Small Emissions =/= Small Impact
Updated: Nov 1
With the 2050 net zero target announced last week, we are one step closer to achieving a just transition. However, can and should Singapore do more, or is this all we can do given our constraints as a small country? This post explores these questions and more.
Notes: NCCS, Singapore's Approach To Alternative Energy
60% of Singapore’s carbon emissions are from industry, and out of this, 75% are from the refining and petrochemicals sector (~23.6 Mt in 2017). Although the EDB’s Sustainable Jurong Island report aims to achieve more than 6 Mt of carbon abatement by 2050, there is no corresponding target for the reduction of the total emissions in the sector.
Shell is one of the largest investors in Singapore. PM Lee has attended Shell’s 100th, 125th and 130th anniversary celebrations and has described Shell as “an important and valued partner” and that “the energy and chemicals industry is a significant component of our manufacturing sector”
Petroleum oils and related mineral products made up 8.7% of Singapore’s exports in 2019, while the chemicals sector, many of which are derived from the above, made up 10%. According to the EDB, the energy and chemicals sector make up 20.4% of Singapore’s total output.
Fossil fuel companies have been paying less than their fair share of taxes in Singapore, where the corporate income tax level is 17%. For example, Shell paid taxes equivalent to 2% of its profits in 2019, BP paid 6%, while ExxonMobil isn’t transparent about their taxes paid.
See our article on the Carbon Pricing Bill
In 2019, Singapore had the 8th largest consumption-based carbon emissions per capita at 19.11 tons (Our World In Data), only ranking below oil-rich countries like Brunei and Qatar, and much higher than the average of 11.97 tons for high-income countries, or 0.11 tons for low-income countries
In fact, Singapore’s total consumption-based emissions in 2019 was 110.9 million tons (Mt), more than twice of its production-based emissions of 45.7 Mt or the government’s reported emissions for 2020, which was 49.7 Mt.
The Sustainable Development Index, which measures each country’s human development score divided by their ecological overshoot, ranked Singapore last out of 165 countries in 2019, with a material footprint of 77.41 per capita, more than double that of the United States.
Globally, the top 1% of incomes (equivalent to the top 11% in SG) are responsible for 15% of emissions  — a carbon footprint 96x larger than those in the bottom 50% .
 Data from World Inequality Database. https://wid.world. Using the dataset on 2021 pre-tax income in USD PPP, the average income for the 99.0-99.1th percentile of $144,008.5 for the world is lower than the average income for the 89-90th percentile of $150,700.0 for Singapore.
 Carbon Historical Emissions and Income Inequality Data in 2015. Emily Ghosh, Anisha Nazareth, Guozhong Wang, Sivan Kartha, Eric Kemp-Benedict (2021). Emissions Inequality Dashboard. Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). https://emissions-inequality.org
 Data from the Emissions Inequality Calculator. In 2015, the top 1% of incomes was responsible for 15.17% of global emissions, compared to 7.88% for the bottom 50% of incomes. Dividing 7.88% by 50 gives an average of 0.158% of global emissions per 1% of global population in the bottom 50%, which is 96 times lower than 15.17%.
The Workers’ Party had argued for a meaningful wealth tax instead of the slight increase in property taxes in the 2022 Budget
The 2022 World Inequality Report makes a case for a progressive wealth tax that covers not just property, but all forms of wealth assets
As MAS chief Ravi Menon has suggested, part of the proceeds of carbon taxes could be distributed to lower-income households through carbon dividends.
In 2017, after LKYSPP dean Kishore Mahbubani said that Singapore should behave like a small state, various people including MHA Minister Shanmugam and ambassadors took great issue with the phrase, arguing that Singapore needs to think big to survive
Based on Climate Action Tracker’s fair share methodology which considers factors such as responsibility, capability, need, equality and cost effectiveness, Singapore’s Paris Agreement 2050 target should actually be -50.75 Mt instead of net zero, with the additional reductions in the form of climate finance to other countries.
A study of rich countries showed that Singapore had one of the highest deforestation footprint per capita, with almost all of it occurring outside its borders
The social and ecological impact of the sand mining used to supply Singapore with sand has been widely documented, including a detailed report by Global Witness, Failed Architecture, and the documentary “Lost World”