RSIS-NTS and the German Embassy’s series on Climate Diplomacy
The RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Singapore jointly organised the screening of two documentaries on themes of environmental security and climate change on 10 December 2014. This third event in the series on “Climate Diplomacy” saw the screening of the documentaries “ASEAN Peatlands and Transboundary Haze Pollution: Achievements, Impacts and Agenda for 2020” and “Environmental issues & human impact”, followed by a panel discussion chaired by Associate Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony, Head of the NTS.
The panellists, Dr Raman Letchumanan, senior fellow of NTS, Dr Thomas Reindl, Deputy CEO of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), and Dr Ann Florini, Professor of Public Policy at the Singapore Management University, had a lively discussion with the participants after the documentary screening.
During the panel discussion, Dr Raman emphasized the need to give greater attention to the impact of peatland fires, fires caused by the burning of carbon-rich soil, on the increase in greenhouse gases. He also argued that the environmental security and climate change debate should focus on ground-level activities that emphasize communities and their livelihood options while bringing environmental benefits. Institutions and policy makers must go beyond high-level negotiations, such as the United Nations climate conferences, and ensure that the agreements reached bring real benefits to people’s lives. The ASEAN Peatland Forest Project is one such initiative. While motivated by the smoke haze in the region, the project has sought to strengthen local efforts in poverty reduction by enhancing livelihood options, establishing a monitoring system for fires, and developing guidelines for the integrated management of peatlands.
Dr Reindl spoke about the underestimation of the potential of switching to energy efficient appliances in reducing carbon emissions. He argued that market mechanisms are the best way to reduce emissions and emphasized the need to lower fuel subsidies to reduce market distortion, which will allow a greater uptake of solar power in countries.
Professor Florini called for countries to look beyond governments and corporations as the key players in the bid to reduce global emissions. Non-governmental organisations have also played a key role in changing consumer perceptions and pressuring errant corporations, such as those starting fires to clear peatlands, to act responsibly. Professor Florini also mentioned the need to develop new business models and government regulations to create favourable conditions for the installation of solar panels. For example, renting of solar panels and feed-in-tariffs could reduce the upfront cost of solar installation and provide greater price stability.
The discussions also highlighted:
(i) Government commitment as a key factor in tackling the issue of transboundary haze and climate change.
(ii) The need to overcome vested interests within the energy commodity market in order to set up an incentive structure, and eventually liberalize the energy market for the uptake of renewable energy directly by consumers.
(iii) The complementary relationship between huge technological advancements in renewables and political will, support from businesses as well as changes in consumer behaviour.