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S’pore backs Cancun’s balanced package move with key caveat

November 30, 2010
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By JOYCE HOOI for The Business Times

SINGAPORE will be throwing its weight behind the ‘balanced package’ approach at the ongoing 16th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16) – with a key caveat.

That package of decisions must eventually result in a future global agreement that is legally binding, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security S Jayakumar told the media yesterday.

‘The future climate change regime cannot be based just on political understandings alone, best endeavour basis, 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,’ he said.

The balanced package approach that COP16 is working on in Cancun, Mexico will be a marked departure from the ‘big bang’ approach that characterised COP15 last year in Copenhagen – where nations tried and failed to get a legally binding global agreement on emissions reduction in one meeting.

According to Professor Jayakumar, Singapore sees the issues of mitigation and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of pledges as central to the package and negotiations.

‘We do not align ourselves with some of the countries who take a doctrinal position of opposing (MRV). . . We must be sure that other countries in Asia and elsewhere are also going to carry out their pledges, or else our competitiveness will be affected,’ he said.

While he called the balanced package approach a realistic one, he also acknowledged that it was not without its challenges. ‘The balanced package approach still has a big question mark over it as to whether it will succeed,’ said Prof Jayakumar.

Singapore’s pledge to reduce emissions growth by 16 per cent from ‘business-as-usual’ levels by 2020 is also conditional on a binding global agreement being reached.

Prof Jayakumar reiterated that regardless of whether such an agreement is achieved, Singapore remains committed to carrying out the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB). The blueprint has the objective of increasing energy efficiency and reducing the country’s emissions, which will contribute to the 16 per cent mitigation pledge.

A key part of the government’s sustainability initiatives, the drive to increase energy efficiency in buildings might soon take a more concentrated turn.

While all new buildings currently have to meet minimum environmental standards, there is no such mandatory requirement for existing buildings. That might eventually change.

‘We also need to consider mandating minimum standards for existing buildings, down the road,’ said Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan. ‘We will consult the industry and study this regulatory option carefully before making a decision.’

Singapore’s team, along with its chief negotiator Ambassador Burhan Gafoor, is already in Cancun. Professor Jayakumar and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim will join them next week, for the high-level segment of the conference.

Singapore will have something to offer both the developing and developed blocs of countries at COP16, said Professor Jayakumar.

‘We bring to the table as an advantage that we are seen to be helpful and not act rigidly, taking a doctrinal position where we think some of the developing countries’ views have validity,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, if there is a valid point of view from some of the developed countries, we do not off-hand reject it.’

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