10TH SSD ON 22 NOV 2021

Climate Change and Sustainability Governance

The tenth Stratagem Group – Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Sino-Singapore Dialogue was held in conjunction with the ‘2021 Lien International Conference on Good Governance’ on 22 Nov 2021. The dialogue was themed “Climate Change and Sustainability Governance” and involved international speakers from China, US and Singapore. The recently concluded COP26 Climate Summit held in Glasgow in November 2021 brought renewed focus on the urgent need to actively address the issue of climate change and how good governance can play a critical part in alleviating the negative impacts of climate change. The Sino-Singapore Dialogue was well received with more than 300 registered participants from across multiple industries and countries from the region.

Prof Shane Allen Synder, Executive Director of Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, shared the importance of life cycle assessment. It is the compilation and evaluation of inputs, outputs and potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle. The most challenging aspect of sustainability is in striking the right balance between creating visible short-term results and securing long-term values. Prof Shane emphasized that governments and businesses must be completely honest and transparent in their life cycle assessment. It is ‘not just about the number of trees planted but also about how many were being cut down’. Prof Shane strongly believes that continuous technological advancements will allow sustainable solutions to be more affordable and accessible to societies at different levels of development.     

Dr Miao Lu, Co-founder and Secretary General of Centre for China & Globalisation highlighted the necessity of sustainability at the global, national, corporate and individual levels. She quoted the Sustainable Development Goals under the 2015 Paris agreement as an example of how shared value should be created for every individual, not limited to any country or organisation. Dr Miao highlighted the importance of international action and cooperation on climate change. COP26 Summit sets an important foundation for governments and the various stakeholder groups to band together and agree on a set of globally coordinated actions. Of significance, there are signs that the United States and China are ramping up cooperation to tackle climate change by reducing methane emissions, protecting forests and phasing out coal. The need for sustainability governance has also led to the rise of sustainability management systems. In this regard, Dr Miao believes that instead of setting universal guidelines for sustainability management, it is more critical to ensure that the principles applied universally are sustainable.

Dr Zhang Shuwei, Director and Chief Economist of Draworld Environment Research Centre, highlighted the importance of countries’ focusing their energies on implementation, rather than just continually having to re-negotiate for new agreements and emission reduction targets. Governments need to review their domestic and international instruments used to tackle climate change in areas such as carbon pricing, carbon credits and carbon taxes. From an economics perspective, there is a need to look at who should bear the costs for climate change. There should be a set of clear and measurable indicators to assess the impact of climate change and the effectiveness of climate change initiatives so that every country and institution can be held accountable. He strongly believes that the climate change discussion should go beyond the emission reduction targets.

Mr Wee Boon Siong, CEO of RHT Green, observed that there has been an increased emphasis on and involvement in sustainability at all levels over the last five years. Addressing climate change requires urgent action by all people, including rich and poor nations. His take is that government intervention in the form of incentives is required at the onset to stimulate participation in tackling climate change.  Once a critical mass has been reached and there is a momentum gained, these incentives can be gradually weaned off. Mr Wee concurs with the other speakers that a multilateral approach should be taken to tackle climate change. He believes that sustainability and performance can work in tandem and it is about how nations and institutions harmonise both elements in a meaningful way.

During the dialogue, there was unanimous consensus that sustainability governance can play a fundamental role in tackling climate change. Climate change is a global problem and there is no one single country or individual that is not adversely affected. Sustainability governance requires making policy decisions with perspective of long term economic, social and environmental impact; and taking on a multilateral approach when tackling climate change. The panel highlighted that international cooperation and investment in technological research are required to introduce changes that will mitigate the impacts of climate change. There is also a need for a set of global sustainability standards to facilitate transparent reporting and monitoring, so that all stakeholders can be held accountable for their actions that impact climate change. More critically, the world needs to move beyond talks to take action in tackling climate change starting today.