Alvin, another new intern from NTU Sociology, shared with me this article with his BBC accent. Yupe, I think it is interesting as well. In the past, it is hard to see such an article appearing in Singapore newspaper.
As Alvin said, newspaper here is owned by government, perspective that is written out represents the government’s point of view.
3 more weeks left in NEA, what can I contribute to this small island’s policy-making? #doubt#
The Straits Times (Singapore)
May 15, 2009 Friday
How to be green and rich
Denmark is a model of how saving the Earth can help the economy
BYLINE: Clarissa Oon, Senior Political Correspondent
LENGTH: 1185 words
TWO small coastal countries, two different stages of climate policy.
Singapore has always prided itself on being clean and green. But it only started tackling the larger global challenges of climate change and resource and energy scarcity in a modestly scaled, sustainable development plan unveiled last month.
As for Denmark, an affluent Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, it has long proven that energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy can go hand in hand with economic growth. Without increasing energy consumption, its economy has grown by 70 per cent since 1981. [Bernard: Who say economic development & Environmental Protection are mutual exclusive?]
Wind turbines dotted along its coastline show how Denmark has managed to harness renewable sources such as wind, waste and solar energy to account for 16 per cent of its total energy consumption.
Energy-saving technologies are another growing export industry.
Some of the choices Denmark has made on green policy over the past 30 years should be studied by policymakers and civil society in Singapore as the climate change agenda becomes more pressing.
Singapore’s sustainable development plan, which looks at areas including green buildings and waste recycling, comes as countries like Australia, China and the United States relook their policies to address climate uncertainties such as melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
The Danish capital of Copenhagen will host global climate talks in December. This is to forge a new global deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels and the loss of forests and natural habitats.
As a first-time, inter-ministerial effort launched in the midst of a recession, Singapore’s plan understandably steers clear of ambitious targets and regulation that could raise short-term costs for businesses and individuals.
But if it wants to keep on the growth path, then, like other wealthy ‘developing’ countries like Kuwait and Qatar, it will increasingly face a concomitant responsibility to bring down carbon emissions.
Here are some lessons Denmark offers:
Citizen participation is key
THERE is a grassroots environmental consciousness in Denmark that is missing in Singapore, as I discovered when I visited Copenhagen last year.
To give one example, instead of tossing glass or plastic bottles after consuming their contents, Copenhagen residents return them to the shop to be recycled. This way, they also get back the small deposit paid on the bottles. There are also special vending machines (built with public funds) that collect these empty bottles and refund deposits.
One can imagine there would be a howl of protest from residents and businesses if such a scheme were to be implemented in Singapore, because of the inconvenience involved. [Bernard agrees with rising both hands and feet.]
However, there is a general social consensus in Denmark about environmental issues and Danes expect their government to do its part. This has its roots in the Middle East oil crisis of 1973, which led them to feel that diversifying energy sources was critical to national security.
The Danish sense of responsibility for nature and resource conservation is something Singaporeans can learn from Environmentalist and former Nominated Member of Parliament Geh Min thinks that while Singapore has no shortage of nature lovers, they have delegated in their minds the responsibility for taking care of nature to the National Parks Board. [Exactly!]
As consumers, Singaporeans also do not have a habit of ‘ethical consumption’, or of considering a company’s environmental track record alongside the price and quality of its products.
This is one area where Singapore lags behind some countries in Europe, says Nature Society president Shawn Lum.
Examples include awareness of how one’s food was produced, how much recycled product went into the packaging, and whether the wood used came from sustainably managed forests.
Early adopter advantage
IN 1983, producing electricity from wind power was just a dream. Today, the Danish wind turbine industry comprises more than 200 companies and supplies one- third of the world’s terrestrial wind turbines. Demand is growing steadily, particularly in the US.
How did Denmark kick-start this industry? By giving government subsidies not just to research but also to the installation of wind turbines, to gain experience on its operation and use.
This is a good case study for Singapore, now that Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has said that it is ‘betting big’ on solar energy and will not rule out mass adoption when it becomes cheap enough to do so.
While spending on solar research, the Government has, however, ruled out giving incentives to end-users in the form of feed-in tariffs – which is what Germany did to make itself the world’s largest market for solar products.
Industry players here argue that it is a chicken-and-egg situation as the costs of using solar energy will not come down without government subsidies.
The Government should promote the active use of solar energy technology so that ‘Singapore could be the pioneer in renewable energy solutions for densely populated urban cities’, says NMP and waste recycling company boss Edwin Khew.
Carrots and sticks go a long way
DENMARK has a whole barrage of taxes and incentives to change consumer and social behaviour for environmental good.
For example, Danes pay hefty car taxes – including registration tax, vehicle excise duty and road tax – but two years ago, tax on cars with high fuel economy was eased. This led to a spike in sales for fuel-efficient vehicles that require less petrol per kilometre.
Fines and legislation have been deployed over the years to spruce up Singapore, such as against spitting and littering. However, the Government has held off giving teeth to its sustainable development plan, although the National Environment Agency (NEA) is studying the feasibility of laws on recycling food waste, like in Japan. [Just like Prof Wang told me before, Singapore has lifted the method of fines and legislation in cultivating the national green habits. So… haiz… They intend to do it by public education. And the food waste one, actually I am helping my colleague in doing comparison among Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. I am one of the key person in this feasibility. So sad, I cannot understand Japanese and Korean…]
One school of thought is that unless the law makes it mandatory for households and companies to sort and recycle their waste, Singaporeans will never take it seriously.
More proactive outreach needed
THERE is another view that such penalties and rules are not the best way to develop a culture of ownership over the environment. Instead, the NEA should step up public education on recycling.
Dr Geh, for example, thinks it would be great if all schools made it a practice to have students clean up after themselves in classrooms and canteens, with the students themselves designing and implementing the workflow.
There is also a need to create public awareness of climate change. Denmark has a ‘One Tonne Less’ campaign which involves educating people on what they can do to cut individual carbon emissions and energy consumption.
Climate policy is ultimately an area where all societies, including Singapore’s, need visionaries who operate with a long-term horizon in mind.
Danish environmentalists like Mr Stig Melgaard recognise this. ‘There is a 25- to 30-year delay from the time greenhouse gases are emitted, to seeing their effects,’ says the activist from Noah, a 40-year-old environmental NGO.
‘We have to be 30 years in front of the problem, otherwise we won’t fix it.’