Budget 2023: Lessons from Covid-19 will help Singapore strengthen resilience against climate change

One key area is infrastructure, by designing buildings to serve both “peacetime and crisis functions”. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore will draw on lessons from Covid-19 to strengthen its resilience against the larger existential threat of global warming and climate change, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday.  

One key area is infrastructure, by designing buildings to serve both “peacetime and crisis functions”, given Singapore’s land scarcity, for instance.

“We have kept an eye on resilience throughout our nation-building journey. But we are entering a new era where disruptions will likely happen more frequently,” Mr Wong said.

“So we will have to consider additional redundancies and safety buffers that we can fall back on during a crisis.

“Having such buffers does not mean that we will not suffer damage when hit by a shock. But it will enhance our ability to absorb the shock, rebound from the crisis and emerge stronger from it.”

While the Government will spend more on resilience, it must also be judicious in using public funds for effective and enduring improvements, he stressed. 

One key strategy is to build organisational capabilities to respond quickly and effectively during crises. 

During the pandemic, for instance, the outbreak in migrant worker dormitories was a major challenge, and the Government had to draw on resources from various agencies to address it, he pointed out.

Learning from this, the Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group was set up to monitor the situation in the dormitories and provide better care and support for migrant workers.

Existing spaces such as vacant schools were also converted at short notice to house recovering migrant workers, and hotels were used as quarantine facilities.

“All this reinforces the importance of having adaptable, multi-use facilities,” he said.

“We will therefore study how we can further enhance the resilience of our infrastructure, especially for new major projects like the Tuas Mega Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5.”

The Tuas Port is being built 5m above mean sea level and with greener construction materials.

The upcoming Changi Airport Terminal 5 will also be more pandemic-proof as well as greener and more energy-efficient.

The Government has already announced measures to accelerate the country’s green energy transition and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

But climate-related spending is expected to “go up significantly” in the medium term, and Singapore will commit more resources as it progressively implements these extensive infrastructure plans, said Mr Wong. 

For one thing, the current carbon tax rate of $5 per tonne of emissions will go up to $25 in 2024 and 2025.

It will go up to $45 in 2026 and 2027, before reaching $50 to $80 per tonne by 2030.  

To facilitate the green energy push, Singapore is harvesting solar energy, transiting to cleaner sources such as hydrogen, and working with its neighbours to develop regional power grids, as well as greening its buildings and opting for cleaner vehicles, among other efforts.

“In short, Singapore is doing everything we can to fight climate change.  But we know that our efforts alone will not be enough,” said Mr Wong.

“The rest of the world must also do their part. Unfortunately, in the short term, many countries are increasing their reliance on fossil fuels to prevent the lights from going out, to provide for energy security,” he added.

This means that the world will have to redouble its efforts to get back on track with the plans to keep global temperatures from rising beyond a threshold that will result in irreversible damage, he said. 

The world has already warmed by at least 1.1 deg C, and scientists have warned that global warming must be kept to 1.5 deg C in  order to avert the more catastrophic consequences of climate change. 

“While we will do our best to shape and drive this international agenda, we must also prepare for the worst,” he added. 

For instance, the polder which is being built on Pulau Tekong is more than halfway complete and set to be finished by end-2024, said Mr Wong. 

A polder is a low-lying tract of land protected from the sea by structures known as dikes. 

The experience gained from this project will give the country more options to protect its coastline against rising sea levels, he noted.

In 2020, the Government announced a Coastal and Flood Protection Fund with an initial injection of $5 billion to support the construction of coastal and drainage infrastructure.

Since then, national water agency PUB has announced it will be conducting eight site-specific studies to enhance drainage infrastructure and come up with coastal protection measures for Singapore’s 300km of coastlines.

Three of the eight studies are currently under way, and a fourth will begin in the latter half of the year.

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