Leveraging current momentum to go green post-Covid-19

20 Apr 2021

Electric Cars

Much has been discussed about the positive impact that Covid-19 has brought to the environment due to decreased economic activities and emissions. While it is true to a certain extent, these short-term effects alone will not reverse climate change overnight.

According to estimates by the United Nations, more than 110 countries have committed to carbon neutrality. Yet, at the same time, the latest report by UN Climate Change has determined that many signatories, including some of the biggest polluting economies, are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals by 2050 based on current projections.

Reducing emissions is also not the cure-all for climate change. To achieve meaningful and sustainable progress for future generations, we will need to consider various plans of action that address every dimension of our lives.

Closer to home, however, there is cause for optimism. Singapore's unveiling of its own Green Plan 2030 signals its promise to become the world's greenest country by doubling-down on its efforts to build a sustainable future. The plan is not focused just on reducing emissions but also encompasses a whole-of-nation approach to step up Singapore's sustainability agenda.

As vaccines are being rolled out around the world and economic activities gradually resume, it is vital that we do not shift our focus away from environmental issues. And while there is no 'vaccine' for climate change, 2021 may just be a turning point for the much-needed green recovery.

Given the inconclusive results of the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), governments around the world are expected to raise their carbon emission targets in this year's annual Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Nonetheless, these goals must be backed by attainable interim targets set for 2030, and here is where Singapore has done well to be a worthy contender as a 'bright green spark for the world', a term its policymakers have used to describe the vision for the city-state.

Singapore's Green Plan 2030 is part of a series of incremental steps the country has taken in its climate response, building on past initiatives introduced progressively over the years. From enacting the 1971 Clean Air Act, to introducing its Zero Water Masterplan and carbon tax framework in 2019 and re-designating its Ministry of Environment and Water Resources as the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, Singapore has been steadfast in its pursuit of sustainable development.

The plan set for the next decade will focus on crucial aspects such as biodiversity, renewable energy and green transportation. Among these, the government has set its sights on eco-friendly vehicles, requiring all newly-registered cars to be cleaner-energy models by 2030. Under the City in Nature pillar, Singapore will also reserve around 200 hectares of land for the development of nature parks - a remarkable commitment given the country's limited land area.

Singapore's goal of halving its peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and commitment of reaching net-zero emissions "as soon as viable in the second half of the century" - are targets that are crucial to addressing rising sea levels that threaten more than 30 per cent of the island. Most importantly, these clear interim targets for 2030 reflect the country's prudent approach to tackling climate change, which allows policymakers to build on the experience and realign the strategy to eventually reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The joint multi-agency efforts across five different ministries for the Singapore Green Plan 2030 also establishes the importance of advancing the sustainability agenda across all sectors, and the level of collaboration and cooperation that the plan will require to succeed.

As countries make haste to bring their net zero carbon plans to fruition, green climate action will undoubtedly benefit from the momentum generated from these top-down pushes to spur more innovations and investments from the private sector.

Transport Sector

One such example is the transportation industry, where the push for cleaner-energy vehicles has made commendable progress, especially as renewable energy is now more affordable than ever.

Around the world, Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors and other major car manufacturers are also taking the lead in developing and expanding the reach of their electric vehicles (EVs) for mass consumers. Likewise, in Singapore, private sector companies are collaborating to accelerate the adoption of EVs, including the expansion of charging infrastructure and battery leasing service.

For our public policy to succeed, businesses need to work hand in hand, setting their own green targets to foster growth opportunities and to ensure that progress is sustainable.

As a member of the MS&AD Insurance Group, MSIG's sustainability journey is closely aligned with our group's ambition and goal to tackle the issue of sustainability through innovation. It encompasses a value creation approach behind the development of sustainability-related products, services, and initiatives across the region, such as MSIG Thailand's crop insurance to support the government's agriculture policy, fire insurance for social enterprises by MSIG Malaysia, and more.

In addition, our strategic three-year collaboration with Conservation International Asia-Pacific (CIAP) to protect biodiversity will encompass a variety of conservation efforts, with a focus on mangrove and marine conservation in Singapore. This regional partnership and its efforts aim to remove around 4.7 million tonnes of carbon emissions by contributing to the conservation of some 9,500 hectares of forest and 72,500 hectares of ocean - equivalent to taking around one million cars off the road for a year. This is a mission that not only resonates with our vision of a vibrant and resilient society, but also one that aligns with our business objectives of insuring the future of our planet.

The reality is that while carbon emissions have fallen by 7 per cent in 2020 - the largest since World War II - it is still far from the estimated 14 per cent annual decrease that we need to meet to achieve the 1.5-deg C temperature cap by 2040.

What the pandemic has given us is the temporary suspension of environmental damage caused by human activity. The world has to seize this window of opportunity to do what we can to advance our sustainability agenda.

While new challenges have emerged with the pandemic, a silver lining to keep in mind is how much more prepared we are when dealing with a global-level threat. Now more than ever, we need to leverage the current momentum to move forward decisively and collectively, to confront the most pertinent issue of our generation.

An edited version of this article has been published in The Business Times on 20 April 2021.

The article was contributed by Craig Ellis, CEO, MSIG Insurance (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.