"Nothing more than business-as-usual": A look at the SG Green Plan
Updated: Apr 1
This was published as a guest issue on Kirsten Han's We, the Citizens newsletter on Mar 8, 2021
We took the word of policymakers that they would listen to their people. We have participated in many state-facilitated consultations and have been following the recent debates on climate action in Parliament.
Unfortunately, nothing much is new. Once again, there are no bold measures to rapidly decarbonise, and to ensure that workers are equitably protected from a transition away from fossil fuels.
Check out our full review of the Green Plan and some of the announcements made in Budget 2021.
If you’d like the tl;dr, here are three broad questions and some quick answers to them:
Do the proposed plans rise to the challenge of existential climate change?
The discourse surrounding climate change has certainly shifted in the past few years. We’ve seen increasing recognition of its urgency, since it was first referred to as an “existential” crisis in Prime Minister Lee’s National Day Rally Speech two years ago.
However, the recent policies announced in the Green Plan and the Budget are nothing more than business-as-usual: a roadmap that is incredibly dissonant from the supposed recognition that the climate crisis is a “global emergency”.
Emerging stronger should mean transitioning Singapore away from a fossil-fuel intensive economy. And it should mean helping workers cope with the effects of such a transition. For example, the extension of the Job Support Scheme (which will mostly be targeted at carbon-heavy industries such as aviation) should be designed to help pollutive industries reduce their carbon emissions to zero and ensure that workers are adequately supported in the process.
We recognise that the salaries of healthcare workers will be expanded. But this should come with the acknowledgement that care work is climate-friendly work, and thus important for a low-carbon economy. No such mindset shift was alluded to. Instead, the measures announced are still extractive, non-restorative and focused on tearing things down in order to build more. The $60 million for the Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund and the bonds for public sector projects such as Tuas Nexus reflect this destructive mindset. It’s worth noting that the Kranji Woodlands were precisely cleared for the purposes of developing the Agro-innovation Hub: an ironic twist in Singapore’s attempt to be more “green”.
Is green growth really possible?
Ultimately, the underlying logic of policy-making continues to be driven by economic growth, albeit “green”. That is at odds with science. Climate change is a result of humankind pushing the planet to its ecological limits through its exploitative use of natural resources in the pursuit of economic growth. It is highly unlikely that we can continue this growth if we want to avert the crisis.
But is this a truly pragmatic way of planning for the future? Instead of assessing environmental impact on a piecemeal basis and “balancing” that against GDP growth, we should adopt a holistic set of indicators that measure factors such as our ecological footprint, health and wellbeing, and socio-economic equality. With careful planning, we could scale down our use of energy and resources in a measured degrowth that will still allow our well-being to improve. This is an idea that is gaining popularity and traction among many governments around the world.
If we dream bigger, we can move beyond the endless rush to succeed, and enter into a new age: one measured by the quality of our lives, the health of our ecosystems, and the strength of our communities, rather than by dollars.
What about a just transition away from fossil fuels, to a world that’s more equitable?
Amidst the humanitarian and economic wreckage of COVID-19, many experts are calling for large-scale public spending to rapidly reduce and decarbonise our resource use, while tackling inequality. Even the OECD has recently cautioned against austerity and urged governments to direct fiscal spending to these issues. If we look at Budget 2021 through this lens, we can see that measures are still largely insufficient.
It puzzles us that the Government has announced that it intends to fund increased spending through future GST hikes, even though the GST is a regressive tax. This has also been announced against the backdrop of increased economic inequality under COVID-19, with the lowest income households suffering the greatest losses, even as the richest 50 people in Singapore grew their wealth by S$37 billion.
Increasing a regressive tax doesn’t make sense from the perspective of economic justice. Neither does it make sense for tackling climate change. Wealthier households have higher carbon footprints. Every dollar of additional income earned by a low-income household is more likely to go towards meeting essential needs.
We reiterate our call to significantly increase carbon taxes on large polluters to meaningfully incentivise lower emissions, while redistributing the revenues. It’s also high time we rethink our stance on wealth taxes and relatively low tax rates for the highest earners. More equal distribution of essential needs, while reducing carbon-intensive production and consumption, is good for us and good for the planet.
In line with this, SG Climate Rally also disapproves of the recent increase in petrol duties. Increasing the petrol tax with no serious alternatives means that the workers, who already experience financial precarity, absorb the cost of the hike. Say no to the petrol hike by signing our petition, and reading our demands here.