ask@ST: Helping audiences visualise climate change through images and illustrations

(From left) Climate Change editor, David Fogarty chats with ST photojournalists Lim Yaohui and Mark Cheong. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Making climate change relatable to audiences can be a challenge in Singapore, where the impact of the complex, scientific phenomenon is less obvious, image-wise.

"In Singapore, we don't see polar bears drifting on ice and we don't see typhoons," said Straits Times photojournalist Mark Cheong at an AskST@NLB discussion titled "Zooming in on climate change".

"Instead of just using images, we also have to work closely with reporters to come up with longer features and image packages, to make the narrative of climate change impact come alive," he added.

For instance, he would work with illustration teams to create simple explanatory graphics accessible to children and design the visual layout of the story to communicate its written elements.

Mr Cheong cited a report he collaborated on with ST environment correspondent Audrey Tan about the coastal neckline of Singapore, where the report's text was encircled by a frame of coastal images to simulate a "neckline".

A picture of the layout for coastal necklace picture essay by Mark Cheong and Audrey Tan. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Mr Cheong, 34, was speaking to ST's climate change editor David Fogarty, alongside fellow ST photojournalist Lim Yaohui, 39, at the discussion.

The virtual talk was shared on ST's Facebook page at 7pm on Friday (Jan 28).

The session was about how the photojournalists have told the story of climate change through photographs and videos of its impacts.

During the session, the photojournalists shared a portfolio of their work capturing climate change, from images of dried-up reservoirs from droughts abroad, to parts of forests in Singapore being razed to make way for new Build-To-Order flats.

Mr Lim, who caught a glimpse of excavators at work behind a construction barrier on recently deforested land, said: "I was on a double-decker bus when I saw the clearing of land and trees from a familiar hill next to Bedok Reservoir.

"I'd always wondered how long this mountain of earth would remain."

Generic photograph of construction works next to Bedok Reservoir Road as taken from the double decker bus on Nov 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

After taking the shot, Mr Lim returned to a nearby block of flats a week later to take a photo of the deforested land from an aerial perspective, capturing the extent of damage done to the forest.

Clearing of land and vegetation bounded by Tampines Avenue 1, Bedok Reservoir Road and Tampines Street 92 on Dec 4, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Mr Lim said: "I hope from these pictures you can see that climate change is really happening and it's not something to be ignored."

Readers who are interested in viewing the images can visit Through The Lens, an exhibition organised by The Straits Times to explore the impact of global climate change on Singapore, showcasing how even a small country can do its part to tackle the challenges of the crisis.

Organised in collaboration with World Press Photo, the exhibition also features the best images from photojournalists worldwide.

The exhibition is held at the National Museum of Singapore till Feb 6, at the museum's Glass Atrium on the second floor and The Canyon in the basement.

Alternatively, viewers can read this article to get a virtual look at some of the pictures taken by Mr Lim and Mr Cheong.

For those who missed the video, they can find the report and video here. Past AskST@NLB sessions can be found there as well.

Members of the public can find more information and resources on this topic at ProQuest Central - a database that the National Library Board subscribes to - using the keywords "Climate Change" and "Climate Change Singapore".

A myLibraryID is required to access the database.

Those who do not have a myLibraryID can go to and sign up for one using their Singpass, NRIC number or Foreign Identification Number.

The video recording of the event and past sessions can be found here.

The next AskST@NLB session will be held on Feb 25. More details will be shared at a later date.

Recommended reading

  • Climate And Climate Change: A Singapore Perspective (2008), by Chang Chew Hung.
  • Climate Change & Singapore: Challenges, Opportunities, Partnerships, National Climate Change Strategy 2012

Find out more about climate change and how it could affect you on the ST microsite here.