First-of-its-kind climate change study to form national framework for coastal protection measures

The Building and Construction Authority's coastal adaptation study is one of the studies being done to help Singapore better prepare for climate change. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Due to its position on the Equator, the Republic may be spared tropical cyclones that last year wreaked havoc in the northern hemisphere. However, the island-state is vulnerable to another effect of climate change: rising sea levels, which cause coastal floods and erosion.

Singapore is taking steps to strengthen the country's resilience against this.

An ongoing, first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will form the national framework for coastal protection measures.

The authority did not provide details on what measures are being looked at under the study, but Singapore has already adopted various strategies to cope with coastal erosion and flooding as sea levels rise.

This includes raising minimum land reclamation levels from 3m to 4 m above mean sea level, and the installation of hard walls or stone embankments on at least 70 per cent of Singapore's coastal areas. The remaining coastal areas include sandy beaches, which can be used for recreation, and mangroves, which are natural buffers against erosion. These will be left as natural coastline for now, said the BCA.

On the need for the coastal adaptation study, a BCA spokesman said climate science is constantly evolving, and projections for sea level rise may change.

"Given this uncertainty, our national framework for coastal protection needs to be flexible and dynamic to be able to accommodate both future needs and the latest science," he said.

According to projections from Singapore's Second National Climate Change Study released in 2015, the mean sea level is estimated to rise by up to about 1m by 2100.

BCA's coastal adaptation study, undertaken by Surbana International Consultants and DHI Water and Environment, started in October 2013 and was initially slated to be completed by the end of last year.

The end date has since been pushed back to the second half of this year. The reason, the BCA spokesman told The Straits Times, is that more time is needed to consider fresh input and to engage stakeholders, so coastal protection strategies will complement development plans.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, immediate past president of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said a coastal adaptation study would likely include the identification of areas that are more prone to flooding from rising sea water levels.

"Such studies would then allow urban architects, engineers and designers to consider various options for existing infrastructure to mitigate the impact of rising sea water levels and allow them to plan ahead in anticipation of rising sea water levels," he said.

This includes the installation of hard protective dykes to keep sea water away, or planning to build critical infrastructure away from areas that have high potential or is susceptible to flooding, he added.

The coastal adaptation study is just one of the studies being done to help Singapore better prepare for climate change.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told ST that agencies under the Resilience Working Group - an inter-agency effort which studies Singapore's vulnerability to the effects of climate change - have undertaken studies to better understand the impacts of climate change on their respective areas of work and potential measures that could be implemented.

This includes national water agency PUB's feasibility study on an underground drainage and reservoir system, and the National Environment Agency's trial on Wolbachia technology that aims to reduce the number of dengue-transmitting Aedes mosquitos.

Said Mr Masagos: "These findings would help to guide our long-term plans for Singapore to adapt to future environmental changes. Given that climate science is constantly evolving, the Resilience Working Group agencies are constantly alert to the latest scientific findings and will undertake new studies, where necessary, to improve Singapore's resilience."

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