The Royal Danish Embassy in Singapore hosted a Climate Change Dialogue on Monday 11 September 2017, putting the environment on the agenda. Representatives of both public and private sector agencies from Denmark and Singapore gathered in Singapore Sustainability Academy to share and discuss ideas and experiences on what concrete actions to take, concerning the environment.
Two speakers from Singapore and two speakers from Denmark each gave their presentation on what experiences and concrete initiatives they find effective and important to consider when it comes to environmental sustainability.
From Singapore Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director at the Centre for Livable Cities, which is part of the Ministry of National Development, talked about key factors in making a city livable whilst sustainable in times where population growth is tremendous. Esther An pointed out the private sector’s responsibility in building eco-friendly estates and the importance of engaging the buyers in the matter as well, something she has promoted for over 20 years, being the Chief Sustainability Officer at City Development Limited (CDL) in Singapore.
From Denmark Mr. Morten Kabell, Mayor of Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Affairs, spoke about the city of Copenhagen’s infrastructural planning and urban development into a more environmental sustainable city, making it more attractive for bicycles rather than cars and engaging the citizens in the planning, as well. Andreas Maaløe Jespersen, associate researcher in behavioural science and consumer policy at iNudgeyou, presented findings and theories on how to get citizens to go green by gently guiding them towards sustainable solutions, using the theory of nudging.
Climate change is the black elephant
Before the four presentations, Ambassador Dorte Bech Vizard, gave an introduction speech based on a construction of three animals to emphasize what climate change really is. According to her, we are dealing with a black elephant. An animal composed of the black swan that appears as a surprise, brings major effect, but looking in retrospective has a rather rational explanation behind, and the elephant in the room, which no one dares to talk about. This dialogue is important to participate in, so the black elephant does not turn into the boiling frog that sits and waits, not perceiving the danger and henceforth slowly cooks to death. “The frog needs to be alert of the danger, so we can stir that frog into action and make it jump out,” the ambassador said.
After the individual presentations, the dialogue began and the black elephant was indeed the topic of honour. Up front, Andreas Maaløe Jespersen made the first point that “we all need to reduce more carbon emission,” and be willing to reduce it, which is what makes it difficult. “Everyone wants to be climate conscious as long as they don’t have to change,” he said.
Where the leading behaviour should come from to promote this transformation was a big topic in the overall dialogue.
Morten Kabell recalled on Andreas Maaløe’s presentation on nudging, promoting this to be utilized more sufficiently in many cases. For example, he mentioned how Copenhagen reduced the amount of cigarette butts on the street by 90 per cent, creating an area with pink tape, saying ‘please smoke here’ with clear trashcans within the area. This way, smokers are not told it is not okay to smoke but rather asked to do it in particular places – nudging rather than schooling. This saves the city 40 SG cents for every cigarette butt that goes into the trashcan instead of landing on the street.
Esther An also proclaimed the importance of including the citizens in the process when it comes to regulations in favour of environmental sustainability. “There is no point in just giving them the rules. They need a human touch, someone who will teach them how to and why. Citizens will be more willing to follow the regulations, when they see the bigger picture,” she said.
The easy solution rather than the economic
The mayor argued that it, rather than for economic reasons. often is the most convenient solution that makes it the preferred solution. In Copenhagen, citizens choose to ride their bicycles to work rather than take their cars because the infrastructure has severely improved for bicyclists, making it more convenient and faster to go from A to B on a bicycle than by car.
Maaløe agreed and elaborated that people often choose based on what is the default thing to do. For instance an experiment showed how most people (87 per cent) at a conference would eat vegetarian if the invitation said ‘a vegetarian meal will be served – please state if you’d like the non-vegetarian meal instead’. In the opposite case where the invitation said ‘a non-vegetarian meal will be served – please state if you’d like the vegetarian meal instead,’ only 2 per cent ate vegetarian.
Mr. Khoo acclaimed that nudging was something that Singapore should make more use of when it comes to engaging the citizens in promoting green solutions.
How to nudge policy makers
Nudging citizens raised another question from the audience on what the best way to nudge policy makers into making more sustainable policies is. Being a mayor, Morten Kabell was asked to respond: “Show it, don’t tell!” was his answer. “Show what the difference is, what the benefit of the green transformation will be.”
For instance changing the street lightning to environmental friendly lamps was a huge investment for the city of Copenhagen. However, it would save the city millions of dollars on the long run; money that can be spent elsewhere. This is something that will make a politician popular among the voters, and so this is a plan to go on board with, the mayor concluded.
However, Andreas Maaløe did not entirely agree with the mayor. “Big policy makers need big changes to go on board with a plan. When it comes to going green, it usually takes many small changes to change the big problem,” Maaløe proclaimed, “And many small solutions are difficult to sell to a politician.”
Khoo Teng Chye specified that it is important to remember that policy makers are human beings too, and so the easiest way to make them choose green sustainable solution is to make them see it with their own eyes – or try it. The executive director mentioned bicycling in Singapore as an example. Five years ago, no one would consider bicycling in Singapore, claiming it is too hot, he said. By taking the ministers bicycling around the city they will experience that it is actually quite nice. “However, we give priority to cars over bicycles and we need to nudge the ministers so that will change,” he said, stating that this is an area where Singapore should look to Denmark to improve the conditions for bicycle riders.
Esther An acclaimed that she already thought the government is doing a lot to promote a green transformation, mentioning higher taxes on non-green products. She also pointed out how the Singaporean government encouraged the private sector to become environmentally sustainable by stating that they would only hold governable events in venues that are eco-friendly. Due to that and now with the Paris Agreement a lot of businesses do not really view going green as an option anymore, the chief executive director said.