SINGAPORE – The SG Climate Rally, held at Hong Lim Park on Saturday (23 Sep), brought together an impressive gathering of over 1,400 people to raise awareness about climate change and its impact on marginalized communities.
This year’s rally was marked by a central theme of inclusiveness, highlighting the disproportionate burden borne by lower-income residents in the face of climate change.
This youth-led movement invited several speakers to emphasize the importance of giving voice to these marginalized individuals when crafting climate-related policies.
One of the remarkable moments of the event was the heartfelt speech by Ms Marlina Yased, a mother of five residing in a two-room rental flat for 13 years.
Her impassioned words resonated with the audience, underlining the idea that individual voices can be powerful tools for delivering a meaningful message.
Ms Marlina stated, “As the climate crisis worsens, we must not give up.
“We must understand that we, the people also have the power to make change.”
Rally speakers reinforcing rally’s theme of inclusivity
The event featured a diverse lineup of speakers, including former Nominated Member of Parliament Geh Min, sustainability strategist Madhu Ardhanari, co-founder of LepakInSG Ho Xiang Tian, and Nor Syazwan Abdul Majid, who founded Wan’s Ubin Journal.
These speakers reinforced the rally’s theme of inclusivity and the unequal distribution of climate impacts.
Ho Xiang Tian, Co-founder of LepakinSG, expressed his concerns over Singapore’s carbon tax policies.
In 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources proposed a carbon tax of S$10 a tonne. However, after industry consultations, this figure was unexpectedly halved to S$5 a tonne.
While seemingly small, this reduction translates to a staggering shortfall of S$200 million annually in tax revenue. Cumulatively, the deficit amounts to S$1 billion over four years. As the need to gather funds for coastal defense looms, taxpayers are shouldering the burden, while industries gain from reduced carbon tax rates.
Ho Xiang Tian also shed light on the minimal tax contributions of major petrochemical corporations in Singapore.
Despite a 17% headline corporate tax rate, companies like Shell and British Petroleum paid effective tax rates of just 2% and 6%, respectively, in 2019. He noted that the exact figures for ExxonMobil remain undisclosed.
Generous tax incentives from the EDB and MTI are primarily responsible for this trend, said Ho, emphasizing that these corporations must pay their fair share, highlighting the urgency of environmental responsibility.
For Ms Marlina, the tangible effects of climate change are evident in her daily life, where the rising heat in her apartment has made air conditioning, even portable units, an unaffordable luxury for her family.
She added that the heat not only increases her work-related stress but also brings about financial burdens due to rising water usage, heightened risks of skin ailments, and more frequent medical appointments.
Mr Syazwan, who runs the social platform Wan’s Ubin Journal, highlighted the importance of incorporating indigenous voices and history into climate policy and education.
He emphasized the sustainable practices of the Orang Pulau and their understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature.
“The Orang Pulau were champions of sustainability. They understood what nature provided for them and the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Kristian-Marc James Paul, the rally organizer, stressed that climate justice is inherently linked to broader societal issues.
Event activities promoting inclusivity and engagement
Besides speeches, various environmental and civil society groups had also set up booths at the event to raise awareness about their causes and provided opportunities for participants to engage with their local representatives through postcards.
Specifically, environmental organizations like Students for a Fossil-Free Future and People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), along with civil society groups such as Migrant Mutual Aid and Workers Make Possible, had set up their individual community booths.
In addition to distributing postcards to MPs, their Facebook post mentioned a variety of other activities like Climate Games, Placard Art Jam, Learning Corner, Earth Emotions, Climate A(r)ction, and something referred to as Nature Nook: Kids’ Play Station.
These activities are clearly designed to be inclusive and cater to individuals of all ages, aligning with the rally’s central theme of inclusivity.
Political figures in attendance at climate rally
In attendance were political figures, including Members of Parliament.
People’s Action Party MP Wan Rizal, who said that he looked forward to receiving postcards from his Jalan Besar residents as they would “know the environment best.”
Furthermore, he mentioned that he had also written a postcard to his own MP regarding the preservation of green areas in his Pasir Ris community.
MPs from Workers’ Party, including He Ting Ru, Dennis Tan, Louis Chua, Gerald Giam, and Jamus Lim, were also present at the event, demonstrating bipartisan support for climate action.
Additionally, Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party and Ravi Philemon, secretary-general of Red Dot United, were also in attendance.
Singaporeans’ limited urgency in addressing climate change
Despite the rally’s success, the Southeast Asia Climate Outlook Survey Report 2023 which was published by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, revealed that Singaporeans’ engagement with climate advocacy lags behind their regional counterparts.
The survey showed a decline in the percentage of Singaporeans viewing climate change as a serious and immediate threat.
Only 43.7 per cent of Singaporeans polled believe that climate change “is a serious and immediate threat to the well-being of the country,” a significant drop from 66.4 per cent in 2021, but a slight increase from 40.5 per cent in 2022.
It showed that fewer Singaporeans took steps to sign climate change related petitions (17.6 per cent) and attend protests (3.2 per cent) compared to Asean’s average of 18.2 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively.
Mr Paul explained that discussing climate change isn’t a common practice among Singaporeans.
Therefore, he hope to shift the narrative by making climate awareness a more mainstream and inclusive discussion.
He emphasizes that the rally aims to serve as a platform to initiate conversations about climate change and its unequal impacts on society.
Hoping that climate awareness would become less of a “niche” issue, Ms Ardhanari said that while a small group of Singaporeans may have a “high level of awareness”, the broader awareness in Singapore has not yet aligned with the magnitude and nature of climate change’s impact.
She added that Singaporeans could no longer afford to remain in “echo chambers” around climate change.
“This is something that affects all of us, but it seems like the people who want to talk about is a very small group of people, and are often disconnected with people who are facing the most of who are most vulnerable to impact.”
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