SINGAPORE – Singapore is fortifying its defences against climate change, with $400 million being pumped into upgrading and maintaining its drains over the next two years, and $10 million more channelled into studying sea level rise.

These are just two of a multitude of measures that are meant to guard against a “perfect storm” of events that could see Singapore engulfed by sea water if not enough is done.

But the Government cannot do this alone, and everyone has a part to play to prevent “the end of life as usual”, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Wednesday (July 17).

Calling on the public to embrace green changes, he gave the example of how, if every household in Singapore swapped one fluorescent lightbulb for an LED bulb, the potential energy savings in a year of 5.8 million kwh would be enough to power 1,000 4-room housing units.

“Every effort counts. Though climate change cannot be solved by any single person, do not discount the cumulative impact of small actions,” he said.

He was speaking at the Partners for the Environment Forum, an annual platform for various partners of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) to explore ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.

In his speech, Mr Masagos highlighted the real, “ultimate threat to human survival” that climate change presents.

He pointed to a number of extreme weather events in recent years:

– France experienced its highest-ever temperature of 45.9 deg C

– Droughts caused a 20 per cent fall in grain production in Australia, and

– Evacuations in Japan due to floods and mudslides caused by torrential rain.

These are no longer once-off events, but symptoms of a much greater problem.

Closer to home, he noted, water levels at Linggiu Reservoir in Malaysia fell to a historic low of 20 per cent during a prolonged dry period in 2016.

And, in Singapore, the hottest days swelter at temperatures exceeding 34 deg C, as compared to an average of 27 deg C in the 1960s.

Furthermore, the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) found that, in the rare scenario that high mean sea levels, high tide and high surge all occur at the same time, sea levels could rise almost 4m above the current mean and overwhelm the island’s low-lying coastal areas.

“If we push our imaginations further, in the extremely rare occurrence that a tropical storm happens at sea – sending us surge waters that we can’t keep out – and a heavy rainstorm happens inland – bringing down rainwater we can’t drain away – both at the same time, we could have the ingredients of a ‘perfect storm'”, he said.

“While this is an extremely rare scenario based on today’s science, it could possibly not be inconceivable in the future.”

The minister said that Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had noted in 2007 that “the ultimate threat to human survival is global warming and climate change” and that if sea levels rose to inundate many millions of people, there will be no life as usual.

Said Mr Masagos: “In fact, at every occasion when I had the opportunity to sit in on calls between Mr Lee and world leaders, it was clear that he was fully convinced about the threat of climate change, and even more concerned about its potential impact than that of terrorism.”

Added the minister: “The warning is loud and unmistakeable: We must act now, or we may well face the ultimate threat to human survival… the end of life as usual.”

BUILDING ON CURRENT MEASURES

Given the Republic’s relatively small contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the alarming projections on climate change and sea level rise, some might question whether Singapore can make a difference.

However, Mr Masagos said, Singapore has already done a number of things over the years which prepared it for the effects of climate change.

These include its intensive tree-planting programme, which has moderated rising temperatures, the development of four national taps to protect its water supply from sudden shocks, and the decision to build new projects such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 at higher platform levels.

Singapore has also “taken the initiative to lead” in the area of climate science for the tropics through the work of the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, said Mr Masagos.

The centre was established in 2013 and has since grown to be one of the region’s most advanced tropical climate research centres.

Its research allows the Republic to make an impactful contribution to the global understanding of climate change, and share what it knows with its neighbours to help them plan to adapt to the climate crisis.

And more is to be done. A $10 million National Sea Level research programme will be launched over the next five years, which will help Singapore develop more robust sea level rise projections in the future.

The ministry will set up a new programme office in the centre to drive efforts in formulating a national climate science research masterplan and building up local capabilities.

And in October, for the first time, a Scoping Meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be held in Singapore together with a meeting of the IPCC bureau.

This signals the Republic’s strong support for and commitment to climate science and action, said Mr Masagos.

Aside from research, Singapore has also been building up its climate resilience. Having previously spent around $1.8 billion on drainage improvement works to boost its flood resilience since 2011, Singapore will spend another $400 million over the next two years to upgrade and maintain its drains.

GOVERNMENT CANNOT COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE ALONE

However, the Government cannot fight climate change alone, Mr Masagos said.

He noted that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had, last month, spoken about expanding a democracy of deeds, where Singaporeans contribute not just their ideas but their efforts to build the Republic’s future.

“We need to partner businesses, individuals and organisations to come up with creative and effective solutions,” he added.

“We need everyone to play their part and as one nation, overcome the existential challenge that climate change poses, which can threaten our way of life.”

He called on those living here to make climate-friendly choices in their daily lives, including buying climate-friendly appliances for their homes, reducing single-use plastics and using clothes for as long as possible.

The ministry will also be convening a citizens’ workgroup in September, working with 50 Singaporeans to improve the way recycling is carried out here.

Mr Masagos said: “Climate change sets us a monumental, inter-generational task – how to ensure that our Little Red Dot does not disappear below the waves.”