Singapore prepares for rising seas

$400m to be pumped in to upgrade drains; citizens' workgroup to help boost recycling

Stamford Detention Tank was constructed as part of the $1.8 billion effort to improve Singapore's drainage system and boost its flood resilience. Another $400 million will be spent to upgrade and maintain the Republic's drains over the next two years. PHOTO: ST FILE

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 to studying sea level rise.

These are just two of a multitude of measures 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", Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

Calling on the public to embrace "green" changes, he said his ministry will be convening a citizens' workgroup in September, working with 50 Singaporeans to improve the way recycling is carried out. Those who want to join this effort can apply to do so.

Mr Masagos was speaking at the Partners for the Environment Forum to explore ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.

He highlighted the real, "ultimate threat to human survival" that climate change presents.

The Meteorological Service Singapore's Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) has 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 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'," Mr Masagos said.

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

"The warning is loud and un-mistakable: We must act now or we may face the ultimate threat to human survival... the end of life as usual."

To shore up its defences, Singapore is launching a $10 million National Sea Level Research Programme over the next five years to develop more robust sea level rise projections.

The ministry will set up a programme office in the CCRS to drive efforts to formulate a national climate science research masterplan and build up local capabilities. Set up in 2013, the centre is doing among the most advanced tropical research in the region.

Singapore is also boosting its resilience to floods and will spend another $400 million over the next two years to upgrade and maintain its drains. It has spent around $1.8 billion in drainage improvement works since 2011.

PUB has been giving priority to upgrading drains in flood-prone areas. Drainage was improved at 254 locations from 2014 to the end of last year. Works to upgrade a portion of Bukit Timah Canal will start later this year.

To prepare for climate change, Singapore launched an intensive tree-planting programme, developed four national taps to protect its water supply from sudden shocks and has decided to build new projects such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 at higher platform levels.

However, the Government cannot fight climate change alone.

Mr Masagos noted that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat last month spoke about expanding a democracy of deeds, where Singaporeans contribute not only their ideas, but also their efforts, to build the Republic's future.

He added: "We need to partner businesses, individuals and organisations to come up with creative and effective solutions." He cited how, if every household here swopped one fluorescent bulb for an LED bulb, the potential energy savings in a year of 5.8 million kwh would be enough to power 1,000 four-room housing units.

He said: "Climate change sets us a monumental, intergenerational task - how to ensure our Little Red Dot does not disappear below the waves."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2019, with the headline Singapore prepares for rising seas. Subscribe