With climate change making weather erratic, plan activities around forecasts: Grace Fu

Climate scientists have warned that global warming can result in bouts of more intense rainfall.
Climate scientists have warned that global warming can result in bouts of more intense rainfall.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With climate change expected to make weather patterns more erratic, people should regularly check the weather forecasts, and make adjustments to their activities accordingly, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Tuesday (Aug 31).

"As climate change brings about more intense rainfall, it will not be possible to completely eliminate flash floods," she said.

She added: "For far too long, Singaporeans have gotten used to our weather, as we think the weather here doesn't change that much. But we need to build that habit of checking weather forecasts.

"This is part of our preparedness as a population."

Ms Fu was speaking during a webinar on the implications for Singapore following the release of the report earlier this month by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC report had sounded the alarm for humanity, with climate scientists warning that the world could face more extreme weather and other devastating impacts of climate change if global emissions do not reach net zero by around 2050.

Singapore will not be spared in a warming world, with the Republic likely to experience warmer temperatures and extreme sea level events.

Said Ms Fu: "We shall build preparedness for extreme weather events, have the population checking weather advisories and warnings, and adjust our daily lives in response to weather forecasts."

This "community resilience", she said, is one way Singapore should respond to climate change, even as the country presses on with other efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and adapt to climate change.

The Government will also do its part, she said, by strengthening weather forecasting capabilities and improving education and outreach efforts.

Ms Fu added: "For example, ahead of heavy monsoon seasons, national water agency PUB will continue to work closely with building owners and residents in low-lying areas to deploy flood protection devices to safeguard lives and properties."

Her comments follow flash floods in many parts of the country over the past two weeks.

A particularly flood-prone stretch of Dunearn Road in Bukit Timah was hit by flash floods thrice this year - on April 17, July 12 and Aug 24.

Residents and businesses in the area said their goods, electronics and furniture were damaged in the latest incident.

PUB said that it will be raising a 450m stretch of Dunearn Road as an interim measure to relieve the flooding episodes since drainage expansion works there will be completed only by 2024.

This month has been the third wettest August since 1991, figures from the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) have shown, with the heavier-than-usual rains caused by multiple weather systems dumping rain over the island.

This includes "a very active wet phase" of the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which involves rain clouds moving eastwards over the Equator every 30 to 60 days, like a cyclist riding a bicycle across a stage.

When the "cyclist" - or the band of rain clouds - appears over Singapore, the country experiences more rain.

At the same time, the effects of another climate phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) are also being felt here.

The IOD is now in its negative phase, with changes in sea surface temperature and winds over the Indian Ocean bringing more rain over Singapore.

While it is not clear how climate change has impacted rainfall patterns in Singapore, climate scientists warned that global warming can result in bouts of more intense rainfall.

This is because a warmer atmosphere can "hold" more water.

To prepare for this impacts, PUB has invested almost $2 billion on drainage works in the last decade, and will put in another $1.4 billion over the next five years to enhance flood resilience.

Said Ms Fu: "As a result of PUB's efforts, Singapore's flood-prone areas have been reduced from 3,200ha in the 1970s to 28ha today despite increasing urbanisation."

But Singapore is experiencing other clearer climate change impacts - including warmer temperatures and sea level rise.

Ms Fu said the country plans to adapt to these impacts by developing a heat mitigation plan, which includes increasing urban greenery, and scaling up the use of materials like "cool paints" to reflect heat.

Singapore is also doing studies to see how the various segments of the coast can be protected from sea level rise.

Ms Fu said the Republic will also "press on" with its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint even though the nation contributes only 0.1 per cent to global emissions.

This will be done by increasing deployment of solar panels, reviewing the carbon tax to give large emitters more incentives to become more energy-efficient, and investing in low-carbon technologies that are not yet economically viable.

And as tackling climate action requires a global effort, Singapore is a strong advocate for a "multilateral, rules-based approach" to address the issue, Ms Fu said.

Earlier this year, the minister was invited to co-facilitate international negotiations on an issue that nations have failed to reach an agreement on for years - the establishment of international carbon markets.

Ms Fu and her Japanese counterpart, Minister of the Environment Shinjiro Koizumi, will co-facilitate ministerial consultations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which revolves around how countries can reduce their emissions using international carbon markets.

Carbon markets - which essentially treat carbon dioxide as a commodity where emitters pay others to offset emissions on their behalf - enable countries and firms to work together to reduce emissions in a cost-effective way.

But nations are finding it difficult to agree in a number of areas.

A key one preventing global consensus from being reached is how to ensure that credits used in the buyer country's climate pledge are not double-counted in the seller country's emissions profile.

Ms Fu added: "We will also foster international collaboration in areas like well-functioning carbon markets and regional electricity grids. Our plans are not static, and we will continue to raise our climate ambitions as more options for emissions reductions emerge."