May 12, 2007
For S'pore, it pays to go green
With the environment making headlines all round the world, Singapore too is investing as never before in clean energy and sustainable development. But does this reflect a real shift in mindset towards global environmental concerns? Aaron Low reports
Singapore Environmental Council executive director Howard Shaw suggests doing more to push industry towards energy efficiency.
Instead of just encouraging companies to conduct energy audits, for example, the Government could mandate them.
Or put in place a tiered-energy tariff system to enforce mandatory reductions of carbon emissions by industries.
'It may be time to bite the bullet if people are not responding,' he says.
But the Government's bottom line is that it makes no sense - economic or otherwise - for Singapore to take the lead in the push to cut carbon emissions.
Articulating what he termed a realistic and pragmatic approach to going green, Mr Tharman said in his Budget speech: 'Singapore is tiny. What we do cannot make a significant difference to global warming or the ozone.
'If big countries like the US, China and India do not come on board, everything we do will be in vain.'
He added that if Singapore forged ahead to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions while other countries did not, 'it will increase our costs and affect our competitiveness'.
Dr Amy Khor, chairman of the National Climate Change Committee, defends Singapore's record with figures from the International Energy Agency.
It found that Singapore's carbon emissions per capita compared favourably against several developed countries, and was in fact lower than those of Germany, Japan and Australia.
If you had read this article from the bastion of journalistic integrity - the Straits Times - in Singapore, you might have got the impression that, despite being an industrialised country. Singapore's industries are less polluting in terms of carbon emission than Germany's or Japan's. After all, according to Dr. Amy Khor, Singapore's per capita level of emission is lower than these two countries'. Hence, we shouldn't enforce mandatory reductions of carbon emissions by industries in Singapore.
Technically, Dr Amy Khor is right about the figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) but that being rather economical with the whole truth. Singapore's carbon emission per capita, according to the IEA, is indeed lower than Japan's and Germany's. However that is because the emission figures are calculated based on the burning of fossil fuels. However, a great deal of carbon emission in Singapore also comes from other human activities - gas flaring and cement production - and these are not included in the IEA's figure. If you look at the UN's Human Development Report figures for CO2 emission, which includes the contributions from gas flaring and cement production, Singapore is right up there at number 16 in total carbon emission per capita and its CO2 emission levels at the per capita level are considerably higher than Japan's and Germany's.
So, why do we have this discrepancy?
The truth is, Singapore's CO2 emissions are high because of its heavy industries, namely the petrochemical and the construction sectors. To get a feel of the extent of the contributions of Singapore's heavy industries, just compare Singapore's emission figures with Hong Kong's here. Hong Kong has virtually no heavy industries despite the abysmal quality of air there which is really a consequence of pollution from mainland China. Thus, in some sense, the emission figures for Hong Kong serve as those for a hypothetical Singapore sans heavy industries. The 2003 carbon emission figures for Singapore and Hong Kong are 11.3 and 5.5 metric tons per capita respectively. Basically, at the per capita level, Singapore emits more than twice as much carbon dioxide as Hong Kong.
Don't blame the air-conditioners in Singapore. If you look at the figures for electricity consumption per capita here, it is 8,087 and 6,103 kilowatt-hours for Singapore and Hong Kong respectively. Although it is not very well known, a great deal of Singapore's carbon emission come from gas flaring - the burning of waste gases in the petrochemical industry - and the manufacture of cement. Given the size of the construction industry in Singapore, it won't be surprising if they are responsible for quite a bit of our carbon emissions.
So, if the Singapore government is really serious about going green, it should go after the main polluters in the heavy industries. Putting up a few photovoltaic panels here and there isn't going to make much of a difference. At the very least, it should consider mandating the introduction of environmentally-friendlier technologies into the industries.