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S’pore ‘faces constraints in further emission cuts’

SINGAPORE — As the Republic prepares to commit to a global pact on climate change in Paris next year — when targets for carbon emission levels after 2020 will be set — experts TODAY spoke to felt Singapore faces limitations in its potential to further reduce emissions.

S’pore ‘faces constraints in further emission cuts’

File photo of traffic in Singapore. Photo: Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE — As the Republic prepares to commit to a global pact on climate change in Paris next year — when targets for carbon emission levels after 2020 will be set — experts TODAY spoke to felt Singapore faces limitations in its potential to further reduce emissions.

The nation has taken significant steps to manage emissions, most notably shifting from fuel oil to natural gas to generate electricity, and has limited options in making further cuts, they said. With an economic base still focused on processing and manufacturing, significant reductions will be hard to achieve, some felt.

 

WHERE SINGAPORE STANDS

 

In 2009, Singapore pledged to cut carbon emissions by 7 to 11 per cent below 2020 business-as-usual (BAU) levels and, in the case of a binding global agreement, by 16 per cent below BAU levels. This is based on a projection that the nation’s emissions would reach 77.2 million tonnes by 2020 if no measures were taken.

Statistics from Singapore’s first Biennial Update Report — a summary of the Republic’s actions to mitigate climate change and its effects — noted that the country’s growth in emissions slowed to an average annual rate of 2 per cent, lower than the 2.2 per cent globally.

In 2010, the nation’s carbon emissions totalled 46.83 million tonnes, of which about 45.2 million tonnes was carbon dioxide (CO2).

Separately, figures on the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources website showed that, in 2012, Singapore produced 41.5 million tonnes of CO2 from burning fossil fuels — excluding emissions from waste incineration and bunker fuels — more than the 39.06 million tonnes in 2007.

The nation managed to reduce carbon intensity — the amount of carbon emissions per dollar of gross domestic product — between 2000 and 2010 by 30 per cent, far more than the global average decrease of only 0.12 per cent. This was largely due to a switch from fossil fuels to a cleaner fuel mix of natural gas that produced lower carbon content per unit of electricity generated.

In 2010, the energy and transformation industries — which burn fossil fuels to produce electricity — contributed 46 per cent of carbon emissions from fuel combustion in the energy sector, while industrial activities accounted for 38 per cent. Transport, commercial-institutional and residential sectors took up 15 per cent, 1 per cent and 0.4 per cent, respectively.

Despite Singapore faring better in the global carbon intensity rankings — the International Energy Agency ranked Singapore 123rd among 137 countries in 2011 — the country’s per capita emissions remain high, coming in 27th of 137 nations.

STEPS TAKEN TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT this year

 

Solar energy is set to be Singapore’s most promising source of renewable energy. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) called for its largest solar leasing tender to date in May for about 680 HDB blocks in four residential towns.

In March, the Government also said it would raise the total installed solar capacity to a 350-megawatt peak by 2020, or about 5 per cent of the annual electricity demand.

Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled Singapore’s second Singapore Sustainable Blueprint, which focused on maintaining green spaces and creating a “green economy”, among other things.

In the third Green Building Masterplan unveiled in September, a new S$50 million fund was introduced to help building owners and their tenants from small and medium enterprises offset the cost of retrofitting spaces to make them more eco-friendly.

Since April, PM2.5 readings have been incorporated into the Pollutant Standards Index to reflect more precisely the amount of fine particulate matter in the air. In August, Singapore also passed laws on transboundary haze pollution that allow entities causing or contributing to haze here to be fined up to S$2 million.

 

CUTTING EMISSIONS: CAN SINGAPORE DO BETTER?

 

Research associate Melissa Low from the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS) told TODAY it is hard to compare the nation’s performance with that of other countries, given how Singapore is a small city state that is reliant on imported fossil fuels and that its economy still depends on energy-intensive industries such as processing, unlike in the European Union, where the economic downturn has led to a growth in services, which may help reduce emissions in the continent.

Assistant Professor Chang Youngho from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Division of Economics noted that Singapore is using fairly advanced technology to produce electricity and any further breakthroughs to raise efficiency would not be easy.

NTU’s Professor Euston Quah pointed out that further efforts to cut carbon emissions or increase energy efficiency would result in higher costs, while barely making a dent in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere globally. At present, Singapore contributes to less than 0.2 per cent of global emissions.

“Given that our contribution is already so low, reducing (it) further by increasing energy efficiency would not make sense economically,” he said.

Carbon emissions, he felt, are “necessary by-products” of industry and economic activities, which not only bring about growth, employment and income, but could also provide financial resources to reduce pollution and other environmental degradation.

However, Associate Professor Matthias Roth from the NUS Department of Geography felt Singapore has some way to go. He noted how absolute CO2 emissions had been allowed to increase despite a fall in carbon intensity.

“The Earth’s climate is changing in response to an increase in absolute concentrations of carbon dioxide,” he said. “The atmosphere does not respond to statistics such as per capita emissions, carbon intensity ... but simply to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air that affects the radiative balance of the Earth-atmosphere system.”

 

TACKLING CARBON EMISSIONS

 

In response to media queries, a spokesperson from the National Climate Change Secretariat said Singapore’s achievements in reducing carbon intensity reflect the “significant early actions” taken.

However, sustaining such reductions will be difficult going forward, even with technology that is higher in efficiency and alternative clean-energy sources being explored.

Given Singapore’s limited alternative energy options, energy efficiency is a core strategy in reducing carbon emissions, the spokesperson added.

This includes the Energy Conservation Act that came into effect in April last year, under which large users of energy need to submit their energy-consumption data and develop plans to improve energy efficiency.

Ms Low said the National Environment Agency should share its initial assessment of energy reports submitted by 167 companies, which operate 211 energy-intensive industrial facilities. She also felt with SMEs forming the bulk of firms here, they can do more, while many are not fully aware of the grants available to help them become more energy efficient.

Prof Quah suggested that both the public and private sectors could do cost-benefit analyses and environmental impact assessments for proposed developments and projects.

In addition, he raised the example of imposing a carbon tax as an instrument to correct for the price distortion of economic activities by making people and firms pay for the external costs that their activities bring to society.

Ultimately, climate change is a people problem, said Dr Roth. “It will be very difficult to achieve significant reduction in carbon emissions as long as the population is allowed to increase at the present rate without drastically lowering the carbon footprint of industries and individual behaviour,” he added.

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