“While countries are rightly focusing on fighting the immediate health crisis, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges presented by climate change,” states Kara Owen, the British High Commissioner to Singapore. “This is why taking action to tackle climate change – domestically and with our international partners – remains a top priority for the UK Government.”
Driving deeper SG-UK engagement on climate challenges
“Both Singapore and the UK understand that climate change is a problem that impacts the entire world,” says Owen. “For example, as island nations, both countries recognise the impending threats of rising sea levels and increased floods and we share the urgency to address these challenges.”
The British High Commission and Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat have been connecting businesses and policymakers since 2004 to discuss climate action on platform such as the biennial Green Growth and Business Forum.
“Like Singapore, the UK is also investing to protect critical assets and infrastructure when it comes to a climate-resilient future,” Owen expands. “Innovative UK companies have also contributed sustainable design and energy recovery expertise into some of the most iconic buildings in Singapore.” Architectural firm Arup, for instance, has seamlessly embedded sustainability into functionality in Singapore’s Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade and at the Jewel Terminal at Changi Airport.
The two countries are also partnering on a number of climate science and technology projects including one between the UK’s MET Office and Singapore’s Meteorological Services and Centre for Climate Research to predict and plan for changing weather patterns.
And the potential for future collaborations are vast with British experts predicting global trade in low-carbon goods and services to grow from £150bn in 2015 to between £2.8 – £5.1tn by 2050. “Our already-vibrant financial services partnership is one mechanism through which I want to see the SG-UK relationship grow to respond to that opportunity together” says Owen.
Paving the way for stronger Green Finance avenues
According to Owen, one of the biggest opportunities for future partnership lies in green finance, with both countries being major financial centres. “It is well accepted that the transformation of the global economy required to meet the Paris goals will need to be underpinned by a revolution in global financial flows,” she stresses. “This includes incorporating climate risks into decision making and enhancing reporting.”
Countries can do more to encourage financial transparency and secure commitments from companies. “All publicly listed companies and owners of large financial assets should be urged to disclose how they are preparing for a lower-carbon economy,”offers Owen. “Financial institutions should provide concrete commitments to shift their investments from high-carbon to green activity.”
There is a close partnership between the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the City of London and the Bank of England. In June, ASEAN central bankers including from Singapore, joined a virtual roundtable hosted by Mark Carney, the UK’s Financial Adviser for COP26 and UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. “They discussed how post-COVID stimulus packages were a key opportunity to accelerate climate action and deliver on the Paris commitments,” shared Owen.
More recently, green finance was again a key topic of engagement when the Lord Mayor of London conducted a series of virtual engagements with Singapore partners.
Partnering and investing in the region
Going beyond Singapore, the UK has also increased its investments across Asia to help countries here adapt to climate change. It has doubled its spending on international climate change projects to £11.6bn (US$14.7bn) over 2021-2026.
In Southeast Asia, the UK’s £15mn (US$19mn) Low Carbon Energy Programme supports green finance and energy efficiency transitions in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.
In the Philippines, the Programme has helped the government set up a market for renewable energy. In Myanmar, it is helping the Ministry of Electricity attract international finance by developing standards for solar and wind energy. In Indonesia, the UK’s Mentari Low Carbon Energy Programme delivers inclusive and universal energy access through energy policy and regulatory reform, creating a healthy investment climate for on and off-grid renewable energy.
“It’s not just about pots of money,” insists Owen. “It is also about sharing the world-leading expertise with which the UK has grown its economy 75 per cent since 1990 at the same time as cutting its emissions by 43 per cent.”
Yet, despite the obvious benefits of decarbonisation, the world is not yet on track to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement. “This is why the next 5 years are critical for enhanced climate action, especially in Southeast Asia which will suffer some of the worst and most immediate impacts of climate change,” points out Owen. “To help mitigate this, the UK’s COP26 Presidency stresses on international collaboration to forward a green recovery path ahead.”
Lining up for a green recovery
“Governments today have a unique opportunity to prioritise green economics as they plan their post-Covid recoveries,” Owen says. “We have a once-in-a-generation chance to use this recovery for creating sustainable growth and jobs, while addressing the urgent and linked challenges of public health, climate change and biodiversity.”
“We also believe that a green recovery makes better economic sense,” she adds. According to Owen, the fact that renewable energy in Southeast Asia is increasingly cost-competitive with the potential to meet the region’s growing energy demand and that solar power now cheaper than new coal power in four of the biggest ASEAN economies, makes a compelling argument for clean energy transitions. This is something the UK is well on track to demonstrating in its own energy transitions.
Earlier this year, the country went two months without burning coal – the longest it has gone without fossil fuel since the Industrial Revolution and putting it on track to completely phase out coal power by 2024. The UK also currently has the largest amount of installed offshore wind in the world (a third of global capacity) – 9.8GW, with plans to increase to 14GW Capacity by 2023.
“Such energy transformations are also being explored in Singapore, particularly in looking at clean hydrogen – an area in which the UK has made tremendous progress,” elaborates Owen drawing attention to the successful implementation of Europe’s largest hydrogen-powered bus fleet in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Building back better, together
“This is an opportunity for countries everywhere to choose the best long term options, and one way we’re supporting that is with a new UK PACT Green Recovery Fund,” says Owen. The £12mn capacity-building fund is designed to support low-carbon transitions and a green, resilient and inclusive economic recovery across developing countries, including Southeast Asia.
“The pandemic has reminded us of how connected healthcare and climate change are” says Owen. Better air quality can lower the strain on public healthcare systems: According to the World Health Organisation, countries could save a million lives a year globally by 2050 if they hit the Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
And the path ahead, according to the UK, is one led by engagement and collaboration. To enable this, the UK and Chile launched the Race to Zero Campaign – a global UNFCCC campaign to mobilise cities, regions, businesses and investors around the world to set long-term net zero emission strategies ahead of COP26.
“We look forward to working together with all countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, to achieve an ambitious, shared outcome at COP26 and inclusive, sustainable growth of economies in the region,” invites Owen.
This article was produced in partnership with the UK Government to promote the upcoming COP26 UN Climate Negotiations.