Honourable guests and colleagues,
I am grateful to SCLA for inviting me to join you for this evening’s special programme.
The theme of my opening remarks this evening is Crisis and Opportunity. John F Kennedy famously but mistakenly said that “The Chinese word “Crisis” is composed of two characters, one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”
Everybody in Shenzhen tonight knows ofcourse that JFK was wrong. The “ji” in weiji does not mean “opportunity”. In fact, it means something like a critical moment of change. Therefore, “weiji” indicates a moment of danger.
Not with standing this misconstruction of the word “weiji”, there is truth in the statement that “In every crisis, there is an opportunity”.
At the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference this year, President Xi urged Chinese leaders to find and create opportunities during the crisis.
One thing we all know and agree is that 2020 has been a year of tremendous crisis.
Is there any positive thing to take away from it at all? Have we learnt anything and have we actually adapted to improve our way of doing things?
The answer is yes. I will speak about just one important example – the environment.
The Pledge for Greener Arbitrations was launched in November 2019 to assess the carbon impact of international arbitrations. A medium-sized arbitration required just under 20,000 trees to offset emissions – equivalent to all the trees in Central Park.
The total caseload for 2018, at nine of the major arbitration institutions, amounted to 6,189 cases. This would require approximately 120 million trees to offset the carbon footprint generated.
93% of emissions generated by a ‘standard’ arbitration were a result of air travel.
Due to the pandemic, lawyers have learnt that we do not need to travel to work as a team. We do not even have to be in one place to conduct acourt or arbitration hearing. We have also used electronic documents more than hard copies.
Let’s not just look at lawyers.
According to the Global Carbon Project, CO2 emissions fell by a record 7% this year.
For the first time in decades, the air quality in many cities improved so much that people can actually see and breathe the difference.
However, this reduction in CO2 emissions, though promising, hardly makes any difference at all to the world’s dangerous track of more than 3 deg Crise in temperature by the end of this century.
Fortunately, there are countries which are trying to make a difference. In September, China promised to be carbon neutral by 2060. This is exciting. If China can achieve this 2060 goal, it will single-handedly slow down global warming to the extent that global temperatures will increase by only 2.1 deg C by the end of the century. It brings the world close to the Paris Agreement target of less than 2 deg C increase in temperature.
There has been a lot of suffering caused by the pandemic. But the pandemic has taught the world that we cannot take our current lifestyle for granted. This present crisis shows that the world can adapt when it becomes necessary to do so. If we use this opportunity to improve the way we live and the way we work, then we would have, in the words of President Xi, found opportunities in a crisis.
On that note, I wish you all a healthy and happy 2021.
Chan Leng Sun, SC
Essex Court Chambers Duxton, Singapore