Parliament: From coastal protection to cutting emissions, S'pore moves to tackle climate change on all fronts

Singapore's waterworks will be powered fully by renewable energy once the floating solar photovoltaic system at Tengeh Reservoir is built.

PHOTO: PUB

SINGAPORE - From curbing heat-trapping emissions to protecting coastlines, pest control and growing eco-awareness in homes, Singapore is pulling out all stops to buffer its small and open economy against the shockwaves of climate change.

On Wednesday (March 4), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli gave Parliament an overarching view of how the nation intends to cope in a warming world, by putting sustainability at its very core.

"Only by living and practising sustainability together can we mitigate the impacts of climate change and secure the resources needed to take Singapore into the future," he said.

One critical way of doing this is by reducing harmful greenhouse gases.

"Every country, large or small, must do its share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

To do its part in support of the multilateral Paris Agreement - a climate pact that almost 200 nations agreed to in 2015 - Singapore will be taking additional steps to reduce its emissions on top of existing schemes such as the carbon tax, said Mr Masagos during the debate over his ministry's budget.

REDUCING EMISSIONS

Singapore will be implementing more measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in various sectors, including among households, and plans to halve its emissions from its 2030 peak by 2050, Mr Masagos noted, adding that the country was already ahead of the pack by implementing the carbon tax last year - the first country in South-east Asia to do so.

It will introduce a new Commercial Vehicle Emissions Scheme for new light goods vehicles, which form the largest proportion of commercial vehicles, said Mr Masagos.

The vision is for all vehicles to run on cleaner energy by 2040, with the Government taking the lead.

From 2023, all new vehicle purchases for Government-owned fleets will be cleaner and greener where feasible, and the Ministry of Defence, for example, will replace 400 administrative vehicles with hybrids and later with electric ones when charging infrastructure is ready in 2040.

Efforts will also be taken to reduce the amount of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs - greenhouse gases that have a greater warming potential compared with carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change.

HFCs can be found as refrigerants in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, and could leak during installation, maintenance and disposal.

Measures will include the launch of a training course to train and certify technicians to handle refrigerants properly, and mandating the proper recovery, reclamation and destruction of spent refrigerants from next year.

There will also be a new grant to support companies which want to make an early switch to more climate-friendly, commercial water-cooled chillers, said Mr Masagos.

His ministry will also take the lead in cutting its carbon footprint, said Mr Masagos.

"We will set out to generate sufficient energy from waste incineration and solar photovoltaic systems to power all of my ministry's needs, especially in the production of water and the projected production of food," he said.

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For example, national water agency PUB's five water treatment plants in Choa Chu Kang, Bedok, Chestnut, Lower Seletar and Woodleigh, as well as Marina Barrage, will be powered fully by renewable energy once the floating solar photovoltaic system on Tengeh Reservoir is built.

To involve households in the nation's quest to cut its carbon footprint, the Government will introduce a $24.8 million Climate-Friendly Household Package.

Households living in one- to three-room Housing Board flats will receive a one-off $150 voucher to buy more energy-efficient refrigerator models.

"Not only will this help fight climate change, households can also benefit from electricity cost savings of up to $60 annually," said Mr Masagos.

ADAPTING TO A WARMING WORLD

Rising sea levels threaten to swallow the nation's coast, while erratic weather patterns could throw a spanner in its food supply chain. And as the world warms, mosquitoes could proliferate, spreading diseases such as dengue.

Singapore is preparing to buffer itself from these threats, said Mr Masagos, laying out a blueprint of the country intends to deal with these threats.

To buffer it from rising sea levels, Singapore will this year start its first coastal protection studies to determine the type, feasibility and extent of measures required, he said.

Food security is also crucial for the Republic, which imports more than 90 per cent of its food. Diversification has been a key strategy for Singapore so far, said Mr Masagos, pointing out that the country's food comes from over 170 countries and regions.

But local production is also important to buffer it against global supply shocks, and Singapore has plans to boost this to almost one-third of the country's needs by 2030.

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Lim Chu Kang could well become the nation's food bowl. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will study how the larger Lim Chu Kang agriculture area can be planned and redeveloped to enhance food production.

The study will look at the possibility of centralised facilities and services to reduce the cost of food production, as well as of introducing circular economy principles, so that the by-product of one farm can be used as an input for another, he said.

One example could include using animal waste for fertiliser.

Out at sea, SFA will study the expansion of sustainable fish farming in the deeper southern waters of Singapore, said Mr Masagos.

"We will ensure that such aquaculture is productive and environmentally responsible, such as shown by Barramundi Asia, Singapore's first and only deep-sea fish farm," he said.

Currently, most of Singapore's offshore fish farms are located in the Johor Strait north of Singapore.

"Like land, every space at sea that can be used for food production, must be judiciously managed," he said.

There will also be more opportunities for Singaporeans to grow their own food, he added, noting that in coming months, SFA will tender 16 rooftop spaces on HDB multi-storey carparks across the island, totalling over 30,000 sq m.

"As we grow our agri-sector, let's get involved in growing food in our own backyards," he said.

Mr Masagos also gave an update on Singapore's Project Wolbachia trials that aims to reduce the spread of dengue.

He said that trials from the project - which involves infecting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria, so that any resultant eggs from its mating will not hatch - have achieved up to 90 per cent suppression of the Aedes aegypti population within the Yishun and Tampines study sites.

"We are considering the expansion of Project Wolbachia to more neighbourhoods, in consultation with the National Environment Agency's Dengue Expert Advisory Panel," said Mr Masagos.

To do this, NEA has set up a high-tech mosquito farm which optimises mosquito production, and production is being scaled up to five million male mosquitoes a week, over the next few years, to battle dengue.

"This is a new and important means to future-proof ourselves against the faster breeding of mosquitoes as a result of the higher temperatures brought by climate change," he said.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources will also introduce initiatives that will encourage Singaporeans to live and breathe sustainability.

As neighbourhoods are rejuvenated, there will be sustainable hawker centres that strive for zero waste, for instance, as well as indicators for towns to track their progress and benchmark themselves against national sustainability targets in carbon, energy, water, and recycling.

Mr Masagos' own GRC, Tampines, for example, is piloting new sustainability projects which can be replicated in other towns.

The first project will be Singapore's first community-based circular ecosystem for food production.

Residents from 12 blocks of flats will be segregating food waste generated in their homes to be fed to black soldier fly larvae.

These larvae will produce fertiliser for a new vertical vegetable farm, and the larvae will be fed to fish cultivated in the Tampines Park pond.

Not only will this project reduce food waste, it will, at the same time, strengthen the community's food resilience.

While the Government will place sustainability at its core, tackling climate change required all hands on deck, he stressed.

"Let us all play our part and work together, as one people, to ensure that Singapore remains a liveable home for our future generations."

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