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“Big-bang” approach not possible at COP-16, says Jayakumar

November 29, 2010
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Fresh from Channel News Asia by S. Ramesh.

Senior Minister S Jayakumar said ministers attending the UN Climate Change Conference, better known as COP-16, starting on Monday in Cancun, agree that a “big-bang” approach is not possible, where all the outstanding issues are resolved in one single meeting.

Professor Jayakumar, who oversees the government’s climate change policies, was speaking to the Singapore media before leaving for the conference.

He explained that all countries acknowledged that a comprehensive, legally-binding global agreement is not achievable by the end of this year.

He said the general consensus is that in Cancun, countries must work towards a balanced package of decisions and will send a strong signal that countries remain committed to the process.

However, Professor Jayakumar said there is still no consensus on what would constitute a balanced package with different countries placing emphasis on different elements.

“The major players are not agreed on how to move the process forward. To compound matters, there is declining domestic political support in some of the major developed economies on climate change.

“Developing countries also want developed countries to take greater responsibility for their past emissions. Developed countries, on the other hand, want developing countries to curtail their future emissions.

“A small group of countries are politically opposed to the Copenhagen Agreement and any elements associated with it…so moving the negotiations forward on the basis of the Copenhagen Agreement has been difficult, even though the Copenhagen Agreement represents a good basis for negotiations.”

Singapore supports a balanced package, but such a package of decisions must lead to a future global agreement that is legally-binding.

Professor Jayakumar added that the future climate change regime cannot be based just on political understanding alone, or a non-binding UN General Assembly-type resolution.

It has to be grounded on legally-binding international agreements whereby countries undertake actions on the basis of reciprocity.

Secondly, if any deal is to succeed, there must be reasonable certainty of implementation of all actions and commitments.

While there is no perfect solution, Professor Jayakumar said a legally-binding agreement will help give confidence to governments that this is a global endeavour and that others will not renege on the decisions made.

He said it is possible that Cancun might launch focused negotiations to conclude a legally-binding agreement by COP-17 next year in South Africa and that would depend on the major players and if they are willing to make some incremental progress.

Domestically, Professor Jayakumar explained that Singapore takes its pledge of 16 per cent below Business As Usual by 2020 very seriously, on the provision that there is a binding global agreement.

“We face constraints in terms of our low alternative energy potential. For example, solar has some potential in Singapore but there is limited space to deploy solar panels because of our small land mass and high urban density. There is also insufficient wind speed in Singapore for wind power to be commercially viable.

“In addition, we have also undertaken significant measures to reduce our emissions in the past. For instance, since 2001, the power generation sector, which contributes more than 50 per cent of our total emissions, has been switching from fuel oil to natural gas.”

He said in the absence of a global agreement, Singapore will still take significant steps to implement the energy efficiency measures already announced under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.

These will significantly reduce national emissions and require all households, firms and the economy to make adjustments. There will be trade-offs to be made and hence this required careful study.

Professor Jayakumar said he has called for proposals on policies and measures needed, by middle of next year and will consult with stakeholders, before making the final decisions and announcing them.

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