SINGAPORE – Air quality might have crept into the unhealthy level during some parts of Saturday afternoon (Sept 21), but that did not stop hundreds of people from turning up at Hong Lim Park for Singapore’s first physical climate rally.

Clad in red, they held up banners with signs such as “no beer on a dead planet” and “I stand for what I stand on”, as they called on the Singapore Government and firms here to do more to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms Lad Komal Bhupendra, 19, one of the rally organisers, said participants were urged to turn up in red to signal the gravity of the climate crisis. Red, she said, indicated an emergency.

During the event, attended by the young, young-at-heart and the four-legged, attendees wrote postcards to their representatives in government to urge stronger climate action, listened to speeches, took part in banner printing, and perused graphs and scientific data on climate change.

IT consultant Rao Yarlagadda, 54, said he decided to attend the event to lend his support to the climate movement, pointing to Singapore’s reliance on food imports to meet local demand.

Ms Sarah Lim, 23, said: “We’ve had years to do things about global warning, but we have been dragging our feet. And the window of opportunity is getting smaller.”

“As a low-lying island nation, and one that imports 90 per cent of our food, we will be in trouble if tides continue to rise. No amount of reclamation and sea wall infrastructure improvement can save us,” said the political science undergraduate from the National University of Singapore.

She hopes the Singapore economy can transition to one that is more reliant on renewable energy, and that the Republic can slash its emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, and net zero by 2050.

In his National Day Rally last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had set out the threat of climate change and measures to mitigate its effects, and pledged that the Government will spend an estimated $100 billion in the long term to protect Singapore from rising sea levels. 

Under its 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – the technical name for climate targets set by each country under the Paris Agreement – Singapore pledged to become greener economically and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, come 2030.

It also pledged to stop any further increases to its greenhouse gas emissions by the same timeline.

Politicians, including Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development, and MP Louis Ng, were at the event.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee with participants at the Singapore Climate Rally on Sept 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Lee told The Straits Times that he was there to show his support for Singaporeans who care about the climate, the future, and future generations.

“We want to work together, we want to hear their voices and look forward to Singaporeans – those here at the rally and those not at the rally – giving their views to the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), which is holding a public consultation. That is one important platform,” he said.

The Singapore Climate Rally is the first physical one in Singapore since the international movement began in August last year, although there have been other social media climate campaigns here.

The global youth movement was kick-started when Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, now 16, went on the first solo climate strike last August, skipping school in a bid to pressure the Swedish government into taking more drastic climate action.

Since then, many young people have been inspired to do the same, missing classes on a Friday in protest against what they consider climate inaction.

The first #FridaysforFuture coordinated global school strike was held on March 15. Estimates by international climate organisation said more than one million young people took part.

About three times the number took part in the most recent global school strike for climate on Friday.

Organiser Aidan Mock, 24, said while the Singapore Climate Rally was organised in solidarity with the global strikes, he emphasised that the event here was a uniquely Singapore one.

For one, the event in Singapore was held on a Saturday.

Speaking to international media ahead of the global student protests, Mr Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change for non-governmental organisation (NGO) ActionAid, said young people have infused fresh energy into the climate movement.

“NGOs usual work on the policy side. But the enthusiasm of young people has taken things to a very different scale, and pushed NGOs to go beyond speaking to the converted,” he said.