Countries all over the world are having a tough time to comply with the objectives of the Paris agreement, that is, limit global temperature rise to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels and sea level rise to 0.5 meters. Meanwhile, Singapore is planning ahead. Both a country and a city, this island nation about half the size of metropolitan London, is preparing a S$100 billion plan (US$72 billion) to protect itself from temperatures and flooding well above those levels, reports Bloomberg.
Climate projections by the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, part of the Meteorological Service Singapore, show that in a worst case scenario flood levels could be up to 4 meters high, taking into account effects such as storm surges. In that scenario cities like New York, Shanghai and London would be underwater.
Singapore is taking climate change very seriously. In fact, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said it is a matter of “life and death”, as important as national defence. Data from the weather service shows the city has warmed twice as fast as the global average in the past 60 years, roughly 0.25 oC every ten years, so they are right to be concerned.
Part of the plan is a coastal adaptation study which the Building and Construction Authority presented last year to the government, with various options which may include mangrove forests as defences for the coasts, flood-proofing the subway system and green areas to buffer high waters. So far, the country has committed S$1 billion to study sustainability in urban areas, focusing on renewable energy and cooling. Furthermore, S$5 billion will go to a Coastal and Flood Protection Plan. The coastal plan could involve surrounding the country with polders and dykes, or building dikes across offshore islands to create a reservoir.
Singapore can afford this kind of contingency planning, as the world’s third wealthiest nation in terms of GDP per capita. Its economy, ironically, has been built on fossil fuels. With only 0.0005% of the world’s land surface, it contributes about 0.11% of global carbon emissions, although it has committed to reduce its emissions by 36% between 2005 and 2030. As a first step, it has set the first carbon tax in Southeast Asia, and is also investing in renewable energy.
Another aspect Singapore is looking into is its food supply, as the nation imports 90% of its food. Vertical farming and technologies such as hydroponics are being used in this country where land is so limited. The Singapore Food agency has a goal of producing locally 30% of the food supply by 2030.
But the tricky issue is water. A world leader in integrated water resources management, the country is working towards water self-sufficiency. Although the island receives substantial rainfall, it has limited surface area to catch and store rainfall. It relies on four water sources: rainfall collected in artificial reservoirs, imported water from Malaysia, reclaimed water (known as NEWater in Singapore), and seawater desalination. Currently NEWater can meet about 40% of the island’s water requirements, and desalination up to 25%.
The national water agency, the Public Utilities Board (PUB), is aiming to increase the contribution of desalination to meet 30% of the future water demand by 2060, ahead of the expiration of the current Water Transfer Agreement with Malaysia, and to expand NEWater to meet about 55% of the demand by the same date.
Singapore is also a leader in urban design. Green buildings, designed to use resources more efficiently, are being used to cope with the impact of climate change. Vertical gardens relieve the craving for greenery in this high-density city. Landmarks such as the Parkroyal on Pickering complex, draped in greenery, use vegetation for cooling.
It seems Singapore has all the ingredients to adapt and survive in the face of climate change. With the same political will that allowed the ‘world’s only fully functioning city-state’ ─ according to The Economist ─ to thrive against all odds after its unplanned independence in 1965, it is now determined to embrace sustainability. A sense of vulnerability made Singapore what it is today. It continues to be a small country with a fragile future, and it’s not going to sit back and wait. Planning ahead is key.