October 24, 2023
ABU DHABI – The Republic is hoping for the upcoming climate summit to make substantial progress to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and the extent of global warming but thinks it will be “very difficult”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.
Singapore will do what it can at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) to contribute to the process of limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C, added PM Lee, noting that Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu will be co-facilitating negotiations on mitigation.
For the conferences in 2021 and 2022, Ms Fu had co-facilitated ministerial consultations on issues relating to carbon markets, or Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
PM Lee was speaking to the Singapore media towards the end of his two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and was asked to comment on how easy or difficult both countries’ energy transition will be.
Dubai is hosting COP28, which will be held from Nov 30 to Dec 12.
Earlier on Sunday, PM Lee and his delegation visited the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), where they were briefed by the company’s group chief executive and COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber on the future of the UAE’s energy transition plans.
The Emirates’ fielding of an oil chief as president-designate has been criticised by climate advocates due to concerns about conflict of interest.
PM Lee said: “I told my host this morning at Adnoc, ‘You are born blessed with natural petrochemical, petroleum and gas resources, and you have to prepare for decarbonisation. It is going to be very hard because your whole economic structure will have to change.’”
The Middle East powerhouse is a major oil and gas exporter. In early October, Adnoc awarded US$16.9 billion (S$23.2 billion) contracts to build a major gas project near Abu Dhabi.
The oil company’s position has been to continue enabling gas self-sufficiency for the UAE, grow its export capacity and support global energy security.
The Emirates was also the first Middle East nation to commit to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The country aims to be a leading producer of low-carbon hydrogen by 2031, with around 70 per cent of the emerging fuel made through renewable energy.
PM Lee added: “The question is, what happens if the world really decarbonises and there is no market for oil and gas? Or you are not allowed to sell oil and gas? And then what does the country do, whose valuable energy resources are in the ground and can’t be monetised? Will they accept it? What is fair to them?
“How do you come to an agreement which they will accept, and which is workable?”
PM Lee said that the future of traditional fuel in a decarbonising world has to be discussed at COP28 and future climate meetings.
In Singapore, about 95 per cent of its electricity supply is from imported natural gas, which the country considers a transition fuel. The country aims to have 50 per cent of its energy mix to come from hydrogen by 2050.
“We also have to prepare for decarbonisation, and it is going to be very hard for us too. That is going to be a real challenge to be done within the next 27 years because our target is net zero by 2050,” noted PM Lee.
PM Lee said there will be scope for Singapore and the UAE to work on green energy cooperation.
For example, UAE clean energy company Masdar recently signed an agreement with Malaysia to develop renewable energy projects of up to 10 gigawatts, which includes rooftop and floating solar farms.
UAE officials told PM Lee that it would be possible to sell power generated by those projects to Singapore.
“So I said yes, we are quite open. We are looking to import considerable amounts of green energy from all sources. And we are happy to receive propositions,” said PM Lee, noting that it also makes sense for green energy producers to have a bigger market since that promises reliability.
As both countries decarbonise, the concern is not about the composition of the countries’ trade shifting, said PM Lee, in response to a question about whether the shift to renewables will affect ongoing investments or stakes Singapore has in the UAE.
“Our challenge is we need to transform our economy… And in that process, I think we can compare notes with one another,” he added.
During his trip, PM Lee noted the palpable goodwill the Middle East has towards Singapore and its companies.
“We welcome their people to come to Singapore just as we encourage Singaporeans to come out to the Middle East and do business here, participate in projects here, engage in cooperation… and quite a number are doing so.”