Whose responsibility?

So Singapore’s target for net-zero is 2050, with the public sector aiming to reach the target in 2045. And with coordination being touted as one of the core strengths of the Singapore government, we have a Chief sustainability within the government to manage that. This role in businesses is still very ambiguous and it is not clear whether the person is managing the process of decarbonisation for the the company or to manage the sustainability offering of the firm.

Likewise, it is not entirely clear whether the Chief sustainability in the government of a country should be responsible only for the public sector emissions or taking charge of the reduction of emissions across the entire country. Frankly, the public sector emissions are already very significant. Part of the challenge is that almost all of the wastewater treatment and water supply plants are owned and operated by the government; at the same time, the government also own and operate incineration plants. This is probably why in the business times article, it was stated that Ministry of Sustainability & Environment is itself one of the large emitter.

But Singapore’s approach to decarbonisation is unlikely to be about the government just dealing with its own emissions and then trying to create structures to drive decarbonisation of the private sector. The fact that the Chief sustainability starts talking about costs, value and trade-offs is already a clear sign that the government is probably thinking about abatement cost at a system level. And it is true that the government in Singapore is uniquely positioned to evaluate this. We might have a shot at being able to collectively determine what are the lowest hanging fruit across the society to reduce emissions and then collective work through the curve of diminishing marginal returns. In other words, we can look at the avenues of abatement that incur the lowest costs while making the largest reductions first.

This means that while the government might be able to try to reduce energy use in the desalination plants or secure green electricity, they might not because there may be other industries that can reduce the emissions at lower costs. This sort of system level optimisation may not be possible in bigger countries; but for a small island state where our renewable resources are too scarce, that might be the only way.