December 14, 2023
SINGAPORE – An agreement by countries at a climate conference to mitigate global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the need for heavy investments by small-island states like Singapore to adapt to the impacts of climate change, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu.
Speaking to reporters as the 14-day COP28 come to a close, Ms Fu welcomed the climate deal approved by almost 200 countries that would see the world transitioning away from fossil fuels, the first time that the issue has been addressed directly at a climate conference.
COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber hailed a “historic package” of measures that offered a “robust plan” to keep the global warming cap of 1.5 deg C within reach.
Countries agreed in the UAE Consensus to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and triple renewable electricity capacity by 2030, among other measures, in a bid to reach net-zero by 2050.
Ms Fu noted Singapore had estimated it would have had to spend up to $100 billion on adaptation measures over the next few decades.
She said the consensus was not perfect, but was something “significant and meaningful” to Singapore. “A good outcome is where everyone goes back a little bit unhappy but still happy to have a package (of agreements).
“Fundamentally, we want the world to decarbonise faster,” she said, noting that environmental protection and climate action nonetheless had to be balanced with each country’s stage of economic development and national context.
Ms Fu said the global stocktake at COP28 made it clear the world had not done enough to keep global warming to 1.5 deg C, a goal set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, the consensus also highlights ways in which countries can go green, and set more ambitious climate targets.
In hammering out the consensus, countries were divided between the use of the phrase to “phase down” fossil fuels, as opposed to a “phase out” of fossil fuels. The majority of countries wanted the latter.
Countries eventually agreed to “transition away” from fossil fuels. They will do this in a “just, orderly and equitable manner”, and accelerate action “in this critical decade so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.
Ms Fu said the eventual choice of words was not just about their meaning. “It’s also about the timeline,” she noted.
“So when ‘phase out’, ‘phase down’ gets very entrenched with certain (countries), we were trying to find an innovative way to bridge some of the impasse.
“I think the fact that (countries) agreed to it is testament to the skills in negotiation.”
She expressed optimism that the consensus would now motivate investors, bankers and financiers to invest in infrastructure that can mitigate emissions or build renewable energy capacity.
This will bring down the costs of renewable energy, benefiting countries, like Singapore, that are looking to purchase such technology, said Ms Fu.
The final text adopted on Dec 13 also recommends the use of carbon capture and utilisation methods to accelerate zero-emission and low-emission technologies, something that Singapore “so badly needs” to decarbonise, said Ms Fu, who was also involved in co-facilitating negotiations on mitigation with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.
Such technology has been controversial, with some energy experts saying many have no proven track record of effectiveness. Others are concerned that its use would inadvertently lead to the prolonged use of fossil fuels. However, the consensus endorses their use, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors.
Asked if there were any parts of the final agreement that could have been done better, Ms Fu said it could have had been more ambitious with climate goals, and that she had hoped for clearer targets on the building of new coal-fired power plants.
She was also disappointed by the lack of an agreement on Article 6, relating to carbon markets, as countries were unable to come to a consensus on a number of outstanding issues.
“To facilitate high integrity and robust carbon markets, we will want to work with like-minded countries and partners to develop the framework needed, by building on our existing efforts… and (our) implementation agreements,” she added.
At COP28, Singapore had signed an agreement with Papua New Guinea to collaborate on carbon markets, which will allow local companies to purchase carbon credits from projects there to offset up to 5 per cent of their carbon tax.
The Republic had also substantively concluded negotiations with Paraguay, Bhutan, Vietnam and Ghana.
Aside from its role in international negotiations, Singapore had also made a “significant impact” on the global stage, said Ms Fu.
For instance, a US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion) blended finance initiative has been launched to accelerate and support the green transition, as has the global mitigation potential atlas, an online tool which looks at ways for eight South-east Asian countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Singapore pavilion had also showcased the ways in which the Government, businesses, academia and youth can help to tackle climate change, she noted.
“We had more than 6,000 in-person visitors, 60,000 unique online visitors,” Ms Fu said.
“The diverse range of high quality programmes involving over 100 partners, and 70 events had been helpful in promoting discussion and advancing action.”