This year’s government budget, titled Emerging Stronger Together, covers a slew of measures to further cushion the blow of the pandemic, including help for workers and businesses, targeted support for worst-hit sectors, and a Covid-19 resilience package worth S$11 billion to address Singapore’s immediate needs, protect public health, and reopen safely.
But Singapore must also “focus on what lies ahead” and “think long-term”, said Heng. “On this little red dot, we must strengthen efforts to tackle climate change, and build a sustainable home for generations to come,” he said.
Heng, who is also Singapore’s Finance Minister, introduced several sustainability initiatives to help cut transport emissions, grow more food locally, and spur green infrastructure development, stressing the need for the country to “invest in new areas” in order to benefit from global structural changes.
Among the measures unveiled are green bonds, which are to be issued for select public infrastructure projects. The minister said Singapore will catalyse capital flows towards sustainable development in the city-state and beyond, and the government has already identified eligible projects worth up to S$19 billion.
One such green project to be financed is Tuas Nexus, Singapore’s first integrated water and solid waste treatment facility, which is set to be completed in phases from 2025 onwards.
Singapore will also step up efforts to incentivise the early adoption of electric vehicles (EV) and cut transport emissions, said Heng.
The country plans to deploy 60,000 EV charging points at public car parks and private premises by 2030, marking a significant increase from the previous target of 28,000. Singapore’s sparse charging infrastructure has been cited as a major barrier to its shift to EVs.
About S$30 million will also be set aside for EV-related initiatives over the next five years, while the cost differential between EVs and internal combustion engine cars will be narrowed further to make electric models more affordable.
In addition, the government will lower the Additional Registration Fee (ARF) floor to zero for EVs from January 2022 to December 2023 to encourage more car owners to make the switch. The ARF is paid when registering a car and the rate is determined by the vehicle’s open market value.
Singapore will also establish a S$60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund to support the adoption of technology in the agri-food sector and help hit the country’s target of raising the level of food self-production from the current 10 per cent to 30 per cent of total food needs by 2030.
The budget statement comes five months after Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, announced that the nation had set aside S$49 million to fund low-carbon energy research and test-bedding efforts in hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
It also follows on the heels of the newly announced Singapore Green Plan, a wide-ranging sustainable development strategy that cuts across all sectors of society to chart the country’s path towards a greener future this decade.
Released by five ministries last week, the initiative includes infrastructure development, research and innovation, educational efforts, and training opportunities.
But, environmentalists have criticised the new plan, pointing out that it is merely a compilation of efforts announced previously rather than a strategy ambitious enough to address climate change, an existential threat to the low-lying island-nation.
They highlighted that only three targets—the decarbonisation of schools, the doubling of EV charging stations, and the Entreprise Sustainability Programme—are new, while every other goal included had been discussed or announced in recent years.
No details have been released on the Entreprise Sustainability Programme, except that it aims to help companies develop “capabilities in sustainability”.
But the biggest problem is that the Green Plan failed to ratchet up Singapore emissions targets, which have been rated as “highly insufficient” by research group Climate Action Tracker.
Neither does it mention plans to divest from fossil fuels or increase Singapore’s carbon tax, despite recent calls in parliament to do so. It does, however, indicate that Jurong Island, heart of the country’s petrochemical industry, will be transformed into a “sustainable energy and chemicals park”.
Earlier this month, six ministers of parliament filed a motion on climate change—a first in Singapore—urging the government to conduct regular reviews to raise the carbon tax, expand climate education in schools, and add climate defence as a seventh pillar of total defence.
The parliamentarians behind the proposal noted that Singapore’s current carbon tax is low at S$5 per tonne of emissions and criticised the lack of plans beyond increasing the tax to a maximum of S$15 by 2030. According to Climate Action Tracker, Singapore’s carbon tax needs to be “considerably higher” to be compatible with international climate goals.
Singapore aims to halve the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it generates from its 2030 peak by 2050, with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions “as soon as viable in the second half of the century”.
Climate Action Tracker has said that Singapore needs to substantially strengthen its 2030 climate target—which could form the basis for a tougher long-term target—to be in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius.