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So, where were YOU last night when we were discussing the role of green issues in Singapore’s 2011 General Elections?

April 20, 2011

So last evening, green advocates met at TAB, Orchard Hotel from 7.30pm to late discussing the role that green issues play in Singapore’s 2011 GE. The event, publicized through Facebook and the official Green Drinks Singapore website drew a crowd of about 70 with a list of accomplished speakers and panellists. They include:

  • Howard Shaw, Singapore Environment Council Corporate Advisor
  • Wilson Ang, Eco (Singapore) President
  • Tan Hang Chong, Nature Society (Singapore) Assistant Honorary Secretary
  • Mark Cheng, Avelife Co-Founder and Executive Director
  • Edwin Khew, IUT Global CEO and former NMP
  • Allan Lim, Alpha Biofuels Chief Executive Director
  • Kenny Eng, GardenAsia CEO

Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times Housing and Environment correspondent chaired the session.

Each of the panellists highlighted what they thought to be the most pressing issues that should be raised in the upcoming GE. These included energy security and efficiency, food security, biodiversity, greater NGO and civil society participation and so on. What struck me the most during the session was that while there were several good questions raised by concerned Singaporeans about the trajectory of green issues being discussed at parliament or more broadly in Singapore, a good 20% of attendees were from our expat community. OK, maybe I’m just sore that while I sent out hundreds of Facebook invites, none of my friends bothered to show up!

But that’s besides the point. How is it that while green issues have such traction at the international level (refer to UNFCCC, International NGO movements and ground-up activism) and not have any in Singapore politics? I am fully aware that university students in Singapore are having examinations at the moment (which brings me to another point about a friend who told me having Nomination Day and Polling Day during uni exam period may be a conspiracy in itself since students can’t attend rallys but have to study) and it’s a work night… BUT STILL!

I did see many familiar faces including that of Zelig, Bhavani, Eugene, Derek and I’m sure some others who frequent Green Drinks events but I probably have not had the opportunity to be acquainted with just yet but that simply didn’t cut it for me. I always say that Singaporeans tend to be very indifferent and apathetic when it comes to politics. But I won’t stand for it anymore.

When speaking to Singapore’s Chief Negotiator for climate change a couple of months back wearing my work hat, I asked him quite candidly about his thoughts on the Singaporean youth’s views on climate change. In particular, I asked if he thought that the youth, given their radical views, should be expected to share the views of the government (i.e. that economic development comes first, and we should recognize Singapore’s reliance on external trade and unique situation of being alternative energy disadvantaged etc).

He agreed that the government could do more and should d0 more in engaging the youth (and arguably the general public) when it comes to climate debate. HE Gafoor suggested that the government should make it a point to make it meaningful for both sides to discuss issues and that it should work two ways. But are there enough platforms for youth and public dialogue with the people who matter? With people who make executive decisions about energy use in households, transport, industry and on recycling laws and so on and so forth?

My point is, that while we sat there last night arguing about whether or not to politicize green issues in Singapore, the fact remains that green issues are already political in nature. Everything is a power struggle however you choose to look at it. Hey, our chief negotiator for climate change is a diplomat! Singapore’s role at international climate negotiations is to make sure that our interests are kept! What else do you think the clause “contingent on a legally binding afreement in which all countries implement their commitments in good faith”, which BY THE WAY… comes tagged/punctuated with our national climate change target of 15% below business as usual by 2020. Keeping in mind that things are set to go underway in Durban this year, where leaders have to agree on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol (whether to replace it or go into the 2nd commitment period), I think it’s about time we start questioning our government on Singapore’s stand and not THE GOVERNMENT’s stand on climate change.

Sure they’ve made good points in the National Climate Change Strategy, Sustainable Singapore Blueprint and National Communications (which by the way is severely outdated) but are these the views of people on the ground? Or researchers hiding being desks all day long hammering out reports? Think about it.

The elections give people the power to decide. To vote in a goverment who listens and who you can trust to get the peoples’ points across in parliament. This is no doubt an ideal situation but one can hope right? The fact is, while I thought the turn out was great last evening at TAB, in retrospect I thought it could have offered more… not in terms of the range of speakers but in people showing up and the range of topics discussed. I’m glad I met some people from the government yesterday, though perhaps not from the right ministry or statutory boards but hey… at least there was some representation.

So if you’re reading this, where were you last night when we were discussing the role of green issues? Do you have a voice and are you prepared to use it in the days leading up to Polling Day on the 7th of May and beyond? It’s about time we carved a new trajectory for green issues to be discussed. Make your MPs commit to having open dialogues with the public and youth about green issues as a start… then we move on the greater things. First we need to get the people and government in tune with one another since discussions are going on at severly disparate levels (i.e. people saying one thing, gah-men another) so let’s take baby steps towards a more open and discerning society who are willing to raise green issues at the appropriate times to the right people.

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