COP26 – Why does it matter ?

Singapore will join COP26 Along with its Asean neighbours, and close to 200 member countries will also be attending COP26- the UN Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Glasgow in November under the presidency of the United Kingdom. But..

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Despite widespread publicity, some Singaporeans still have no clue about COP26 and level of engagement is low.


When asked about COP26, Paris Agreement and climate change, “ Don’t know?”, “Don’t Care !” or “Leave that to the Government..” were the typical answers from those in my social circle. Many believe that climate actions and emission reduction can only be implemented through rigorous policy measures and regulatory enforcement – hence no much point to deliberate issues at ground level. What do you think ?


COP26 Everywhere and Nowhere? COP26 and the refocus on global-warming have been headlining the press and media of late.  Many world leaders have voiced their call for urgent climate action;  youth activist Greta Thunburg’s (blah blah blah) speech on broken promises went viral; Even the Queen was ‘irritated by leaders who ‘talk but don’t do’on climate.

On the other hand, my golfing friends and tennis buddies did not seem to care too much about COP26; the taxi driver I spoke to prefer to share his view about Covid-19 transition; the “uncle” at my favourite noodle store was too busy and heated-up to chat about climate change; even the young student interns – who could quote verbatim all 17 UN SDG goals, would prefer to switch to a more trending subject… Outside my professional network, most didn’t seem to show keen interest about COP26 or related subjects – I wonder why? 

Did the messages on climate crisis and threat of global warming fall on deaf ears? Or is COP26 and climate-change irrelevant to the average Singaporeans today?

Climate Change Knows No Border

 (Just like COVID-19 , SARS, and HAZE crisis)


Organisers of COP26 aims to deepen commitment for all countries to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  United Kingdom as host, designed an identity showing a borderless globe, as a reminder that “Climate crisis, just like Covid-19 pandemic, has no respect of national borders and affects all countries”.  

Singaporean have experienced our own fair share of “cross-border” climate crisis over the years. We can all recall the frustration during the haze seasons, when we need to monitor the PSI and health risk alert, making adjustment to our daily routines.


Haze Comes A-Knocking Since 1970s, seasonal forest fire started in Indonesian islands have caused repeated haze crisis in Singapore, Malaysia,  and reached as far as Thailand and Vietnam. During 2013-2015, PSI record peaked at 401 in Singapore. Most of us remembered those mask-wearing and “WFH” days. Everyone lamented about itchy eyes, irritations of throats and worse, through no fault of our own.  The haze crisis was real (No question !). The risk was clear and present (Hear Hear !) Something should be done (Yesterday !)… and everybody were affected by the crisis.
We were concerned about SARs, the Dry Spell In 2019 and recent-flood-across Singapore. We did not seem to have the same level of awareness and collective concerns for Climate-Change on the ground. For the silent majority, Climate-change issues appears to be less pressing (akan-datang), irrelevant, or “over-hyped !” (overheard).

Most would concur that the climate is larger problem that requires the direct leadership and intervention by governments and policy makers.  So has the Government done enough ?


Pulling Out All The Stops? Singapore signed the Paris agreement in 2016, and has pledged to reduce emission intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and halve emissions from its peak to 33MtCO2e by 2050 (read more). Since then, Singapore was the first South-east Asian nation to introduce a carbon tax in 2019, and will further revise carbon tax rate for 2024 (read more). The Singapore Green Plan 2030 was released on 2020 – fleshing out the 10-year plan to roll out solar energy deployment, clean transportation, waste reduction and  tree-planting projects among others.

We also saw numerous outreach campaigns such as the four part series Climate-Change, a wicked problem, hosted by Janil Pithucheary (SM-MOH), which brought audience to the online classroom featuring “climate-101”. Not quite an academy-award-level performance, but I applaud the effort to present the climate argument in relatable and bite-size nuggets, through the lens of average Singaporeans – behind the refrigerator, under the shower, over plate of chilli crabs etc. It was entertaining and informative, a quality production offering balance view. (Do watch the videos, if you can spare 4 hours).

I do believe there is no lack of effort by our political leaders to push forward the climate agendas and onboarding the population through policy, incentives, education and communication. My take is that the Government is moving in the right direction (not trying to be political correct here!). There may be need to evaluate and fine-tune direction for energy transition, sustainable source for water, food and other critical resources in the future.

But climate issues cannot be resolved in isolation – Haze as case in point. We cannot mitigate emissions and implement climate solution on our island in a bubble. Are our Asean neighbours doing anything to tackle the Climate challenge collectively ?


Regional cooperation on climate front Beyond our shore, Asean members have all signed the Paris Agreement, with their own emission reduction goals. New wind and solar farms are springing up in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and other parts in Asia. The possibility of developing and sharing clean energy grid across borders are being reviewed, which may help each country to accelerate its low carbon transition. Besides emission mitigation and renewable energy, there are more areas that are being worked on- including protection of coastlines, preservation of forests and agriculture land, building climate resilient cities etc.

So apparently the governments are synced in principle, and moving in the right direction (putting aside the roadblocks and the challenges for now). Besides policy, regulatory enforcement, education and incentives, what else can be done to build momentum and collective conviction on the ground ?

How about onboarding our workforce which makes up close to 70% of Singapore population?


Greening the boardroom and C-Suites First It makes a world of difference when the “bosses” are genuinely committed and supportive of sustainable causes at work! (Do I hear chorus of agreement?). Having worked with senior executives and sustainability professionals across organisations and borders, I observed gaps (in some cases) between sustainability aspiration and implementation. One of the reasons I believe this is happening is because CEOs and corporate boards are not as engaged as they should be, with sustainability strategies. 

I have had the benefit of working with inspiring managers, who were good at their job, with a heart and passion for sustainable lifestyles – that left a lasting and positive impression. On the other hand you may have also heard stories about certain corporate kingpins who could drill down financial bottom-lines, but would brush aside sustainability topics and asked for a “spin” version of the report instead? (but let not spread rumours here 🙂 ).

There is observably a gradual and healthy transition of boardroom focus from profit-first mindset, to building a more purposeful and sustainable business framework. I think combination of education, exposure and cross-geography exchange between corporate leadership, has helped to level the playing field. The consumers and the stakeholders are also making clear demand which helped to shape corporate behaviour.

Having spent most of my working career in various global MNCs, I see opportunities in Asia – to transform business mindset, mobilising both leaders and workforce into embracing a more sustainable approach in conducting business. It could be very rewarding and morale boosting, when corporate call-for-action snowballed into a collective movement involving executives, rank-and-file, across borders, all working on sustainable causes and as part of strategic mission. But it need to start from the top.


Does Individual has a role to play? There is a perennial debate on the real causes of climate change, and who holds the ultimate responsibility and power to address the issue effectively. It is obvious that collective action (by governments, corporations, and coalition of influences) is pivotal, but I believe individual and voluntary action are also essential to complete the equation.

This is where the buck stops!  The government and the companies have their part to play,  but until we see individual citizen takes step and adopts a more sustainable lifestyle – we are back to square one ! We are not asking everyone to become climate activist, start hugging trees or paint the office green, but let’s face it – our personal lifestyle has an effect in the environment (check your Carbonfootprint@SP).

So what difference can individual make? Taking a leaf from this NYK-Times article about emission impact on environment “Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment”.

Here’s the thing: When you choose to eat less meat, or take the bus instead of driving, or decide to use less plastics or paper, these may be small and inconsequential steps, but you are making a statement that your actions matter, that it’s not too late to avert climate catastrophe, that you have power. To take a measure of personal responsibility for climate change doesn’t have to distract from collective action—if anything, it amplifies it. Which is to say personal action and collective, political action are self-reinforcing.

Yes it all adds up. While the energy usage by the industries, transportation, agriculture contributed bulk of green-house-gas emission, human consumption and activities drives demand for production and supply chain traffic. The bottom line is that we all need to make responsible choices, and play our part individually, to mitigate impact on the fragile climate and environment.


Reflection Of A Personal Journey I must confess that I too was apathetic toward climate change and sustainability actions during my earlier part of my career. These used to be remote and fuzzy topics best left to the Government and the experts. That changed when I was tasked to work on renewable fuel and environmental regulation governing my industry (from compliance angle). I could not stand on the fence any longer. I had to attend a number of international forums, and stay engaged with domain experts across industry sectors, and be involved in policy-making committees. I remembered talking to my European counterparts – all excited and proud after Paris agreement was ratified in 2016. To them – the issue of global warming and climate change was real, supported by science, with tangible and deteriorating on surrounding environment.

Sadly I did not see the same level of enthusiasm and awareness back in Asia then, both within my professional and social network. It was initially an uphill climb to convey the priorities and align direction of leadership within the organization. But I became a “convert” over time, eventually taking on added responsibility to oversee sustainability development at work; steering environment and policy committee for the industry. I maintained my interest in the development and adoption of renewable energy and green fuel globally and regionally. It takes time to change mindset and shift paradigm, but it can be done.

Outside work – I  started to make changes in my personal habits. As case in point – I fought the drudgery of bringing my own reusable containers to buy my favourite food and drinks (dapao :)), and eventually collaborated with Zero Waste Singapore on their BYO projects (perhaps I will share more about that next time). I worked on cutting single-use plastics, and considered switching to hybrid and electric cars. I am working to connect with like-minded individuals with ideas and resources to contribute.


Lessons from COP?  Walking The Talk  COP26 will soon come to pass. There will be new commitments by the world leaders and new target set (or not). The global temperature rise may be limited to 1.5 degree (or more, or less). We may continue to experience extreme climate change and feel its impact (flood, drought, melting ice glacier…), or not.

But we know that while all sources of electricity result in some GHG emissions over their lifetime, renewable energy sources have substantially fewer emissions than fossil fuel-fired power plants. We should be interested and support clean energy transition.

We also know that the earth resources (food, water and energy to name a few) is limited, and the distribution is not even (and probably will never be). So, the call, I believe, is for each of us to act responsibly and do our part on our life style choices. Starting with small, and educated, step.

To my golfing friends, let me offer some suggestions. You can do your part too – the next time you “fish-out” and rescue your wayward golf ball from the water hazard, you are acting sustainably and reducing your carbon footprint 🙂 ; Print double-sided documents or better still, go digital and save paper; Bring your own containers for your next “dapao”? The list goes on and we can discuss and exchange more.

And if you are in the position of influence within your company and institutions; in your family; in your social circles– be supportive and participate in sustainable actions, take steps to recycle, to reuse, and to reduce excess whenever and wherever possible. Be an inspiration for change.

Ultimately, how, when, where, and in what form to act is up to you. The most important thing is simply to act.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently.


  • COP26  stands for the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)


About this Blog

The ClimateConnectionAsia blog provides posts and perspectives on climate action and sustainable development, connecting organisations and individuals to facilitate collaboration and exchanges.

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