In the last ten years or so, words like “climate change,” “global warming,” and “sustainability” have become hot topics of discussion. Worldwide climate change marches and awareness campaigns have resulted in real change as corporations, the world is taking the first steps towards reducing human impact on the environment. Sustainability, a widely used term in the vision for the future, is one such way to help minimize our current impact while continuing to develop as a society.
However, even after establishing the fact that we need to make a change, there are still a multitude of problems with becoming environmentally friendly, which range from introducing extensive climate change policies to making the common man understand that, is a significant problem. So why should the people of Singapore care about climate change?
It’s no secret that Singapore is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. A flourishing hub of ideas and technology with enough capital to fund hundreds of new projects, Singapore represents the fine line between Asian culture and Western development, with the potential to bring about lasting change.
The citizens of Singapore know about this potential, too. In essence, 95% are aware of why climate change is bad for both environmental and human health and want better climate change action from the government. Almost 80% are even willing to spend a little more to reduce Singapore’s reliance on carbon-emitting technology and have started practicing more sustainable activities in their daily lives, including reducing water consumption, better waste management, and using public transport or bicycles to get to work!
This increase in awareness could not have come at a better time. In 2017, Singapore contributed to 0.11% of the world’s carbon emissions by generating over 52 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. These numbers are staggering, considering that Singapore only occupies 0.0005% of the Earth’s land – showing that even small changes can have significant impacts.
Cutting down of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases has long been a priority for environmental protection agencies and NGOs. The Paris Agreement, initiated by UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in 2016, saw nearly every country, including Singapore, vow to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 30% over the next decade. It is especially important when considering carbon’s role in climate change – as a greenhouse gas (GHG), it is responsible for keeping the Earth warm when the sun’s rays don’t reach it. However, human impact, like vehicle emission and factory waste, has increased the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to levels we’ve never seen before, in just a short 200 years. So, reducing the levels of carbon would curb the rate of global warming we’re currently undergoing, which in turn would soften the impacts of climate change – almost like a domino effect!
Singapore’s government partially realizes the severity of this issue. They’ve included a carbon tax on companies, which requires a payment of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emission, although it’s impact has yet to be monitored. However, change does not need to occur at a national level to be efficient and impactful. Small companies can initiate their journey towards a greener and healthier future by themselves! The first step in that measures your carbon footprint. Carbon Trust, an organization geared towards making businesses and governments low-carbon, has a Carbon Footprint Calculator, which uses parameters like Emission Factors, light, electricity, and water use to determine how much carbon your company is releasing into the atmosphere. Once that’s done, it becomes easier to figure out what to do next – whether its improving water efficiency or cutting down on the electricity bill. Sustainability has never been more accessible or more enticing, especially with Singapore’s government willing to incentivize its people. Companies that are actively avoiding the shift to sustainable efforts are losing money – BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, is estimated to have lost US$90 billion in the last ten years because of its investments in fossil fuels.
So, now we know that Singapore is in an excellent place to become sustainable and reduce carbon emissions. So, what happens if we don’t?
Singapore’s Infamous Haze
Being a tropical country just 1 degree from the equator, Singapore is no stranger to heat and humidity. But due to global warming and climate change, this heat is reaching uncomfortable temperatures. Seasonal and annual disturbances in weather patterns are causing an unpredictable monsoon because of which Summer seasons are longer and warmer. Hotter and longer months are increasing the risk and frequency of forest fires, which will become fatal to humans and animals. Similar to the fires that have ravaged Australia for the last few months, in 2015, extensive forest fires in Sumatra released a cloud of smoke so big that it engulfed the Singapore city for couple of months, and the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) rated the air quality as Hazardous, causing schools to cancel, and health conditions to worsen.
The challenge with climate change is that it predicts the following years will be hotter and drier than ever before. So not only will these forest fires get more frequent, but they will also become significantly more damaging. Just think of the consequences it would have for biodiversity and human health.
Now, the obvious solution to this problem is to stop global warming, and reduce climate change, right? But that, of course, is too big for one person to do alone, and it requires a global and long-term vision to implement. Instead, as an individual or a company, you can do your part in reducing carbon emissions, which will be the first step to stopping air pollution. Particulate matter released by vehicle exhaust and factory waste contributes to haze too. Converting to green energy, therefore, is a significant way to becoming sustainable – Siemens, for example, pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2030 through investments in renewable energy and e-mobility. On the topic of green energy, the Singaporean government is also attempting to fuel the country’s electricity demand by converting to solar energy – in the next ten years, it plans on supplying 4% of the total electricity through solar panels. So, although the problem is dire and predicted to get worse, there is still a window of opportunity for this effect to be reversed.
Droughts and Water Scarcity
All problems related to climate change get interlinked with each other. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather have resulted in unprecedented solar heating and drought situation in ASEAN countries, especially in 2015. Of course, the value of clean drinking water cannot underestimate to human life. Still, above and beyond that, Singapore is exceptionally vulnerable to droughts – known as the “global hydro hub,” many water companies invest and collaborate with the country, the loss of which would harm its economy. In 2015, Johor underwent drought situation affecting 640,000 households and industries for over a month. Imagine the kind of consequences brought about by more prolonged droughts.
Reducing individual water consumption goes a long way in saving water supplies. Desalination is the short-term solution being used, but it is costly and inaccessible to most people. But companies can often think outside the box too – better waste management and energy efficiency can substantially reduce water usage, and provide more freshwater to the general public. If you believe your company has an innovative idea to make the world more energy-efficient, check out our article on grants provided by the government to make SMEs more sustainable!
One such example of an innovative idea is Parkroyal on Pickering – this hotel and office were designed to switch off irrigation when it detected rain. In addition to avoiding water wastage, the natural vegetation and wind cooled the building too. Installing rooftop gardens and drainage systems is a fantastic way to collect rainwater and prevent water wastage in the urban localities.
Another effective way is to teach sustainability to young kids! The students at United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA), Singapore are actively involved in water conservation and waste reduction because of various facilities on campus – rainwater gardens and retention ponds supply most of the school’s tap water and irrigation supply, saving drinking water and reducing runoff. Water consumption is also reduced by managing food waste through composting and sending scraps for creating biogas energy. Students are encouraged to use reusable utensils and avoid one-time plastic, which forms an excellent education and awareness opportunity.
Rising Sea Levels
On the other extreme, rising sea levels are perhaps the most immediate threat of climate change, which has caused governments all around the world to work day and night to find a solution. This effect is especially apparent in Singapore because of its location with respect to melting ice caps, and is expected to experience a rise in 0.5-1m by 2100. The potential overflooding of the country would have disastrous impacts on Singapore’s economy as well – overcoming destruction and constructing seawalls is expected to cost the government over S$2 billion over the next eight decades. Already, S$32 million has been spent on flood disaster management between 2000 and 2015.
The only way to effectively stop sea-level rise is by cutting down fossil fuel consumption and stopping global warming. The sooner the world shifts to low GHG emission technology, the easier it will be to prevent rather than survive. In August of 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared climate change as a “life and death matter” and estimated that the government would have to invest S$100 billion to fight it. S$5 billion will also be provided through the Coastal and Flood Protection Fund, with 1/5th of it focusing on research for sustainability and renewable energy development. Food technology and automobile manufacturing companies that depend on water for product designing may find it beneficial to invest in green energy to maximize profits in the long run.
The Final Message
The world is almost at the point of no return when it comes to the impact of climate change. Some scientists already believe that we are beyond the maximum carbon dioxide levels that the planet can withstand without destroying its equilibrium. Currently, we are in the business as usual scenario, despite the many initiatives that people have taken to reduce environmental impact and increase sustainability. In this case, the coming few decades will reveal the extent to which human activity has affected Earth and how the planet will respond to such a disruption in its functioning. Now is the time for governments to collaborate with each other and its people in order to make the future a place which presents our children with better opportunities and a cleaner environment. Like they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry!