate action is no longer the sole responsibility of climate scientists or influential businessmen and politicians; the young ones are taking charge, telling the world how the future generations deserve better and how the planet deserve better.

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Greta Thunberg (in yellow) the 16-year-old millennial who started this movement!

The global climate strike was a concerted effort of thousands of students from all over the world. In many of the countries, the students were skipping school and physically coming together to show the grown-ups that one doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to demand a change from the world.

Despite the growing movement towards sustainable development, climate change scepticism still prevails. This clearly shows that we should no longer rely on the scientists and statisticians to persuade the authorities and the general public.

In Singapore, where strikes and protests are not an option, the young people chose to make their voices heard by having a virtual strike on social media.

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Post for the Global Climate Strike from local advocates @theweirdandwild and @tingkats.sg

Several of the climate action and sustainability pioneers in Singapore have also expressed their support for this initiative. Singapore, as the forefront of urban development in Asia, has the ability to lead and set an example on sustainable development for the region (Hermes, 2019). While the booming trend of adopting zero-waste lifestyle such as ditching single use plastic straws and other disposable products used to be criticised as simply a fad, the fact that a growing number of young people have stayed religiously faithful to their commitment shows that the millennials in Singapore are ready to be the change they have envisioned.

Indeed, the millennials are still self-centred, self-absorbed and self-entitled. However, the sense of “self” has grown out of the stereotyped individualism. To the fervent advocates of climate actions and environmental sustainability, they feel the sense of entitlement not for themselves but for the environment, they are so stubborn that they refuse to budge from their pledges to slow climate change and most of all, while the world label millennials to be full of themselves, their belief that every individual has a power to change allow them to push forth many successful ground-up initiatives in the past years.

The strike may be over, but climate change doesn’t stop, and neither should our climate actions!

Written by: Andrea Law

References:

Tan, A. (2019, March 11). Global youth movement on March 15 calling for greater climate action may be held in Singapore as well. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/global-youth-movement-on-march-15-calling-for-greater-climate-action-may-be

Hermes. (2019, March 15). Strike by Singapore students unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/world/strike-by-spore-students-unlikely

Look At All This Global Warming

The other day I stumbled upon this on my twitter feed:

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Ironically, she’s making quite a good statement about climate change!

While I strongly believe that climate change deniers constitute a very vocal minority with an oversized internet megaphone, I still physically cringed when I saw that tweet. Fortunately, there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that global warming is a real issue which can manifest itself in many ways (including more intense weather conditions like the blizzard the girl is posing in). In fact, there is an entire international group dedicated to quantifying climate change and its implications on the world – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is UN’s massive team of scientists dedicated to conducting research on climate change; their main goal is to churn out reports that can inform governments on the ‘what’s, ‘why’s and ‘how’s of everything related to climate change. Just last year, they published SR15, a report which was honestly quite scary for someone like me who had only just begun to learn about the environment in depth.

Essentially, the report concluded that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C instead of 2°C by 2030 (at the very latest) or we risk causing too much irreversible damage. The entire report itself is way too comprehensive and detailed for any average person to fully read through, which means that even their executive summary is 30 pages long!

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From the official IPCC website (click to be directed)

For Singapore and the SEA region in general, the main concerns include climate change’s impact on marine biodiversity and ecosystems. To put things into perspective, it is predicted that by 2050, a global temperature rise of 1.5°C will drive the decline of 70% to 90% of all coral reefs; with a rise of 2°C or more, more than 99% are at risk! It is indeed quite disheartening to think that it is possible see the loss of such large ecosystems in our lifetimes.

Beyond the risk of species extinction and shrinking marine populations, this may also affect our local food supply. With increasing ocean acidification and rising sea levels, global warming has already been observed to cause declines in the productivity of fisheries and aquaculture; considering the fact that crop yields and the nutritional value of these crops are also expected to diminish, this spells some trouble for global food security.

Apart from affecting marine resources, SR15 studied over 10,000 species and found that among them, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their habitat ranges. This is definitely not surprising when you look at the spate of recent extinctions and a growing list of endangered species.

There are other implications as mentioned in SR15, of course, and I would recommend anyone truly interested to read the executive summary. Otherwise, here are some pretty neat infographics by WWF:

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Source: WWF at COP24

Fortunately, Singapore takes climate change quite seriously. In fact, the recent Singapore Budget 2019 addressed a bit of how our country has and will continue to adapt and mitigate. Quite in tandem with what SR15 suggests, we have a mix of adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to global warming. For instance, the budget includes how we have some infrastructural adaptations to rising sea levels and also some mitigation measures like restructuring diesel taxes. Notably, last year’s plan to implement a carbon tax has finally been implemented at the start of 2019.

As average Singaporeans, there’s so much we can do to contribute to the cause! Besides the usual advice of going vegetarian or using less disposables, it is also important to be open minded and help spread the good word to those that are not aware of the pressing issues surrounding climate change. Perhaps this is best done by inspiring a love for nature in them first, and perhaps this can be done by inviting them for a nature walk with us!

Written by: Afiq Sulaiman

Reusable straws: It’s time to walk the walk

Do you see those colourful pieces “decorations” on the beach? Do you notice that smell wafting from the HDB garbage chute that doesn’t smell quite like dinner?

Almost 7 million tonnes of solid waste is produced is Singapore every year and only a meagre 6% is being recycled. While Singapore does have well-developed waste treatment, trash can still be found polluting our natural environment and residential areas.

That, is the result of improper waste disposal.

It is easy to say that we can solve this problem by urging waste disposal companies to be more mindful in transporting waste, or by punishing litterbugs to deter such behaviours. However, these strategies can never reduce the amount of waste we’re generating.

As consumers, we play a pivotal role in environmental protection.

It has always been a challenge to start a green movement in Singapore. While other Asian countries are actively advocating practices like phasing out Styrofoam containers, charging for disposable plastic bags and improving recycling efforts, Singapore’s progress in green consumerism remained stagnant.

The situation seems to have improved with the increasing hype over reusable straws.

 

Images from: https://www.lazada.sg/ and https://www.seastainable.co/

I bet many of you own one of these straws which can be made of metal, glass or bamboo. They come in different colours, textures and even sizes, catering to Singaporean’s demand of 2.2 million plastic straws a day. But are we really using them because we are aware of the positive impact this habit can bring, or did we just order a set of straws because it’s the newest trend?

Ask any sustainable living advocate and they will tell you that in order to make a difference, you need your reusable items in one hand and commitment in another.

Many critics question the true practicality of reusable items, and one common issue identified is the inevitable generation of carbon footprint in the production of reusable products. According to an article on Asia One, a reusable bag needs to be used for more than 100 times before it can offset whatever degradation the production of this bag done to the environment.

This shows that in order to truly make a difference, one must be persistent about this change instead of abandoning this habit once the trend dies down.

Lauren Singer, an environmental activist, mentioned in a video with Vox that consumers should not be the only ones responsible for reducing the piles of trash we have accumulated; the producers should be made accountable for the disposal of their products as well. She mentioned that once corporations start bearing the responsibilities of excessive waste generation, they would be compelled to adopt more eco-friendly business strategies.

Fortunately, many corporations are on board with the new plastic straw free movement. KFC, Starbucks and some food courts around Singapore have stopped providing plastic straws at the counter and this encourages patrons to purchase a reusable straw or simply stop using a straw. This joint effort between businesses and consumers have greatly reshaped Singapore’s image when it comes to environmental consciousness, and I believe the growing popularity of Seastainable metal straw plays a great part in this movement.

It is heartening to see that young people, often stereotyped as stubborn and indifferent, are the ones leading this straw-free movement, drawing from their social influence to make a difference for the environment.

Think of the view of Singapore’s polluted coastline, the stench coming from the ground floor of your HDB blocks and remember why you got on board with this straw-free movement. One day, we will all look back and be glad that we are free from these eyesores.

 

Written by: Andrea Law

 

References:

Ong, L. (2018). Metal straws and reusable bags may not be as eco-friendly as you think. Retrieved from http://www.asiaone.com/singapore/metal-straws-and-reusable-bags-may-not-be-eco-friendly-you-think

Koh, H. (2018). 80% of Singapore consumers ready to ditch plastic straws. Retrieved from https://www.eco-business.com/news/80-of-singapore-consumers-ready-to-ditch-plastic-straws/

Chan, M. (2018). This S’porean Wants To Save Our Oceans With Her Metal Straws – Sold 3,500 Sets In Just 6 Months. Retrieved from https://vulcanpost.com/642438/seastainable-metal-straws-singapore/

NG, C. (2018). All 84 KFC outlets to stop providing plastic straws and lids for drinks. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/all-84-kfc-outlets-to-stop-providing-plastic-straws-and-using-plastic-caps-for-drinks

Langone, A. (2018). http://time.com. Retrieved from http://time.com/money/5333715/starbucks-hyatt-ban-plastic-straws/