I found myself thinking about our prime minister Tony Abbott recently, while watching a short film in Singapore. Strange I know, but there were valid reasons – really, there were! I was visiting Singapore’s massive Gardens by the Bay development, a mega park housing a glasshouse the size of a football stadium and showcasing some innovative renewable energy solutions.
Specifically, I was in a theatre in the gardens watching a short film on global warming when Mr Abbott just popped into my head like a proverbial garden gnome peeping from behind a rock.
It was a powerful film showing an Earth where temperatures have risen by 5 degrees celsius by 2100. In short there was no life left on the planet – it was just a barren, hot ball spinning in space left to the mercy of raging storms and wildfires.
The film used a timeline to depict likely events as temperatures creep higher – rising sea levels, plant and animal species extinction, habitat destruction, extreme weather events spinning out of control, crop failure, human diseases such as malaria running rampant – until finally what is left is a planet that no longer supports life.
It was a sobering little film and people around me were obviously moved. But it did have an alternative scenario at the end – a world where policies on clean energy were introduced across the globe and where action was taken in time to reduce carbon emissions so that temperature rise was moderated. That’s when I thought about Surreal Tony. I wondered if he would be moved by the stark reality of the film’s message, or whether he would swagger from the theatre muttering to himself about the pessimistic left wing nutters who produced it and how important coal is for the future of humanity.
And what would our prime minister say to Singapore’s government, one of the leaders in promoting renewable energy in the Asia Pacific, about the Coalition’s Direct Action policy and his personal ambition to reduce the Renewable Energy Target? Would he argue that climate change is really a conspiracy theory concocted by socialists who want to destroy the economy and the mining industry?
These questions seem particularly relevant in light of the Synthesis Report released this week by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which summarises the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment, progressively released over the past 12 months.
The report contains the IPCC’s bluntest statement yet that the world must slash carbon emissions now or risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” If we fail to act the IPCC scientists have “high confidence” the impacts will be devastating “even with adaptation”.
In launching the latest report United Nations secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon said: “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act, time is not on our side.”
Environment Minister Greg Hunt seems to think there’s plenty of time and sees no reason for Australia to move away from coal. He told ABC’s AM program on Monday that one of the things the Emissions Reduction Fund can do is to help ensure our coal-fired power stations are cleaner.
“The work that the CSIRO is doing is looking at a 30 to potentially 50 per cent reduction in the footprint of coal fired power stations,” said Hunt.
Singapore’s government takes climate change seriously, unlike Australia’s
Unlike the Abbott government, Singapore’s government takes climate change very seriously and promotes the message at every opportunity. The film I saw was just one of these opportunities. The Gardens By the Bay development encapsulates Singapore’s commitment to sustainability and renewable energy solutions. Covering 32 hectares and containing two massive conservatories that house plant species from around the world, the development uses a suite of technologies to dramatically cut energy consumption.
According to information provided on signs at the gardens, electricity is generated on-site to run the chillers that cool the conservatories. This is done by 11 enormous towers called super trees, some of which are embedded with photovoltaic cells.
To reduce the amount of energy required to cool the conservatories, the air is de-humidified by liquid desiccant (drying agent) before it is cooled. The desiccant is then recycled using the waste heat captured in the running of the chillers.
The co-generation plant that enables all this is fed by horticultural waste from the gardens and other parks around Singapore, reducing dependency on the electrical grid. All up, energy consumption is 30 per cent less than conventional cooling technologies.
Taking climate change seriously
While it does at times feel a bit like a giant theme park, Gardens By the Bay is an extraordinary achievement in sustainability terms and is indicative of Singapore’s wider philosophy on cutting carbon emissions and addressing climate change.
Covering less than 714.3 square kilometers and with a population of 5.4 million, the island city-state faces the dual challenges of shortage of land and of natural resources. It has responded to these by having high sustainability goals – including a recycling rate of 70 per cent, a 35 per cent improvement in energy efficiency, and 80 per cent of buildings to be certified green by 2030.
According to data from the Singapore government, since 2005 over 1650 buildings in Singapore have been made environmentally friendly, and the government is set to do more.
In 2013 it introduced legislation that requires commercial building owners to submit their buildings’ energy consumption data annually through Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority’s (BCA) online submission portal, Building Energy Submission System.
The first lot of data from building owners showed that buildings with the BCA’s Green Mark certification used less energy than non Green Mark buildings ranging from 16 per cent less energy for offices, to 7 per cent less for retail buildings and 5 per cent less for hotels.
In a report on the results, chief executive of the BCA, John Keung, says that given the success of Green Mark he is confident that Singapore will reach its target of greening 80 per cent of buildings by 2030.
“With this on track, focus has now shifted to building occupants and tenants as data showed their contribution to be 50 per cent of the total electricity consumption in the buildings,” Keung said.
At this year’s Singapore Green Building Week in September Singapore’s Minister for National Development, Khaw Boon Wan, announced the government had allocated $52 million to a Green Buildings Innovation Cluster to push new green technologies and experimental buildings.
The Minister also announced the government’s Green Building Master Plan, with $50 million going to phase 2 of its Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings and Premises, which promotes energy efficient retrofits for building owners and tenants, especially small-and-medium enterprises.
He talked about the twin global challenges of climate change and intensified urbanisation, pointing out that green buildings helped contribute to the global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“These are complex issues without simple solutions and they require all of us in the global community to work together to find practical answers,” Khaw said.
Singapore has also become something of a living laboratory for testing and commercialising new ideas for energy efficient cities, which companies then take to other regional cities.
Housing is a key example, and given that 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing developed by the Singapore Housing and Development Board, the government’s moves to improve public housing energy efficiency have a major impact on the way that most Singaporeans live, which in turn helps the country reach its targets.
In 2012 HDB and Panasonic began testing energy management solutions at Punggol Eco-Town, a former fishing and farming village the Singapore government decided to turn into the country’s first green community.
The energy solution at Punggol combines solar, energy storage, a home energy management system and energy-efficient air conditioning. Rooftop photovoltaic panels are used to power building services such as elevators, lighting and water pumps and the goal is to bring the commonly operated areas as close to zero emissions as possible.
Lithium-ion batteries store the energy generated by the solar power system for use at night and smart meters are used to help residents monitor and reduce their energy use, particularly during times of peak demand on the power grid.
In June last year HDB signed another innovation agreement with two French firms, EDF and Veolia, to develop full-scope models of sustainable towns for future housing estate construction.
Writing on Singapore’s push for new green technology for online publication Greenbiz, Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of the Singapore Economic Development Board, says these agreements have led to some of the world’s leaders in sustainability innovation developing partnerships with the country’s government agencies.
“For example, intelligent use of space does not stop at growing upward — it also involves maximising a city’s underground. Singapore has leveraged deep tunneling to create extensive underground storage and transport networks for our subway system, waste management, power networks and even oil storage.
“The Singapore government is even considering a proposal to build a massive network of underground tunnels that will connect the megaport under construction in the western Tuas industrial zone to sites throughout Singapore to facilitate rapid movement of goods without adding to the city-state’s traffic,” Goh says.
Singapore, global hydrohub
Water shortage is another challenge that Singapore is addressing in a number of ways.
“The irony of living on an island city-state in the tropics is that although we are surrounded by the sea and have plenty of rainfall, water is a scarce resource due to the lack of space in Singapore to store water. In the last few decades, Singapore has overcome this vulnerability and turned it into a strength through our will to diversify our water sources and conserve water.
“Singapore is now recognised as a global hydrohub, home to more than 130 water companies, many of which work in partnership with the Singaporean government to make progress on a goal of water self-sufficiency,” Goh says.
SGX is on board
The Singapore Exchange is also doing its bit for sustainability, recently announcing it was making it mandatory for all listed companies to publish sustainability reports.
In his keynote address at the annual International Singapore Compact CSR Summit on October 17, SGX chief executive Magnus Bocker said the exchange is embarking on a one year study to determine what guidelines should be adopted for the sustainability reports, which will disclose a company’s economic, environmental and social impacts.
Once this is completed the 800-plus companies listed on SGX will need to comply by 2017 or 2018.
“We will take a leading role… and we will make it the rule,” he told the audience at the summit.
And so that brings me back to leadership, or should I say lack of it. The Australian government’s position on climate change, its blind attachment to coal and dogged determination to undermine the renewable energy sector at every opportunity, is not only embarrassing on the world stage, it is downright dangerous.
IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri put it succinctly at a press conference this week: “To avoid the chaos of runaway climate change, we know that we need to dramatically reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases…. The scientific community has now spoken. But we are passing on the baton to politicians [and] to the decision-making community.”
Over to you Mr Abbott.
Lynne Blundell is a freelance writer and journalist. She is a co-founding editor of The Fifth Estate and specialises in writing about sustainability in the built environment, and also writes about design, technology, health and finance.