True or False: Singapore to Reduce Carbon Emissions Growth by 16% from 2020 BAU Levels

This post was first published at AsiaIsGreen.

You must have already heard of the announcement yesterday that Singapore will reduce carbon emissions growth by 16% from 2020 business-as-usual levels, provided that:

Singapore will only commit to this if there is a legally binding global deal that obliges all countries to cut emissions, and if other countries offer significant pledges, said Professor Jayakumar. – Straits Times

Read more from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs news release and from the local media.

We were wondering yesterday whether the 16% cut refers to absolute carbon emissions or carbon intensity, and whether the cut is from 1990 or 2005 levels. But having read the news over again, we realised that:

Singapore’s target means it will cut roughly 12 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020, said Dr Yaacob.

This is based on a projection that the country’s emissions would reach 75 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 if no measures were taken. – Straits Times

Singapore’s absolute carbon emissions in 2007 is about 40 million tonnes and from the statement above, it seems that the government projected that carbon emissions will reach 75 million tonnes in 2020 on a business-as-usual scenario. If Singapore takes action to reduce its emissions by 16%, the cut is equivalent to 12 million tonnes, meaning that emissions would reach 63 million tonnes in 2020. This cut is not based on 1990 or 2005 levels, it is just based on 2020 levels, which implies that there is no peak in emissions and a drop thereafter. What we would expect is a continuous increase in absolute carbon emissions till 2020.

Carbon Emissions from 1990 to 2020

The graph above shows the absolute carbon emissions from 1990 (22 Mt) to 2007 (40 Mt) based on available published data by the government. If we do a projection of the emissions from 2008 to 2020 based on an estimated 5% annual growth (BAU), we would reach 75 Mt, which is the business-as-usual scenario projected by the government.

If we do a projection of the emissions from 2008 to 2020 based on an estimated 3.6% annual growth (pledge), we would reach 63 Mt, which is the 16% cut committed or the we-will-take-action scenario projected by the government.

From 1990 to 2007, the average annual emissions growth is about 3.6%. We would expect a projection for business-as-usual scenarios for the future to use this number but the government uses a higher business-as-usual growth of 5%.

What we find funny is that when the government commits to the 16% cut by 2020, it is reducing the average annual growth in emissions from 2008 to 2020 from 5% to 3.6%, which is the same annual growth as what we have been doing over the past 17 years. In other words, if we continue business-as-usual from 2008 to 2020 without the 16% cut, we would still reach the projected 63 million tonnes in 2020 or the we-will-take-action scenario.

So, are we really reducing carbon emissions by 16% from 2020 BAU levels or are we just assuming a higher BAU level in 2020 and then committing to 16% cuts, which results in a level we would reached anyway if we don’t take any measures to reduce emissions?

Or are we just plainly wrong, make wrong assumptions and mistakes? Or did we get the maths wrong? Or maybe we are just talking rubbish and don’t know what we are talking about? Let us know what you think.

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