Breaking Down Singapore’s Climate Scorecard: Greenwatching the Garden City

Breaking Down Singapore’s Climate Scorecard: Greenwatching the Garden City

A recent report from a local environmental group and Greenwatch 's politically non-partisan campaign shows that Singapore's current government has "not walked the talk" on climate change. The study discusses various topics including climate change, wealth, money, collective action, nature and more. The Outcome? It scores an 8, on a scale of -90 to 90. Here's a round up of their observations.

But first: what is Greenwatch?

Two citizens' groups in Singapore co-organize the campaign: SG Climate Rally (SGCR), and Speak for Climate (S4C). The former is the team behind the first rally of physical climate action ever held by the city-state. (There were 2,000 participants last year!) Outside the rally, SGCR is concentrating its attention on 'collective action, structural change and justice,' towards more aggressive climate policy in Singapore. S4C shares the wider focus. But it focuses on building "greater cooperation and openness within the environmental community in Singapore's public consultation process.

They worked together to create Greenwatch: "a movement aimed at increasing awareness of the climate crisis and fostering deeper climate policy commitments during the forthcoming Singapore General Elections (GE)." The campaign started off with a Policy Brief outlining ideas for climate policy which was sent to all political parties in March. Last week the movement followed up with the publication of the current government 's Environment Scorecard.

We had worked on the Climate Scorecard for 4-5 months, according to the manager. "The development process," involving consultations with various scholars and environmental policy and humanities experts, research into the policies of the incumbent government, meetings with government officials and political parties, and a great deal of deliberation and tweaking between them, "was laborious because we needed the scorecard to be as accurate and detailed as possible in order to do justice

How does the Climate Scorecard work?

The report is intended to act as a climate policy guide, divided into 11 specific categories. Rising group scores on a scale of -3 to 3. A good score means the government has met its asks. And a negative score means that they have doubts or concerns about the validity of those agreements, or that policies are exacerbating the climate crisis. The ranking reflects Greenwatch's evaluation of existing climate policies, which they have rendered in the light of environmental standards. Such requirements were based on U.N. IPCC guidelines and other related climate studies.

For a score of 8/90, some can believe the scoring is very small. So Greenwatch put this on board. "Not everyone would agree with the findings," the team said, "and that is to be expected." They pointed out that the Climate Scorecard "is not supposed to be the final word on Singapore's environmental policy." Instead, it is a "starting point for people to think and speak about the climate." They want people to ask: are the current policies in Singapore good enough? From where do we wish to go?


1.)    CLIMATE AMBITION: Singapore’s climate target is not aligned with the Paris Agreement, and we need a more coordinated approach overall.

The IPCC recommends that emissions be halved by 2030 and that net zero be reached by 2050 Alternatively, the goal for Singapore is lacking in ambition. This allows for total increases in emissions until 2030, and it was considered not feasible to achieve net-zero by 2050.

In addition , new strategies are lacking in cohesion while welcoming in certain respects. For example, it implemented new policies in Budget 2020. This included travel, business and household-centered policies, as well as continuing energy conservation initiatives and policies for adaptation. Nevertheless, the study suggests "a concerted strategy by government, guided by legally binding legislation on climate change." It adds that it will be more successful to devote "a portion of the annual national budget under a centralized body to climate mitigation or adaptation measures."

2.)    ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL INEQUITY: No articulation of policies that acknowledge the disproportionate effects of the climate crisis.

Climate risk effects discriminate. Despite this, the government has "reflected how the elderly, the poor and the coastal communities would be disproportionately affected." But at the moment, there are no clear adaptation policies that target and protect specific groups, nor have they talked about other communities such as "dormitory migrant workers, low-income households, [and] limited agency domestic workers." Worse: a comment by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on "their share of responsibility" for future generations "unfairly puts the burden on younger and future generations."      

3.)    ENERGY: Despite energy efficiency measures and the encouraging growth of solar, we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Owing to numerous financial incentives and regulations, businesses based in Singapore have become more energy-efficient in the last 5 years. Overall demand for energy is still growing, however, and will increase until 2030, mainly due to the industry sector. Moreover, 95 per cent of Singapore 's electricity comes from natural gas, which is still high in carbon. The State is also aiming to make natural gas the dominant source of energy for the next 50 years.

Progress on moving towards renewable energy in terms of regional cooperation "remains slow and mooted in the distant future" and there is limited potential for solar energy. The government has refused subsidies for renewable energy, while continuing to subsidize fossil fuels. Worse still, the petrochemical industry is expanding rapidly. In fact , the Government calls ExxonMobil a "close and respected partner." The sector now accounts for "about half of the emissions from Singapore, along with the oil and gas industry."

4.)    CARBON PRICING: Current and projected carbon tax rates are highly insufficient, and while coverage is commendable, there is a key loophole. And where do tax revenues go?

The proposed carbon dioxide tax rate of $5 per tonne, with proposals to increase it to $10-15, is too low. The real social cost of pollution is not represented. Although there is no perfect number, experts suggest tax rates of between $40-100 from anywhere to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, while the carbon tax "is commendable in the sense that it extends without exception to all industries and encompasses 80 percent of Singapore's greenhouse gas emissions," there is a loophole. In other words, "corporations [can] get away with many emitting facilities that fall below the minimum threshold required for taxation of individual emissions."

And in the end , the study suggests that the government slowly redistribute tax revenues to residents, although it's not clear whether or not this occurs.

5.)    INDUSTRY: Green investments galore, but we’re not planning to break up with fossil fuels any time soon.

The study highlights that 60% of Singapore's emissions are from manufacturing and that the petrochemical sector is "the single largest contributor." The government has "signaled its support for green investments to turn Singapore into a green finance hub and a circular economy" which is encouraging. There is no straightforward road map, however, nor has the Government defined the words 'green' and 'sustainable

Worryingly, petrochemical industry's "long-standing" funding from the government has not stopped. It continues to attract industry investments, and the impact of "financial guidance [for divestment] remains uncertain." In fact , the government has said it "does not intervene with or affect individual investment decisions [of corporations and financial institutions]."

6.)    ADAPTATION: The choice strategy of the incumbent government.

Policies on adaptation are abundant with the current government. It has developed a National Structure for Adaptation, recognizing and reacting to climate threats and impacts. Notably, for the next 50-100 years it has spent a whopping $100bn on coastal defences. On food, an area of concern, it has also formulated a "30 by 30 Plan" to improve food production in Singapore. And for the region, it has also set up a Disaster Risk Insurance Facility in Southeast Asia, "to help cover the costs of emergency response after disasters."

However, as already mentioned, current policy on adaptation does not take into account the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis.

7.)    TRANSPORT: World-class public transport and a promising push towards EVs. But what about car ownership?

Although Singapore may be more bike-friendly, there's no question that the public transport system in Singapore is world-class. The government also announced that "by 2040 all vehicles will be running on cleaner fuels." It has launched a series of EV-friendly programs and opportunities in this regard. The study, however, states that EVs will not have as much effect in reducing pollution as they will be fuelled by natural gas. And lastly: the government is not doing anything to deter private car ownership rates.

8.)    COLLECTIVE ACTION: The government supports some initiatives, and there are efforts at engagement with the public, but these are limited.

By various means, the government supports select projects and ground-up movements and engages with the public by different forums, Meet-The-People sessions and public consultations. There's little space for opposing opinions, though, and a general lack of accountability. It makes it impossible to keep the government responsible for goals and measures. The study notes that the Government uses "rhetorical diversion" instead of accountability. And there could be "manicuring or selective showing" with closed-door meetings and selective release of results.

Community education and State-wide programs are limited to educate collective action. "No focus is put on regional impacts and national involvement in the climate crisis," nor is there awareness of the role of "the largest emitter industries." Many campaigns choose the role of households and individuals to be disproportionately emphasised.

9.)    NATURE: Conservation of biodiversity is insufficient.

Despite being a "Garden City," Singapore "due to development has lost an incredible amount of its rich biodiversity" It is not shocking that the government has "prioritized economic growth over environmental conservation," and continues to do so. This puts some effort into "preserving or preserving endangered species and natural habitats" and setting biodiversity- and land-use-related goals, restoring ecosystems and tree planting. But construction plans are getting in the way.

Environmental impact studies, which can potentially be of assistance, are not legally necessary. Also, non-implementation of impact mitigation initiatives is not penalized by the government. On the whole, land use in Singapore has been a "direct carbon emitter." Huge sand imports "have also contributed to the degradation of natural spaces in other countries" for production.

10.) WASTE: Current policies are encouraging, but they prioritise waste treatment, rather than reducing waste regeneration.

The report emphasizes that "waste constitutes a small proportion of the total emissions of Singapore through its incineration" It also adds, however, that: "if we compensate for the entire carbon footprint involved in the production of new goods, waste reduction will lead to significant emission reductions.' Waste management is still relevant. In this regard, in 2019 the government initiated a Zero Waste Master Plan, proposing measures to tackle refrigerant and air-conditioning emissions.

The fatal flaw, however, is that current policies prioritize waste treatment, rather than first preventing the generation of too much waste. Indeed in 2017 Singapore had the 9th highest rate of waste generation among 216 countries! You know what they're saying: You have to shut off the tap when the bath is overflowing.

11.) BUILDINGS: Despite standards and incentives in place, no net-zero operation carbon targets nor emissions-target approach exist yet.

The report notes that buildings account for a significant proportion of the carbon emissions from Singapore throughout their lifecycle. That's because of footprints, energy use and demolition of their materials. Singapore currently has green building certification and requirements for sustainability, and initiatives such as grants and rewards in place. Others support green building growth. The government has not set targets, however, for effective control of pollution from buildings. The study emphasizes that the government should do more to "evitate the lock-in of high-emission buildings in place for decades to come."