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Singapore and Climate change, the stumbling block of domestic politics - 3 May 2010

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SINGAPORE - As climate changes and its "catastrophic" effects threaten the globe, governments worldwide face a conundrum - they stay in power by promising citizens better economic growth rates and a better life, but their emphasis on domestic politics has resulted in a stalemate on fighting climate change, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.

Thus, the problem with fighting climate change is governments themselves.

Mr Lee was responding at the Inter-Pacific Bar Association Annual Conference yesterday - which picked climate change and legal practice as its theme - on whether last year's United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen was a failure.

Climate change dominated the hour-long dialogue, with five out of 12 questions posed to Mr Lee focusing on the subject.

While he would not say the Copenhagen Summit was a failure - as it led to a meeting of world leaders' minds on the issue - Mr Lee was pessimistic about future meetings securing a breakthrough in setting commitments on cuts in carbon emissions.

There will be "more dilly dallying internationally", he said, as every country focuses on its own internal problems.

Significant improvements to slow down climate change will depend on the technology that can be discovered. "If it can't be discovered, future generations will have to live with the consequences," said Mr Lee.

While he "will be surprised" if there are any fixed commitments on cuts in carbon emissions at this year's Summit in Cancun, Mexico, Mr Lee said the "difficult, messy series of annual meetings" would serve as stark reminders to the world's leaders.

Noting that Singapore has plans to be a renewal energy hub in South-east Asia, an American participant - who has been living here for 19 years - wondered what the Government's plans to promote solar energy and installing solar panels on buildings here were.

While he noted cities such as Beijing have installed solar panels, Mr Lee said the Government will need to consider the economics of installing solar panels on buildings here. "But what we can do is to minimise our carbon footprint," he added.

The Government has pledged to bring down its level of carbon emission growth. But whether it reaches the target of 16 per cent below the "business as usual" level by 2020 will depend on one thing - a legally binding global deal to fight climate change.

Singapore will also "keep our mouths shut, unless we are asked", said Mr Lee, replying to another participant who wondered if Singapore - cited previously for its influence beyond its relative numbers - could influence the rest of the world, through policies, laws and cultural norms.

This is because "if you are a small country, you act small and humble. If you tell people what to do, they will say, 'you are out of your depth, you don't understand our problems", Mr Lee said. But if asked to help similar sized cities or states, the Republic will share its experiences with others.

The onus on fighting climate change lies with governments, though Mr Lee acknowledged it is easier said than done.

"Everyone knows what has to be done. Every government knows if they do it, they will lose in the next elections," he said.


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Source: Today