The March Towards Sustainability

Planet Earth is not doing well.

The World Wildlife Fund, in its Living Planet Report 2018, says mankind is pushing our planet to the brink with human activities — how we feed and live our lives — taking an unprecedented toll on wildlife and the overall environment that we need to survive.

Growing greenhouse gas levels are exacerbating climate change, a broad term used by scientists to describe the complex shifts that are affecting our planet’s weather and climate systems. The effects include rising average temperatures and sea levels, extreme weather events, and decreasing wildlife populations and habitats.

Singapore climate scientists have projected that in the rare scenario that high mean sea levels, high tide and high surge all occur at the same time, sea levels could rise almost 4m above the current mean and flood the island’s low-lying coastal areas.

Speaking at the 2019 Partners for the Environment forum on July 17, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli stressed that tackling climate change is a “pressing priority” and an “existential challenge” for Singapore.

“The warning is loud and unmistakable: We must act now or we may well face the ultimate threat to human survival... the end of ‘life as usual’,” he said.

The message is loud and clear: We have to make changes to the way we live, work, commute and play in order to continue to live on this planet — the only home we have.

Showing the way
Fortunately, amidst the dire warnings from international organisations and climate scientists, there are bright spots across the globe, and they are increasing in number. The European countries of Switzerland, France and Denmark — which led the charge in Yale University’s 2018 Environmental Performance Index — have shown that good sustainability habits can be cultivated and maintained.

The Swiss send 94 per cent of old glass to special collection points for recycling while France, named the world’s most food sustainable country by the World Economic Forum last November, is known for its eco-farming techniques and bold measures to tackle food waste.

Home to industry-leading, energy-efficient green buildings, Denmark is a pioneer in the fields of clean energy and green transportation, including a healthy cycling culture.

For Asia, Japan leads the way with its 20th position in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index. Singapore is in 49th place, followed by South Korea in 60th place and Malaysia in 75th place.

There is also growing awareness in Singapore of the urgent need to tackle climate change.

Singapore ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997, acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2006, and also ratified the amendments to the second commitment period (from 2012 to 2020) of the Kyoto Protocol in 2014. In 2015, Singapore also signed the Paris Agreement and a year later, launched its Climate Action Plan.

Singapore is also the first country in South-east Asia to introduce a carbon tax, which will take effect later this year.

Leading Singapore’s green energy charge
Mirroring Singapore’s efforts for a greener future, homegrown international company Sembcorp Industries is making waves in sustainability efforts at home and overseas. The company has made sustainability central to its business strategy and operations and has highlighted its commitment to play a part, together with the international community, in furthering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

From renewable energy and greener engineering solutions to eco-friendly integrated townships, its businesses have a real capacity to make a change for a more sustainable world. Currently, Sembcorp is one of only five Singapore companies in the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index, and is also in the FTSE4Good and SGX Sustainability Leaders Indices.

Leveraging its expertise and track record in vital resource areas such as energy, water and waste, Sembcorp is able to approach the issue of sustainability holistically and contribute towards sustainable resource management through its unique offering of integrated solutions.

Back home, the company’s multi-utilities operations on Jurong Island are a microcosm of its wider integrated capabilities which promote sustainability and the circular economy. Its energy operations and initiatives at the petrochemical hub (which include power and steam generation and waste-to-energy) help abate 415,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. This is equivalent to taking 91,000 cars off the roads. It also recovers energy from around 280,000 tonnes of waste annually. Its total water solutions (encompassing water treatment, recycling and supply) minimises liquid discharge and saves over 30,000 cubic metres of water per day, while its land efficient centralised facilities and infrastructure promote optimised land use.

A leading solar power player here in Singapore, Sembcorp has over 140 megawatt-peak of rooftop solar projects across more than 1,500 sites. With the islandwide roll-out of the Open Electricity Market, the company has expanded its green energy services to the residential market as well. Renewable energy attributes are blended into all of Sembcorp Power’s competitively-priced electricity plans.

Hand in hand
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Sembcorp actively invests in low-carbon businesses and is growing its renewables portfolio to create one of the region’s leading independent renewable energy players.

In 2018, designated Year of Climate Action in Singapore, Sembcorp became the first homegrown energy company to develop a Climate Change Strategy. As part of this strategy, Sembcorp targets to double its global renewables capacity to around 4,000 megawatts and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by about 22 per cent — both by 2022. In 2018, the company grew its global renewables portfolio in operation and under development by around 20 per cent to 2,600 megawatts. These include wind and solar projects in China, India and Singapore.

If tackling climate change is a “pressing priority”, as Sembcorp has shown, we can all play a part to help protect this planet where humankind has called home for over 200,000 years.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on July 23, 2019.

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