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Our Response to NMP Assoc Prof Pauline Tay’s questions to Parliament

January 11, 2010

Assoc Prof Pauline Tay-Straughan had the following questions brought up to the Minister of Environment and Water Resources Dr Yacoob Ibrahim and the Parliament over the weekend. Response is to be expected at the Parliament session on the 11th of Jan (today) which begins at 1:30pm.

We believe that these questions from Assoc Prof Pauline Tay is timely with the recent conclusion of COP15. It is necessary for us to engage and encourage the Government towards more sustainable development and promoting environmentally friendly policies. We look forward to Dr Yacoob’s response later today.

ECO (Environmental Challenge Organisation, Singapore) had attended COP14 in Poland (2008) and COP15 in Copenhagen (2009). For both, they’d had various members of the public actively engaged in the ECO blog. In this article, the ECO team shares civil society’s perspectives on the following:

(a) What are the key achievements of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference?
Despite being a disappointment at the policy level, this outcome was somewhat expected since the Bangkok and Barcelona intersessions. However, it ended with a sort of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel where the bigger players came together to work out a Copenhagen Accord which aims to set some foundation towards the Mexico negotiations in 2010.

Citing reasons of overcrowding at Bella Centre, access was restricted in the second week of COP15. This was a contributing factor to the civil society being significantly left out towards the high-level segment. However, contrary to most media reports that it had a negative impact, the civil society lock-out caused tremendous dissent among the NGO sector which resulted in motivation to do more. Fired up more than ever, they worked hard during the second week on “Beyond COP15” strategies. Furthermore, dedicated individuals who gave up hope on the government to do anything tangible, looked onto themselves to harness on the network they have built with other delegates and NGOs within and beyond their nation.

In addition, there has been some progress made in narrowing the divide between the developed and developing countries, in the sense that both parties have agreed to monitor the cuts they have committed themselves to, under the Copenhagen Accord. This is in contrast to the Kyoto Protocol, where only developed countries made commitments.

(b) What are the implications for ASEAN and Singapore?
South East Asia, consisting mainly of low lying states and small islands, is a region that will be impacted by climate change. While not significant contributors to carbon emissions, our deforestation levels are high and therefore we too, as ASEAN have a role to play against climate change.

ASEAN is well known for its empty rhetoric- whereby ideals are stated, strategies planned but execution limited. Cases in the past such as the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on the Environment in 1994, along with the way it has tackled the haze crisis so far, reflects this.

As mentioned by our PM Lee Hsien Loong, ASEAN states are different in terms of resources and interests. Having a common stand on this issue will be difficult. While this is the reality of the organization, let’s not discount the small steps taken by ASEAN in developing a common stand while at the negotiating table of COP15- where they stated being committed to ‘actively contribute towards a successful outcome’.

Preferring an amended Kyoto-Protocol as opposed to completely new agreement, ASEAN called for a legally binding agreement in accordance to the Bali Action Plan with focus on adaptation, mitigation, finance and technology transfer, along with a distinction between developing and developed nations. Reflected in the ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change, it pushed for Annex 1 parties / industrialized nations to take deeper and early cuts on their greenhouse gas emissions along with financial contributions to assist developing nations in mitigation and adaptation efforts.

ASEAN also agreed to limit the increase of global average temperatures to two degrees Celsius. However, true to its foundation on protecting sovereignty of member states, it emphasized that the implementations of mechanisms such as the REDD be left to the discretion of the state according to levels deemed appropriate.

Document drafted and common goals stated. But once again, true to what it has been known for, actions were limited. Little was seen from ASEAN during the negotiation process at COP15.

The resulting Copenhagen Accord, does little in protecting the environmental conditions ASEAN nations are vulnerable to in the future. While certain goals pushed for through the Joint Statement were mentioned in the Accord, it is hard to say if ASEAN contributed to the adoption. Reception towards the Accord, or the document of ‘promises’ was also mixed among member states with Indonesia and Philippines welcoming it, and Thailand openly calling it a failure.

ASEAN has to come together as a strong organization to bring forth our cause as South East Asia nations. It has to recognize that the member states alone, including Singapore, are too small a player and cannot make an impact. Thus, there is a need for them to work closer while recognizing their differences- the very basis behind the formation of the organization. Just as they have done in the field of economics, we hope that the same effort will be taken in protecting our environment, our survival.

(c) How should our government have policies to further environment-friendly practices in Singapore?
We believe that Singapore is in an ideal position to lead the way in environmentalism by being an example of an economy and society that works on the values of sustainability.

These are areas we believe have potential for greater government efforts:

1. Further reduction of carbon emission growth beyond the 16% reduction from 2020 base year the Government has proposed and to peak our carbon emissions before 2020.
2. To act on the above regardless the outcome of COP15 (i.e. action must be taken even in absence of a legally binding global deal).
3. Introduce a regulatory framework – to promote minimum standards in emission reductions and increased efficiency, especially in key industrial sectors. Monitoring should be frequent and persistent, to ensure strict adherence.
4. Funding assistance for green technology adaptation, for all key sectors of the economy.
Regional support, especially for less-developed nations, in the form of technology transfer, training, collaboration in research, implementation of know-hows, etc.
5. Mediate global discussions to ensure needs of small-island states are not drowned out by the bigger players, and follow-through to ensure such needs are clearly represented in the final text of the climate convention agreement.
6. To catalyse the creation of a common voice among South East Asian states, so as to strengthen focus on our interests as a region during negotiations.
7. Greater focus on technology research in the area of environment sustainability to adapt Singapore better against climate change.
8. Raising awareness among the people, private and public sectors on the impacts and opportunities arising from climate change and to guide them in adopting greener standards.

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