Stepping up for the environment with the co-founder of SG Climate Rally
By Lim Yun Hui, Associate Commentary Editor
Komal Lad, a Year 2 Environmental Studies student from the National University of Singapore (NUS) is a co-founder of the Singapore Climate Rally (thereafter SG Climate Rally). She first learnt about environmental issues through attending climate-related workshops organised by the National Youth Council and Lepak In SG during the summer holidays. The session included intimate focus group discussions where she met like-minded youths who were equally passionate in environmental activism.
Gaps in Environmental Activism
Most environmental activists share a common goal, and that is to pressure society and government to adjust policies or practices that will be favourable for the environment. But, how can individuals and groups put words into action? Through climate rallies like Komal’s to raise environmental awareness in the country.
When The Convergence asked if the government is doing enough to educate Singaporeans about environmental issues, Komal shared that “We have more awareness because we do come across such topics in schools and it is increasingly emphasised in our curriculum. However, because environmental studies isn’t compulsory like civic education is, more still needs to be done.”
Last November, Italy’s education minister announced that public schools will require children in every grade to study sustainability. This marked a bold move towards making environmental studies an integral part of the school syllabus, and Komal hopes Singapore can follow suit.
It was recognising this lack of efforts and commitment towards addressing climate change in Singapore that led Komal, along with 14 other young activists to set on holding an event at Hong Lim Park. It started with organising something which allows Singaporeans to come together to express their heart for the environment and make demands for bolder climate actions.
This simple idea soon turned into a greater civil society movement as more people came on board to push for stronger climate action, eventually culminating in Singapore’s very first climate change rally on 21st September 2019.
Global Movements Inspiring Locals
In the last 2 years, there has been an increase in global awareness of the environmental crisis and negative repercussions of climate change. With the rise of information sharing on social media, climate activists like Greta Thunberg can mobilise and inspire like-minded individuals around the world to stand up for their cause.
Komal was inspired by Greta’s unprecedented speech at the United Nations Climate Change COP24 Conference as she attempted to push for greater sense of urgency on the issue. World leaders have known about global warming for many years yet failed to act on it.
What Greta did is similar to what SG Climate Rally is doing. It is to make people realise that we can no longer push the climate crisis to the back of our minds. We must act now.
Youths Translating Awareness to Action
Beyond being merely aware about environmental issues, there is still much room for improvement. Komal believes that the gap between awareness and action needs to be addressed for activism to take effect.
“I think that for most people, when they are first exposed to the climate crisis, they often do not know what to do about it. It is a very complex issue and youths perhaps do not know exactly how they can help or play their part in mitigating this,” Komal said.
Another example is, since the SG Climate Rally last year, Komal had witnessed a marked increase in the number of social media accounts advocating for environmental causes.
Komal also recognised the important role social media played in making news accessible to a wider audience. For example, Singaporeans today get to see ‘live’ the wildfires that wrecked parts of Australia in 2019. Compared to previous generations who were not as educated nor digitally savvy, Komal feels that Singaporean youths of today have a stronger sense of environmental awareness.
Interestingly, Komal also observed a shift in Singaporean activism over the years. Previously, it was focused on individual action such as the ‘Bring your own bag’ initiative or getting rid of plastic straws. This has gradually transitioned to a more collective and systemic activism aimed at changing policies and holding the government accountable.
Singapore’s First Climate Change Rally
When asked about the purpose of the rally, Komal said that she and the team wanted to provide an avenue for people to gather and stand in solidarity for this cause. By allowing people from all walks of life to voice their opinions and demands for a systemic change, she had hoped this would send a strong signal to the government that Singapore is ready for stronger climate action.
Far exceeding the organisers’ expectations, around 2000 people attended the rally. Komal was pleasantly surprised when she saw kids as young as 10 who came down with their families and enjoyed the activities. What struck her as the most memorable were, in fact, the senior and older folks that came down to attend and support the rally. Contrary to popular belief, environmental activism isn’t a ‘youth-only’ affair, it concerns each and every member of society.
Direct Engagement with Youths
Singapore’s first-ever climate change rally saw positive responses from the society and government. For Komal, the closed-door meeting with the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) after the rally was noteworthy because youths are now directly engaged with policymakers. Youths need to be included in dialogues surrounding climate change policies as it gives them a stake in the country’s (and their own) future.
In 2019, NCCS held a public consultation to gather feedback from Singaporeans on its long term emissions targets. In response, several students from Yale-NUS founded the Speak for Climate initiative - a website to assist Singaporeans in writing recommendations for the public consultation held by NCCS. By providing a viable avenue for citizens to respond and have a say in climate-related policies, youths in Singapore are increasingly stepping up to make a difference.
However, Komal remained disappointed with the government’s policy commitments following the rally. While the latter updated their national determined targets, they still fell short of setting the goal towards net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Singapore has yet to adopt the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recommended global timeline at the national level as mentioned in IPCC’s 2018 special report.
All in all, the rally has prioritised climate change and put environmental concerns at the forefront of Singapore’s agenda. In the 2019 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee said that rising sea levels posed an existential threat to an island-state such as Singapore. While the government does acknowledge the severity of climate change and is taking steps to address it, Komal is convinced that civil society participation is crucial in influencing their commitments.
Holding the Government Accountable
That explains why the SG Climate Rally has created the Greenwatch campaign to prepare for the upcoming general elections (GE). They had felt that the 2020GE is a perfect opportunity to push for climate policies and gain support from voters. The Climate Scorecard will track climate-related proposals of political parties and compare their positions on issues.
Similar to scorecards done by The Guardian in the United Kingdom, Komal trusts that such information will make candidates more accountable to voters with regards to climate action and empower citizens.
The Convergence also asked Komal about her thoughts towards the popular argument that ‘Singapore is too small to make a difference’.
She immediately rebutted this view, expressing that while we contribute to merely 0.11% of global emissions, it is significant considering Singapore’s minute size. For instance, Singapore ranks 27 out of 142 countries in terms of per capita emissions, which is comparable to large polluting countries like China.
“We are in a better place than other countries in the region, yet why is it that we have not taken leadership in combating climate change?” said Komal.
Besides being wealthier, Singapore stands out as a regional leader in terms of its business and economic competitiveness. It thus has the necessary financial resources and technological expertise to do more - which Komal feels that we should.
As rich and developed countries pollute, the burden of consequences will fall on poorer countries who cannot afford to protect themselves. They will be the ones that suffer the most despite emitting much less. For Komal, Singapore’s recent move to invest $5 billion in the Coastal and Flood Protection Fund reflects its privileged position in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Therefore, Singapore should play a part in bolstering greater environmental efforts and act fast to address this issue. The SG Climate Change Rally is perhaps a timely social movement that has helped spark a national conversation about environmental activism and climate justice.
About the interviewee:
Komal is a Year 2 student from Environmental Studies at NUS. She is passionate and concerned about sustainability and the environment. She decided to initiate the Singapore Climate Rally when a series of climate-related headlines left her feeling frustrated about the inadequate climate action in Singapore. She raises awareness about the environment by creating rap videos during her free time.