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The Straits Times: WWF, S’pore disagree over emissions count

March 30, 2012

By Grace Chua for the Straits Times

Different methodology used for attributing emissions from imported products

Your carbon emissions are still too high but, hey, Singapore is doing a great job when it comes to energy efficiency and others can learn from you.

That seems to be the ‘yes, but…’ response from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in the wake of a rebuttal by Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) to scathing remarks about the Republic’s greening efforts.

Earlier this month, media reports said that the WWF’s Living Planet Report (2010) had named Singapore as having the highest per capita carbon footprint in the Asia-Pacific region.

WWF President Yolada Kakabadse had called Singapore ‘…maybe one of the best examples of what we should not do’.

Last week, the NCCS – which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office – responded sharply, saying the comment ‘seriously misrepresents the situation’.

The key bone of contention is the methodology. The WWF counts emissions from goods that a country imports as attributed to that country.

But in the United Nations’ methodology, adopted by Singapore, those emissions are attributed to the country producing those goods.

The NCCS also pointed out that ranking countries by per capita carbon emissions disadvantages countries with small populations, and does not reflect Singapore’s lack of alternative energy sources.

In the WWF statement put out on Friday, its Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said: ‘Singapore deserves recognition for the many achievements it has made in reducing its carbon footprint, particularly in energy efficiency.

‘But in terms of carbon emissions per capita, the country can do more. So WWF welcomes the opportunity to work with the people, private and public sectors, to reduce the burden our current lifestyles are placing on the planet.’

On WWF’s methodology, she said: ‘Consumption activities are the primary drivers of environmental pressure but production activities are easier to regulate. Therefore both are important.

‘However, if you want to understand the environmental impact a high-consumption lifestyle has on a particular place, then you need to look at the final destination.’

National University of Singapore geography associate professor Victor Savage, who studies sustainable development, agreed with the NCCS’ point about ‘per capita’ distortions.

He said using per capita emissions ratings lets large carbon emitters like China, Germany and Australia off the hook. They may not have high per capita emissions, but they are large overall emitters.

But he added that a high per capita emissions ranking can help governments broach the issue with its citizens. ‘You can say, ‘Your per capita usage of energy is so high; we need to do something.”

Singapore’s performance in environmental rankings has varied sharply by the methods and measures used.
In February, a University of British Columbia study ranked the Republic bottom of 150 countries in its ‘ecological deficits’, meaning it used far more of the earth’s resources than it could supply.

In response to that study, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said Singapore should be compared with other city-states, not larger nations with more natural resources.

The Asian Green City Index by technology firm Siemens last year rated Singapore tops in its management of waste and water resources, and gave it high marks in sanitation and environmental governance.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 18, 2012 1:57 am

    WWF 2012 report does not gives a fair presentation concerning Singapore which is mostly an urban area with a very limited biocapacity. We know that the City-State has greatly improved its environment notably limiting car traffic, developing mass transport, building water protecting and cleaning capacities. A comparison with other city including Honk Kong, Brunei or Kuala Lumpur should certainly be more relevant.
    The absolute footprint levels (as opposed to the unit levels) are more pertinent to assess the unbalance with the various territory biocapacities which are mostly an attribute of their size and climate conditions. We can derive the country absolute footprint by factoring the above unit footprints by the population (see figure 3). The situation is completely different and mostly impacted by 7 countries: Chinese, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia which together amount to 5254 mil gha representing more than 85% of the overall Asian Pacific footprinT.
    Furthermore, we know that the “global” ecological footprint as proposed by the WWF is not very representative for Asia-Pacific region which development is based on an export-oriented model aiming the richest countries. The latest phase of globalization destroyed many industrial jobs in high-income countries and the greater part of them were relocated to Asia Pacific.
    See my blog
    Jacques Henri

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