A friend of the environment

“Every day, your choices make a difference. And when you come together collectively, it’s even more powerful.”

Ms Melissa Low, Research Fellow from the Energy Studies Institute (ESI), wants to encourage active citizenry in environmental issues and believes that everyone can play a part in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

An active sustainability thought leader who has been involved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) for over a decade, Ms Low was recognised with the EcoFriend Award by the National Environment Agency on 5 Feb.

Focusing on climate change transparency reporting – one of the key pillars of the Paris Agreement – Ms Low has produced policy briefs, op-eds, and conducted workshops for various stakeholders, including youths and educators, to raise awareness and understanding of the implications of the Paris Agreement and countries’ progress in meeting their climate pledges.

She is NUS’ Designated Contact Point for the UNFCCC, and also serves on the nine-member Steering Committee of the Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organisation Constituency under the UNFCCC.

NUS News caught up with Ms Low. She shared about her passion in environmental sustainability and how we can all play a part in caring for and protecting Mother Earth.

How did you come to be interested in climate change and sustainability issues?

Ms Low: My interest in climate change or sustainability-related issues started in my junior college days. At Catholic Junior College, I read Geography as one of my ‘A’ level subjects and joined the Geography/Earth Society. Our teacher-in-charge encouraged us to work on environmental campaigns, including a straw-free Earth Day and a team project for the Sembcorp GreenWave Competition. Together with my schoolmates, we submitted a vermi-compost project and won a Merit Award!

This got me interested to pursue Geography at NUS for my bachelor’s degree. I had the opportunity to attend the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, and since then, developed a keen interest in the dynamic and complex climate change negotiations.

So besides being a research fellow with ESI, you’re also now a PhD candidate with the NUS Geography Department?

Ms Low: Yes, I decided to pursue a PhD in Geography to become an academic researcher and teacher in the field of climate change governance. My motivation stems from my work as a research fellow at ESI, where I conduct policy research on the implications of the Paris Agreement. It is my hope to contribute towards increasing representation of Southeast Asian scholarship in the field of climate change governance.

You are NUS’ Designated Contact Point for the UNFCCC. Can you share more about this?

Ms Low: NUS became an accredited observer organisation under the UNFCCC in 2014 and is currently the only IHL in Singapore that regularly attends the COPs. As the Designated Contact Point, my role is to facilitate the attendance of staff, students and affiliates of NUS to attend relevant meetings under the UNFCCC, to present research and capacity building outcomes, and to develop a deeper understanding of the issues. NUS has also been supportive in hosting post-COP sharing sessions over the years. The NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability and NUS Ridge View Residential College both partnered with ESI to organise the Climate Change Negotiations Training Workshops in 2018 and 2019.

Tell us, what are your views about the Singapore Green Plan 2030?

Ms Low: The Singapore Green Plan (SGP) 2030 is timely, as Singapore enters into the decade of implementation of the Paris Agreement. The SGP is described to have a whole-of-nation sustainable development agenda. Some targets do go beyond what is enshrined in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB), last updated in 2015. For example, cycling networks were originally targeted at 700km in SSB2015 but the SGP plans to increase it to 1,000km. Some targets, such as the aim of least 20 per cent of schools to be carbon neutral by 2030, are new. Some are more ambitious in terms of timeline, such as the reduction of waste by 20 per cent sent to Semakau Landfill by 2026, instead of the 2030 target of a 30 per cent reduction which was announced earlier.

All of these targets point to the need to develop contextual solutions to address climate change and to transition to a low-carbon society. We need to aggressively develop capabilities and expertise for both immediate and long-term needs, so Singapore can be at the forefront of green innovation. Everyone needs to be on board with the message that green collar jobs and a clean economic recovery are essential to building back better from the pandemic and to achieve our climate goals.

Just like how you are now currently working on a youth dialogue focusing on COP26, to get our youth on board in tackling climate change?

Ms Low: Yes, ESI has been working closely with Government agencies such as the National Youth Council and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, as well as the British High Commission and the Italian Embassy, to organise a youth dialogue focused on COP26. We will discuss climate change and sustainability in the lead up to Glasgow COP26. This dialogue will also feature a fireside chat to share updates on Singapore government priorities and enable us to collect feedback on the focus areas within climate change and sustainability that youth would like to develop.

So, how can we play our part in this – and help mitigate climate change?

Ms Low: In my experience, reading widely and developing a full understanding of issues is important to be an informed contributor to the discussion on climate change. This is especially important in Singapore, where our national circumstances including geographical constraints mean we have to be agile and innovative when it comes to deploying solutions. We should also take time to understand the spectrum of perspectives, and work together to cultivate trust and partnerships towards mitigating and adapting to climate change.