New $23.5m programme launched to uncover long-term climate change impact on S'pore

The shoreline being restored at Pasir Ris Park in March last year. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Centre for Climate Research Singapore director Dale Barker speaking at the conference on July 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - A $23.5 million programme was launched on Tuesday (July 12) to uncover the long-term impacts of climate change on Singapore - from sea-level rise to food insecurity - and to help guide policies to tackle these issues.

The Climate Impact Science Research Programme - helmed by the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) - will focus on five key priorities.

These are sea-level rise, water resource and flood management, biodiversity and food security, human health and energy, and cross-cutting research to bridge science and policy.

The five-year research programme will result in 15 to 20 projects focused on those areas, done in collaboration with local universities.

Dr Dale Barker, director of CCRS, said on Tuesday that the new programme will build on and complement existing climate change research, including the $10 million National Sea Level Programme that was launched in 2019 to address knowledge gaps in past and present sea-level changes.

Beyond gradual sea-level rise, the new research programme will also look at worst-case scenarios where extreme weather events can push up the tides further, adding to a much larger flooding event. 

Dr Barker was speaking at the third Sea Level Conference of the World Climate Research Programme, held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre from July 12 to 16. He added that the new programme will result in practical solutions to guide possible adaptation measures.

The Climate Impact Science Research Programme adds to the Republic's existing investment in climate science, such as the $25 million Marine Climate Change Science programme, which looks into marine habitats and ecosystems to enhance their resilience against climate change.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, who was also speaking at the event on Tuesday, said the new programme will bring together research in climate science and focus on knowledge gaps.

Ms Fu cited a recent United Nations climate change report which found that in the worst-case scenario, more than 30 per cent of global crop and livestock areas could become climatically unsuitable by 2100.

"By downscaling global climate projections and producing localised, high-resolution models of wind, rainfall and temperature, we can better assess the impacts of climate change on local crop and aquaculture yields," she added.

This could involve the development of climate-resilient crop varieties or choosing sea spaces with more suitable habitat conditions for aquaculture, she noted.

The CCRS is currently downscaling and fine-tuning global climate projections though its third national climate change study, also known as V3.

Large global models often have grid cells that span between 70km and 250km. But as Singapore is only 45km at its widest, it is working to produce grid cells spanning 2km to 8km.

Localised projections are important as different regions will experience climate change differently, and having precise models can allow governments to improve their response to climate change impacts.

A better understanding of Singapore's latest climate projections - on extreme weather events such as droughts and intense rainfall - could also affect its water resource and flood management practices, said the NEA on Tuesday.

For instance, studies on the impact of water run-off from increased rainfall can help the country to plan its flood mitigation measures, such as through local detention tanks that collect and store storm water run-off and then release it at controlled rates via a downstream drainage system.

There will also be studies examining how changes to the ocean circulation in the region will add to the risk of coastal flooding due to sea-level rise as well as extreme tides and surges - which could help to inform the adequacy of protection measures, said the NEA. 

This will complement national water agency PUB's coastal-inland flood model - which is capable of simulating and evaluating inland and coastal floods in tandem.

PUB has embarked on a series of eight coastal protection studies covering more than 300km of coastline. The studies look at how these areas can be better protected against sea-level rise.

The Climate Impact Science Research Programme will be funded under Singapore's Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan, and will soon begin grant calls for various research projects.

Professor Benjamin Horton, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, speaking at the World Climate Research Programme's Sea Level Conference on July 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Ms Fu said that the Republic will be contributing data from V3 to the Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment for the South-east Asia Region. This is a guide used to evaluate regional climate model performance through experiments.

South-east Asia is vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise, with the region being host to numerous low-lying coastal communities, and with many economic activities such as fishing, agriculture and trade taking place in coastal areas.

Singapore will share downscaled climate projections at a 8km resolution within the region for countries to use in their adaptation planning processes, said Ms Fu.

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