Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

Climate experts confident S'pore public sector can achieve ambitious carbon emission goals

SINGAPORE – Climate analysts and experts here have welcomed the public sector taking the lead to start reducing carbon emissions five years ahead of the national goal.

They are confident the sector is in good stead to realise its ambitious climate goals and targets, with some experts suggesting that there may be room for even greater climate ambitions.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu had on Monday (July 12) announced a series of low-carbon targets for the public sector to peak emissions around 2025, five years ahead of the rest of the country. This plan was briefly announced in Parliament in March.

Under the Paris Agreement, Singapore aims to peak its emissions at 65 million tonnes by around 2030, halve that amount by 2050, and achieve net-zero emissions sometime in the second half of the century.

Commenting on the public sector’s ambitious plan, Ms Sharon Seah, coordinator of the Climate Change in South-east Asia Programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, said: “As far as I know, no other public sector in this region, or even the world, has a civil service setting a carbon emission reduction target for itself.”

She added that hopefully the private sector, especially the small- and medium-sized enterprises, will start to think about their own sustainability journeys.

One of the public sector’s target is to raise the use of solar energy to 1.5 gigawatt-peak by 2030, which is three-quarters of the national target of 2 gigawatt-peak the same year.

This means all premises will deploy solar panels, where feasible.

“It will be a stretch for the public sector, but supported by the SolarNova programme and various other initiatives such as the JTC SolarLand programme and the possibility of more Floating Solar projects, be it on reservoirs or near-shore, I am very confident that this can be achieved,” said Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

SolarNova refers to a whole-of-government effort to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic systems in Singapore.

Under JTC’s SolarLand programme, solar panels can be installed on vacant land, with the generated electricity going to the national grid.

Dr Reindl added: “The public sector aims to contribute three-quarters of the 2 gigawatt-peak target by itself. This is great news for Singapore, as the installation by the private sector, for example on factory roofs or commercial buildings, will come on top of that.

“This will likely help to over-achieve the 2030 target and also greatly help to further grow a local workforce for solar photovoltaics design, engineering and installations.”

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Mr Sandeep Chamling Rai, WWF-Singapore’s senior adviser on global climate adaptation policy, said Singapore should look beyond its domestic solar energy supply, which will always be limited by geographical constraints.

“There are ample opportunities for Singapore to collaborate with public and private partners in the region for a sustainable supply of renewable energy,” he added.

Other targets by the public sector include reducing the energy and water use by 2030 by 10 per cent from the last three years’ average, and switching to more water-efficient equipment.

The experts said the public sector’s water, energy, and waste reduction goals are achievable.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute’s executive director, said: “Singapore has already put in place a very strong Green Mark standard; and new measures now that include appliances and IT systems will help in meeting the energy targets.”

He was referring to electrical appliances and other materials used in buildings that need to be highly efficient or sustainable, under the public sector’s new targets.

He added: “Meeting the water and waste targets would also be feasible with clearly outlined measures including high-efficiency water fittings and segregation of food waste among others.”

Prof Mhaisalkar observed that the targets announced for the public sector on Monday have been the most broad-based and deep measures that the Government has announced to-date.

“The details go beyond just energy-water-waste targets; but specifics in cooling tower, green procurement, information and communications technology. Collectively, the slew of measures represent very high confidence that the targets set ahead of us for 2030 and eventually for 2050 would be met,” he said.

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In terms of green procurement, for instance, the public sector will shift to buying products that meet high efficiency or sustainability standards.

Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at NUS’ Energy Studies Institute, said: “The targets set for buildings, information technology, and solar deployment are more ambitious than the national targets. This suggests that there’s room for greater climate ambition, and is to be welcome.”

The experts are hoping that the private sector will emulate the climate goals.

“Some of our manufacturing industries will find it challenging to implement broad measures in emission reduction without additional investments. New technologies and some level of government support may also need to be explored,” said Prof Mhaisalkar.

The experts are hoping the sector could also be more transparent in sharing data about its current emissions.

Ms Seah said: “Greater data transparency and accountability are critical to greater climate ambition.

“I hope that the Government can share data such as the current total emissions from the public sector, the public sector’s share of Singapore’s total emissions, and the percentage share of emissions from energy and water consumption etc.”

Ms Low added: “Hopefully, the Government will regularly publish the progress made in achieving their set targets. This will allow better understanding of any barriers and challenges to achieving resource efficiency.”

Mr Rai said Singapore has yet to commit to a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, while Japan and South Korea have done so, with China committing to net-zero by 2060. 

He added: “WWF-Singapore remains optimistic of seeing Singapore match this ambition.”

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