we organised Singapore’s first climate rally with three Calls to Action: for the government to face the truth about the climate emergency, combat the crisis with a national climate mitigation plan, and engage the people on the climate crisis.
The large turnout for the rally and continued support for our campaigns and events over the past year show that many people support these goals. Unfortunately, the government continues to support the fossil fuel industry and has not made any significant policy changes to decarbonise our economy. In February, it announced new emissions targets of an increase from the 51 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) emitted in 2014 to a peak of 65 MtCO2e in 2030 and halving that to 33 MtCO2e by 2050. At a time when many countries are planning green recoveries and strengthening their climate targets, our government is refusing to act.
During the general election in July 2020, our Greenwatch campaign scored the PAP lower than four other political parties with more ambitious climate policies. The outcome of the election, where there was a significant increase in younger voters expressing a need for different views in Parliament (as studied by the Institute of Policy Studies), hints that more people see climate change as an urgent and pressing issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted how environmental issues are also deeply linked to social justice and inequalities, as seen in how the virus spread quickly within the migrant worker population due to poor living and working conditions. This is a stark reminder of how the most vulnerable among us will also be the most deeply impacted by climate change.
In light of this, we have broadened our Calls to Action to reflect this intersectional nature of climate change, and to make clear that the green recovery we need must be a just one that doesn’t leave anyone behind. We ask you to join us in calling our government and communities to bring Power to the People, Launch a Green Recovery, and Redefine Pragmatism and Growth.
SG Climate Rally
In order to tackle the climate crisis and build a better world, we need to have the space to imagine what it could look like. We can create this space by fully exercising our democratic rights as a people.
Democracy is defined by people. It is a system where people have equal say in how society is being run. But in reality, not everyone has an equal say to voice their concerns and interests. People with more wealth tend to have more power than others in society, and their power tends to exponentially increase the wealthier they get.
When power is concentrated in a small group of people, these people will often use it to prioritise themselves, be it in terms continue growing their wealth or to advance their own interests. This pursuit of material wealth and selfish interests has resulted in the human-caused climate change we see today.
However, climate change doesn't affect this upper class of society as much as it does to those who are less privileged. Those with wealth can protect themselves from the worst effects of the climate crisis, while those without will have to suffer from it. Yet, we don't hear from marginalised groups as much as our system amplifies the voices of more well-to-do citizens. As most people don't have the same amount of money, and by extension, the same amount of influence, many issues these marginalised groups face tend to be ignored.
This is apparent in the backlash against top-down climate measures that have been perceived as unfair to the needs of ordinary citizens, such as protests by the French Yellow Vests against rising fuel taxes and Filipino jeepney drivers against a public transport modernisation programme.
Hence, we need to embrace democracy in the way we tackle climate change. We need to recognise that everyone is important and that we are all responsible for the larger community we live in.
This was a painful lesson we learnt when the Covid-19 outbreak happened among the migrant worker community. While the government scrambled to respond, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the public alike swiftly answered to the needs of those affected. This clearly shows how society can complement the government by being sensitive to what happens on the ground, which would also help policymakers prevent such oversight from happening again.
We therefore call on our government and lawmakers, as well as all who call Singapore home, to empower ourselves in the following ways:
Remove roadblocks that heavily discourage members of the public from having open discussions and sharing their concerns and opinions through speech, online comment, peaceful assembly without arms, and association. These roadblocks come in the forms of laws, structural features, and subtle intimidation such as the investigation of two young climate activists.
Allow policy information and statistics to be transparent and easily accessible.
Involve independent academics and members of the public when drafting policies. This can be done through policy review and formulation exercises, for instance through deliberative polling or a citizens’ assembly.
Prioritise developing public spaces that are open to communal use and engagement in socio-political discussion.
Redefine Pragmatism and Growth
So as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation
We face the frightening reality of a climate crisis. While Singapore has made large strides in our development over the past decades, our land, water, food and wellbeing are now threatened by human-caused climate change. To ensure that Singapore not only remains resilient but also flourishes in the years to come, we must take immediate and decisive action to stop our harmful impact on the climate. This begins with tackling the roots of the climate crisis.
Human-caused climate change is the product of a global economic system that encourages the relentless pursuit of material wealth at the expense of people and the environment. To increase profits and cut costs, many corporations have plundered and polluted ecosystems, while compromising the wellbeing and wages of ordinary people. In this way, this failing economic system has led to both widening inequality and the climate crisis.
Singapore’s story is no different. For years, we have narrowly pursued exponential and unsustainable economic growth—and labelled it as ‘pragmatic’. It is this ‘pragmatism’ that has compromised current and future generations. Even now, despite recognising climate change as an existential challenge, we continue to invest in pollutive activities, mostly significantly our petrochemical industry, the single largest contributor to our national carbon footprint. We also continue to falsely equate a high GDP per capita to prosperity, even at a time when we face dramatic inequality.
But we now have an opportunity to enter a new age of prosperity, one measured by the quality of our lives, the health of our ecosystems, and the strength of our communities, rather than by dollars.
To achieve this brighter future, we call on our government and all who call Singapore home to focus on truly pragmatic development that exists to improve social and environmental outcomes. In the face of a climate crisis, true pragmatism means decoupling our economic development from environmentally destructive activities and ensuring that all people, regardless of their socio-economic status, are able to adapt to and thrive in a changing world.
Pragmatic development begins with our government doing the following:
Work together with independent subject experts, the public and the Future Economy Council to develop a pragmatic master plan that restructures Singapore’s economy into one that exists to improve social and environmental outcomes. This new pragmatic economy should be based on broad principles that include: the prioritisation of well-paying, quality and low-carbon jobs; added support for care and maintenance work; added investment in civic and natural infrastructure; greater socio-economic equality; and a shift away from consumerism. Most importantly, it must not leave anyone behind, and that will require strong social safety nets. This master plan can take inspiration from Amsterdam’s City Doughnut.
Adopt a holistic set of indicators to measure Singapore’s prosperity. This includes: people’s health, wellbeing and dignity; socio-economic equality; ecological footprint; and the quality of jobs. The formulation and calculation of these metrics should be transparently and publicly reported. In addition, change should start from within the public sector.
Formally acknowledge the fundamental rights of ecosystems to endure and thrive by adopting the Rights of Nature in our Constitution. These rights recognise that our survival depends on healthy ecosystems, and so the protection of nature’s rights is a pragmatic and indispensable means of advancing human rights and wellbeing. Singapore’s environmental footprint, measured against the capacity of ecosystems, should be tracked and publicly reported.
Launch a Green Recovery
Based on justice and equality
Crises can endanger lives and destroy livelihoods. We have gotten a sense of this from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in lives lost, widespread unemployment and a global lockdown. Some of the most vulnerable communities, such as low wage workers and the elderly, have also been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
These consequences will only worsen with the climate crisis. We face the threat of sea level rise, more frequent and intense extreme weather events and disease outbreaks, and more. Its effects are already being felt today. We see this in the fires ravaging Chiangmai and Siberia, floods submerging a quarter of Bangladesh, and Cyclone Amphan devastating the Bay of Bengal. If Covid-19 is the crisis of the current generation, climate change is the crisis of multiple generations.
The Covid-19 crisis has shown us how necessary it is to plan ahead for crises. But, unlike the pandemic, we already have significant knowledge of the climate crisis, which can help us avoid its worst impacts. And science has already outlined what we need to do.
We cannot rely on crises to reduce our harmful human impact. Although global carbon emissions dropped in 2020, this drop came with a lot of suffering and loss on the backs of marginalised and vulnerable communities.
As we imagine a post-Covid reality, we realise our need for a world that is restorative and regenerative, and follows what science tells us. We cannot wait for a crisis or other countries to move us into action. We cannot depend on gradual tweaks to get us out of crises. We cannot have solutions that treat already marginalised communities poorly. This will require broad, structural changes to see it through. And we have to start now.
We call on our government to launch a green recovery for Singapore by passing a Green New Deal (GND) to net zero emissions by 2050. The GND must be made from care and involve all of us, and centre the voices and needs of low wage workers and marginalised communities that would be most impacted by the climate crisis. This will require us to have new economic and socio-political systems, and rebalance our relationship with nature. It should include the following:
Introduce a Climate Change Act to require that the Singapore government reach net zero by 2050 by law. Other countries like New Zealand, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom (UK), and Scotland have done it. This will hold the Singapore government accountable to us and our climate. For example, the UK government had its plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport made illegal because of the Climate Change Act. The act should also have countries report back and include embodied emissions from imports for real accountability. Banks and businesses should be asked to decarbonise.
Begin to reduce the size of our petrochemical industry. It causes most of Singapore’s carbon emissions. This needs to result in the growth of essential sectors that sustain us and our planet. This includes sectors that will best fit workers from the petrochemical industry and sectors (for example, carbon capture technologies) that will help Singapore reach net zero emissions. We must also have social safety nets to protect the daily needs and financial security of workers from the petrochemical industry.
Increase our carbon tax to an amount that will help Singapore reach net-zero. To do this, we must make companies that pollute our planet accountable for the social and environmental costs of carbon emissions. Money from the carbon tax should be redistributed to households, especially low-income ones, so they do not have to pay more for electricity. It should also be used to grow our essential sectors.
Support renewable energy projects in Singapore and Asia to increase supply of renewable energy. One example of a project is the ASEAN Power Grid. Projects in Asia should receive support from local communities and must benefit/not harm indigenous people and nature.