Last week, I attended an informal ministerial meeting on climate change in Pretoria, South Africa, and experienced first hand the enormous difficulties the negotiators are facing.

The crux of the negotiations is to achieve the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. The current goal is to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2 degrees centigrade. This is the level that the scientists have told us is necessary to avoid catastrophic climatic instability. However, there is currently a big gap between this goal and the current pledges by the international community. The United Nations Environment Programme Report published last year indicated a clear gap of at least 5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year even in the best case scenario.

We need to see greater leadership from the developed countries, given their historical responsibility. The current pledges from the Annex I countries fall far short of the range of 25% to 40% recommended by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change. We have to see clear scaling up of ambition from these developed countries.

Non-Annex I countries (developing countries) have to play our part too. But thus far, only 48 Non-Annex I countries have submitted pledges. This is not enough. More than 100 developing countries have yet to table a pledge. From a multi-lateral perspective, non-participation by a large number of countries is not a healthy sign. We need to encourage and incentivise others to make a contribution and to be part of the process.

The level of ambition of these goals is subject to a review with the next one due in 2013. But it is fundamentally important that the review be grounded in scientific fact and based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which was agreed to by all countries in 1992. The mandate for a review is not a licence to re-write the Convention. The scope should be limited to the decisions agreed in Cancun, notably to take into account the best available scientific knowledge, including the work of the IPCC under its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

In Singapore’s view, a legally binding multilateral framework that commits all Parties to undertake mitigation efforts is essential to meet our long term goals. A legally binding framework will ensure reciprocity of action and provide greater certainty of implementation for all countries, including our business enterprises and people sectors.

We recognise that the goal of a legally binding agreement is not immediately attainable, and certainly not achieveable this year in Durban. But it should be seen as an end goal of our process. Ultimately, solving a global problem requires a global approach based on a multilateral rules based system. We need to continue to have constructive discussions.

There is currently a great divergence in views. Some Parties are not prepared at this stage for a legally binding agreement. On the other hand, some parties have expressed views about beginning negotiations immediately for a future climate change regime.

But in talking about a future climate change regime, we should not neglect or destroy the current regime. A future regime cannot be founded on thin air. It must be firmly rooted on the framework convention (UNFCCC) that we already have, including the Bali Action Plan, the Bali Road Map and the Cancun Agreement. And there must be continuity in the Kyoto Protocol, in the form of a second commitment period by the Annex I countries.

There is still an incredible amount of work needed to close these gaps. But for now, we would do well to remember President Jacob Zuma’s exhortation that “progress is not a choice, but an imperative”.


For more information on Singapore’s approach to climate change see