Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the UNFCCC Conference in Bali, 12 December 2007
Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the Republic of Indonesia Mr Rachmat Witoelar, President of the Conference
Climate change is an enormous long-term challenge confronting mankind. Scientists do not know how quickly it will happen, how severe it will be, or all of its consequences. But the signs are growing - melting polar icecaps, vanishing glaciers, hotter and longer summers, more intense typhoons and hurricanes. If we fail to address climate change, ecosystems and human societies could experience major disruptions over the next 50 to 100 years, and quite possibly sooner.
The Kyoto Protocol is a first collective attempt by the world to deal with climate change. It is an important start, but we have to build on Kyoto and do more. The international community must work out a practical and effective approach, after the first commitment period under Kyoto expires in 2012. Let me propose three principles, which I believe are essential for a post-2012 framework.
Principles for a Post-2012 Framework
First, the framework must have the commitment and participation of all countries, under UNFCCC auspices. The developed countries are responsible for the bulk of current and historical greenhouse gas emissions. They will have to take the lead in cutting emissions. The developing countries, especially the emerging economies of Asia, are also becoming major emitters. Their populations are equally if not more vulnerable to climate change. Rich or poor, all countries will have to do their part for the environment. Collectively we share this problem and must solve it together.
Second, the framework should recognise the vital importance of economic growth. Poverty is not a solution to global warming. The problem of climate change has a long lead time, as do any countermeasures. Meanwhile, governments must deal with other vital priorities, including alleviating poverty, fighting diseases and malnutrition, and improving the lives of their peoples. All this requires economic growth and resources, which means continued dependence on energy and in particular on fossil fuels. This reality will not change in the foreseeable future, despite our best efforts to go green.
If actions to mitigate climate change are to preserve growth, they should not undermine globalisation and the international division of labour. In the world economy, some countries specialise in producing goods, while others supply more services. Those doing more manufacturing will naturally have a larger carbon footprint. Likewise for transportation hubs, which supply bunkers for ships and fuel for airplanes. Penalising these countries would be counterproductive, because the activities would just move to other countries less well suited to them. We would have paid an economic price without reaping any environmental benefits. Singapore has a vested interest in this as manufacturing, port and airport services are all important to our economy. But we are not alone.
Third, the framework must take into account differences in national circumstances and constraints. Countries vary in size, population and stage of development. Some are endowed with abundant clean and renewable energy sources like wind, hydro or geothermal power, while others have no alternatives to fossil fuels. Small states, especially developing ones, face the most severe constraints. They are more vulnerable to external shocks and natural disasters. They are often heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels, and cannot easily diversify their energy sources. Even nuclear energy is unfeasible for lack of safety distance.
Given this wide range of situations of different countries, the post-2012 framework cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach. An equitable solution must take account of diverse national circumstances. The smaller and more vulnerable countries in particular will need technical assistance to put in place effective adaptation measures.
Approaches to Mitigating Climate Change
Based on these broad principles, let me suggest a few effective approaches to mitigate climate change.First, we should pursue pragmatic and cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes exploiting technology to improve energy efficiency and reduce wastage, for example by using more public transport instead of cars, and not over- cooling or over-heating buildings. We should also apply economics to price energy properly and avoid subsidising over-consumption of fossil fuels. Second, we need to protect the world’s carbon sinks. Slash-and-burn practices and the large-scale burning of peatlands release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We must stop these practices and the loss of forested areas. This requires the continued attention and support of the international community, as well as responsible policies and effective enforcement by the countries which own these forests. Singapore supports the idea of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) proposed by Indonesia, and regional initiatives like the Heart of Borneo project, which covers 220,000 sq km of forests in Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. We are also working bilaterally with Indonesia to tackle peatland fires and develop sustainable land-clearing practices.
Third, beyond individual measures, I believe it is necessary to set overall targets to reduce emissions. Countries need to agree to this objective, negotiate a deal, and put in place policies to achieve the cuts. This will raise many complex issues. How much should we cut emissions by? How do we share the costs? What is the best way to cut - quantitative controls, carbon taxes, or cap-and-trade schemes? Should the measures be based on countries, or industry sectors such as aviation and shipping on a worldwide basis, or individual consumers? And how can we do all this while minimising disruptions to the global economy? No country can volunteer to cut its own emissions if others do not join in. All countries must work together, but the major economies have to show leadership, as any viable solution requires their full commitment.
Fourth, climate change is a dynamic problem. Technology is changing, the global climate is changing, and our understanding of climate change is also changing. Hence we need not just a one-time, complete solution, but an evolving, creative response that will exploit new technologies and adapt to new scientific discoveries. This response must include a major investment in research on climate change and energy technologies, be it carbon storage, solar power, safe nuclear energy, or other low-carbon ways to power our future. We also have to find ways to package and embed such technologies into everyday life, whether making more efficient engines or designing and building more eco-friendly cities. Even climate engineering should be explored fully.
Singapore is strongly committed to this global research effort. We are investing considerable sums to develop clean technologies like solar and water. We are also partnering China to build an eco-city in Tianjin, to testbed and demonstrate environmentally sustainable and economically viable approaches for urban development, which can be replicated in other Chinese cities. Next year, Singapore will be hosting a World Cities Summit that will focus on environmental issues in urban settings.
Fifth, we should work on adaptation strategies. Climate change will take place despite our best efforts. We can, at best, slow down the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the next decades, but we cannot reverse global warming and restore conditions to the pre-industrial age. We must therefore adapt our societies to surviving in a warmer world, and apply our ingenuity and resolve to minimising the negative effects. The sooner we start doing this, the more affordable this task will be.
Dealing with global warming will be a long and difficult process. It will need political support from the populations of our countries, for we will face tough choices. In Europe, climate change policy is already a major political priority. In Australia, public pressure forced former Prime Minister John Howard to change his government’s stand after a severe decade-long drought. Even in the US, attitudes are shifting, helped no doubt by the video An Inconvenient Truth. It is a long way from general public sympathy to specific support for policies which will make a real impact, but these are encouraging signs of progress. Singapore, and all the members of ASEAN, will do our part in this global effort. We are fully committed to an ambitious Bali roadmap that will deliver an effective post-2012 regime.