Climate change

National Day Rally 2019: Sea-level rise poses threat to Singapore

Singapore is already seeing some of the effects of climate change, including more intense rainfall and prolonged dry spells. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that current projections are that sea levels will rise by up to 1m by the end of the cen
Singapore is already seeing some of the effects of climate change, including more intense rainfall and prolonged dry spells. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that current projections are that sea levels will rise by up to 1m by the end of the century, but scientists' estimates have been going up. PM Lee estimates it will cost $100 billion or more, over 100 years, to protect the country against rising sea levels. ST FILE PHOTO

Climate change defences vital to existence of low-lying country

While Singapore hopes never to go to war, it cannot avoid taking on another threat to the country's existence: climate change.

Sea levels will rise, posing a grave threat to the low-lying island, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The only question is when. He estimates it will cost $100 billion or more, over 100 years, to protect the country against rising sea levels.

Like the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), climate change defences are vital to Singapore's existence.

Singapore is already experiencing some of the effects of climate change, including more intense rainfall and prolonged dry spells.

By 2100, it could see a rise in daily mean temperatures by as much as 4.6 deg C, and more extreme and intense weather, which could threaten water, food and energy supply.

PM Lee noted that current projections are that sea levels will rise by up to 1m by the end of the century, but scientists' estimates have been going up.

Professor Benjamin Horton, chair of Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment, said that to mitigate flood risk from sea level rise, potential solutions must support the long-term resilience and sustainability of communities and the environment.

LIFE AND DEATH MATTERS

We should treat climate change defences like we treat the SAF - with utmost seriousness. Work steadily at it, maintain a stable budget year after year, keep your eye on the target, and do it over many years and several generations. That way, we can afford it, and when we need it, we will be ready. Both the SAF and climate change defences are existential for Singapore. These are life and death matters. Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation. There is one difference between the two. With the SAF, we hope never to go to war, and if you have a strong SAF, you may deter threats and avoid having to go to war. But with climate change, we know for sure sea levels will rise. The only uncertainty is whether they rise a few decades earlier, or a few decades later. Therefore, we will implement our climate change plans progressively, and keep them flexible. But we must start now and sustain the effort, as the Dutch have done over the centuries, and as we have done with the SAF. We must make this effort. Otherwise, one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG

This, Prof Horton said, requires robust, accurate local projection of sea-level rise. "Singapore must invest in the science of sea-level rise. Science first, responsible, cost-effective adaptation follows."

Much of Singapore lies only 15m above the mean sea level, with about 30 per cent of the island less than 5m above this level.

The Centre for Climate Research Singapore has found that in the rare scenario of high mean sea levels, high tide and high surge occurring at the same time, sea levels could rise by almost 4m above the current mean and overwhelm the island's low-lying coastal areas.

PM Lee said the centre is working with its counterparts in neighbouring countries to study in greater detail how climate change is affecting the region.

"They are finding that Singapore, being near the equator, is more vulnerable to climate change than the global model suggests," he added.

Climate change plans must be kept flexible and implemented progressively, he said.

"But we must start now and sustain the effort, as the Dutch have done over the centuries, and as we have done with the SAF," he added.

"We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Sea-level rise poses threat to S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe