New US administration bringing ‘good dynamics’ to the fight against climate change: Grace Fu
SINGAPORE: The United States, led by President Joe Biden, is bringing “good dynamics” to the fight against climate change in which international collaboration is key, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Thursday (Apr 22).
Since taking office, President Biden has led the US to officially rejoin the Paris climate agreement and is set to hold a virtual climate summit involving 40 world leaders this week.
The recent meeting between US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, which produced a joint agreement, is also “a good sign”, said Ms Fu, who was speaking at a fireside chat with CNA Digital’s chief editor Jaime Ho at the CNA Leadership Summit 2021.
“In the Trump administration, the decision to leave Paris Agreement was devastating for the global climate action. The US was not at the table and therefore, I think the much-needed leadership was absent,” she said.
“With the US new administration back on track and with the meeting later on, we are hopeful that the leadership will galvanise actions (and) also bring attention to this important matter.”
Turning to the recent meeting between the US and China, she added that it is a “good sign” that both countries agreed on stronger pledges to curb climate change.
“Any platform that allows the superpowers to come together to have a good discussion, I think it’s a positive one for climate change.”
She noted how the world is now “very divided” and it is important to return to a more collaborative rules-based multilateral system, which Singapore needs.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have thrown up issues such as supply disruptions and a shortage of necessary resources, Ms Fu said the world has also done “extremely well” in areas such as exchanging of data at the political level.
This has helped countries to understand the new coronavirus “in the shortest time”. “The fact that we can come up with a vaccine in such a short time showed the collaboration, not just at the scientific level, but also at the political level,” she added.
When it comes to climate change, the minister called for developed countries to “consider looking at the commitments they have put on the table about financing developing countries”.
Developing countries are suffering from both the impact of the pandemic and climate change now, and climate mitigation and adaptation efforts “cannot wait”, she added.
Singapore is doing its part. For instance, it has a Climate Action Package, which offers countries in the region with training programmes on climate science, adaptation measures and others.
“We really look forward to some concrete action in COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), that basically show a commitment from the developed countries that they are going to make good their commitment to help the developing countries,” she said.
With the summit being focused on the theme of a “green recovery”, the minister was asked for her take on that.
Ms Fu noted that the recovery will “have to be contextualised” given how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted each country differently.
That said, there are several areas that countries are already looking into, such as opportunities in sustainable products like electric vehicles and wind turbines.
These are “the next big winner”, said the minister, noting that countries and companies are entering these industries early so as to build up their capabilities ahead of time and gain a competitive advantage.
Other areas include countries investing differently to ensure that their infrastructure is environmentally friendly and hence future-proof, as well as how the finance sector is seeing a “sea change” in insisting on compliance with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.
Asked how she would convince businesses on the importance of a “green” recovery, she said sustainable development “is not just using something expensive” and can be as simple as reducing wastage and improving work processes.
“When we talk about reducing our consumption, it's really about reducing wastage and that makes absolute business sense,” she said, referring to the consumption of electricity, water and even the re-organisation of office space amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we should really change the mindset,” she said. “It is about going through your processes and looking at how we can reduce our wastage so that we can be leaner (and) using the resources better many times over.”
While the pandemic has delayed action on climate change for about a year, Ms Fu said she is “very optimistic” that the global crisis will not go to waste.
Already, there are many nascent technologies ready for take-off in corporate research labs.
“We think the market will take off,” she said, citing the example of solar energy costs, which have “dropped tremendously over the last decade”.
“And this is what we need – we need the economies of scale. We need countries coming together, put their markets to test (and) put their products to good use.”
The minister added that the world is now in a “transition period” where the ways of working and living are being looked at differently.
“COVID-19 has given us this opportunity to rethink… and I think this is a good time for us to also explore the new technologies that’s going to come,” she said.
“The Government will be there to invest in R&D (research and development), to invest in downstream productisation, and we are very excited to help some of our companies to make that transition from being products in the lab to products in the market.”