By Kate Tsoi | 10 March 2021
The Singapore Green Plan 2030, unveiled last month, is described as a “whole-of-nation movement to advance Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development”. The Green Plan aims to strengthen Singapore’s international climate commitments and contribute towards achieving its long-term net-zero emissions goal, based on five key pillars:
1) City in Nature
2) Sustainable Living
3) Energy Reset
4) Green Economy
5) Resilient Future
In particular, the City in Nature initiative directly leverages the power of natural climate solutions (NCS), which are defined as “conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions”. The initiative comprises a number of ambitious 2030 targets such as planting one million more trees across Singapore, incorporating natural designs and planting in 140ha of parks and gardens, as well as restoring and enhancing 30ha of forest, marine, and coastal habitats. These NCS actions can contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emission reductions while strengthening Singapore’s climate resilience and delivering other socioecological co-benefits.
The plan’s ambitions also include developing Singapore to serve as a regional carbon services hub in Asia. This is a strategic move considering the strong NCS potential in Southeast Asia – as recent studies have indicated that Southeast Asia holds the highest density of carbon potential for NCS investments, including both terrestrial and blue carbon. The region’s investible and financially viable carbon stock amounts to a staggering 0.56 GtCO2e in carbon sequestration per year over a 30-year timeframe, covering 90 million ha of forests across Southeast Asia. Even under conservative assumptions, the carbon credits derived from this carbon stock could generate returns of US$27.5 billion per year.
Coincidentally, the carbon services hub, which represents an improvement in the market architecture, happens to be one of the key elements needed to unlock natural climate solutions according to the recent study conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and McKinsey & Company and the following graph.
Furthermore, Singapore also has been or is working on several of the other elements that can unlock NCS including:
Singapore has been pushing for green finance policies and is in the midst of creating an enabling environment to boost NCS demand. Singapore released the Green Finance Action Plan in 2019, allocating US$2 billion to asset managers with a strong green focus, which was quickly followed by the Green and Sustainability-Linked Loan Grant Scheme in November 2020, supporting corporates to develop green and sustainability frameworks and targets. The city-state is also building a pipeline of multi-sector talents in green finance across climate science, financial economics, and sustainable investing through the Singapore Green Finance Centre established in October 2020.
Highlighting good practices for supply based on scientific data
Singapore is home to the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, which carries out scientific research and knowledge on the topic. Additionally, researchers across various institutions have embarked upon the collaborative 3-year Natural Capital Singapore project to assess natural capital at a national level and its relations with future urban development. The Sustaintech Xcelerator, launched by DBS, NUS, Temasek and other organizations, is a Singapore-based accelerator aimed at supporting climate innovators to develop technological solutions that increase confidence in nature-based solutions. These organizations are conducive to building solid market architecture for NCS and enabling better methods to monitor, validate and report on carbon stocks.
Creating regulatory clarity
The recently-announced Green Plan further underscores Singapore’s commitments and strong governmental support towards its sustainability efforts, signaling businesses and individuals to follow suit by setting concrete green targets and regulatory initiatives. With a consistent public narrative to become a knowledge hub and regional leader on NCS, Singapore can build trust and credibility among actors and various stakeholders on both national and regional levels to work together on developing NCS approaches.
Solid foundation for Singapore to unlock natural climate solutions
The Green Plan 2030 is an excellent move on behalf of Singapore in designing a long-term strategy for not only addressing issues of climate change, but also in transforming itself into a greener economy. It is clear that some elements to unlock Singapore’s full potential are still missing, including defining the corporate net-zero commitments and certifications as these require global efforts. Nevertheless, there is great potential for Singapore to play a leading role in the region in catalyzing NCS, given its sound infrastructure and legal framework as a financial center; its commitment to the ambitious Green Plan 2030; and its research efforts and capabilities. Successful, innovative yet practical examples in Singapore can subsequently be replicated in Southeast Asia and even on a global scale.