Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Posters carrying these three words are commonplace in Singapore schools and already were in the 90s when I was growing up. The discipline to not litter is also ingrained in Singaporeans from a young age through the simple act of fining us for each act of littering, to the point where a mild mockery of Singapore as “a fine city” emerged among western expats here. But mockery aside, this discipline means that even when Singaporeans travel overseas, we simply don’t have it in us to litter indiscriminately. It also comes naturally to us to turn off the tap immediately after using it, switch off the lights each time we leave a room, and so on.
These are everyday ways in which Singapore has ensured that sustainability and environmental consciousness are ingrained in its citizens all their lives. Singapore is also known as one of the greenest metropolises in the world. The globally recommended percentage of green cover in cities is 33%. In 2020, Singapore didn’t just match this recommendation, but obliterated it with 46.5%.
Why am I saying all this? Not to blow the trumpet, but to lay the background for Singapore’s recent emergence as a major player in the world’s fight against climate change. Sir David Attenborough had a special mention of Singapore’s green creds in his 2020 documentary A Life on Our Planet. World Economic Forum founder Dr Klaus Schwab discussed climate change with Singapore government officials when he visited the country in February 2021, as did US Vice President Kamala Harris when she visited in August 2021.
Singapore’s nickname is The Lion City because “singa” means lion and “pur” means city in many Indian languages. In recent years, this lion has started to roar for the planet. Here are a few ways in which the pint-sized city-state has become a tip of the spear of climate change mitigation.
1) Singapore's prowess in R&D makes it a hub for renewable energy such as solar and wind. It's increasingly common to see solar panels dotting the roofs of houses and office buildings. Singapore recently opened the Tengeh Floating Solar Farm which is one of the world's biggest floating solar farms. Hydrogen fuel and Carbon capture, Utilization and storage (CCUS) are two other fields in which Singapore is providing its R&D expertise. This ability to provide brain power to the most critical industries has its roots in Singapore’s origins as a country lacking natural resources, which made it develop its homegrown human capital and its ability to attract talent from the rest of the region and world.
2) Electric vehicles are another sector in which the city-state is already making a mark. Its goals of installing 60,000 charging stations by 2030 and transitioning to a fully electric vehicle fleet by 2040 are driving it forward (pun intended) in this field. Homegrown firm BlueSG is emerging as a world leader in electric cars. Another local player, Scorpio Electric, has started manufacturing electric motorcycles that incorporate AI and smart data analytics to increase energy efficiency.
3) Emerging players in the power sector are offering green options to Singapore’s environmentally-conscious power consumers. Geneco offers plans in which consumers can choose to have 25%, 50%, 75% or even 100% of their monthly power consumption offset by carbon credits or International Renewable Energy Certificates (I-RECs). One of its competitors, Senoko Energy, offers a 100% solar energy plan as well as hybrid plans.
4) Industries that are not strictly energy-related but contribute immensely to reducing carbon footprint, such as plant-based protein, are on the rise in Singapore. TiNDLE (plant-based chicken) and KARANA (plant-based pork) are just two of the many Singapore food tech SMEs that specialize in plant-based protein. If their products continue to take the place of traditional meat in the global supply chain, emissions from the global agricultural industry can be cut substantially.
5) Singapore’s green buildings like the Marina Bay Supertrees, Parkroyal and CapitaGreen are an inspiration to property developers around the world. These buildings use photovoltaic cells to power themselves through solar energy, minimize water usage, circulate cool air to reduce energy consumption, and have actual trees on their rooftops and balconies to add to the city’s green cover.
6) Urban farming is sprouting up (another pun intended) in Singapore now. This takes the form of rooftop farms, indoor vertical farms and greenhouses. Even a parking lot came in handy for the Citiponics rooftop farm in central Singapore. These urban farms not only reduce the environmental impact of agriculture but also increase the tiny nation’s food security.
7) Singapore is poised to lead the world in carbon credit exchange through the Climate Impact eXchange (CIX) global carbon exchange and marketplace. When businesses that cannot immediately achieve zero carbon emissions aim to offset their emissions with carbon credits, there’s a danger of buying those carbon credits from dubious providers who sell low-quality credits. Low-quality credits come from activities that did not achieve any real carbon reduction (e.g. “preserving” a forest that was never in danger of deforestation). But the chances of a business greenwashing itself through such credits is substantially reduced with a Singapore-based exchange, because Singapore can be trusted to audit every carbon credit and ensure that only high-quality credits (earned through truly effective carbon-reducing activities) are traded on the exchange. This trust is a result of Singapore’s decades of ethical commercial practices, a world-leading low level of corruption, and a well-documented ease of doing business.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. There are several other ways in which Singapore is playing a big role, such as the effort by Singapore banks such as DBS and OCBC to accelerate green finance and ESG investing, and a Green Finance Industry Taskforce (GFIT) convened by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). At all levels of the country, be it government or business or individual citizen, there’s a holistic effort to do the things that matter.Singapore does not embrace the cause of climate change out of ideology. Singapore has always been pragmatic. As such, it follows the science, recognizes that climate change is an existential threat, and identifies that it has the right skills and circumstances to help the world. These skills and circumstances include a trusted business environment, cutting-edge R&D pedigree and a highly-educated workforce. It makes sense to apply these skills for the greater good.
In addition to the obvious value of mitigating an existential threat on behalf of the whole planet, Singapore stands to create new tens of thousands of new jobs in sunrise industries for its citizens and for those who choose to make it their home. Making the world a better place while achieving prosperity embodies the idea of doing well while doing good. That’s the dream of many governments and indeed many businesses. It’s easier said than done, but it looks like Singapore might have a real shot at it.
Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
Vasanth Seshadri runs the Singapore-based creative agency The Sunny Side. He is the author of the sustainability-themed novel The People from Beyond the Mountains.