Earth Day Special: ST webinar on rising sea levels

S'pore poised to be climate solution hub

Republic taking lead with a slew of research initiatives in a region rich in biodiversity

At Pasir Ris Park, eroded sections of the beach have been reinforced. Climate science in tropical regions is not as developed as it is in temperate parts of the world, but Singapore is working to change this with a whole slew of research initiatives, such as the National Sea Level Programme.
ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Singapore is poised to be a hub for climate change solutions for South-east Asia, and one way it can contribute is on the research front, said experts yesterday during a webinar on sea level rise organised by The Straits Times.

Climate science in tropical regions is not as developed as it is in the temperate parts of the world.

But Singapore is working to change this with a whole slew of research initiatives, such as the National Sea Level Programme, which is coordinated by the National Environment Agency's climate science research programme office - a unit under the Centre for Climate Research Singapore.

Ms Hazel Khoo, director of national water agency PUB's coastal protection department, said that the centre is positioned to be a regional one.

"As we go in-depth into understanding climate science, especially tropical climate science, I think it will benefit the region to also understand how they would be affected by the threat of sea level rise," said Ms Khoo, who was one of three panellists at the webinar organised in conjunction with Earth Day today.

The other two experts were Professor Benjamin Horton, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Dr Zeng Yiwen, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Centre for Nature-Based Climate Solutions.

Prof Horton noted how researchers in Singapore are part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the United Nations' climate science panel. "We have to use all the great minds in the world, from developed and developing countries, to solve this problem of climate change, and Singapore is at the heart of this," he said.

The Republic is in the ideal location to do so, being on the doorstep of a region rich in biodiversity on land and in water, he added.

Prof Horton said: "Singapore can take the lead in understanding climate impacts in the tropics. This is where there is the highest biodiversity, highest population, but also potentially the highest impacts from climate change."

Understanding the science behind how South-east Asia would be impacted by rising sea levels is important, because this will better inform adaptation strategies, he said.

This is because even though sea levels have risen and fallen over the course of history, different places experience these changes differently. Various factors could come into play, such as the elevation of land relative to the sea in one location, or how far a coastline is from a melting glacier.

Understanding how sea levels have changed in Singapore over the course of geological history will help scientists here come up with models that are more accurate at predicting sea level rise in this part of the world, instead of solely relying on global forecasts.

Prof Horton said that the accelerating rates of sea level rise are a cause for concern among climate scientists.

"So if we're going to think about hard engineering, nature-based solutions, we need to think about how resilient they are to the rates of change that we're going to have, unless we get at the root cause, which is mitigating and removing the carbon dioxide from our atmosphere," said Prof Horton.

When it comes to protecting natural habitats so their ability to absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide can be harnessed in humanity's fight against climate change, Dr Zeng said Singapore was part of the regional community - which also includes forestry practitioners, members of the local communities, government officials and non-government organisations - working on how to preserve forests in South-east Asia.

"Now we understand that nature has value, and this value goes towards mitigating climate change," he said.

"There have been many projects within South-east Asia itself that have been tackling this problem, and I guess Singapore is part of that community to conserve nature and mitigate climate change."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2021, with the headline S'pore poised to be climate solution hub. Subscribe