SINGAPORE - A new coastal and flood protection fund, with an initial injection of $5 billion, will be set up to help protect Singapore against rising sea levels, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday (Feb 18).
The fund will be topped up subsequently "whenever our fiscal situation allows", he said.
He noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech last August that $100 billion or more may be needed over 100 years to protect Singapore against rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Mr Heng said: "This is a major fiscal outlay in the coming years - so it is right and prudent that we set aside resources for this."
Singapore must have the resolve to deal with this existential threat of rising sea levels.
He said: "Just as our pioneers planted the trees for us to enjoy, we must protect our island for future generations to come."
Scientific studies have shown that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are causing greenhouse gases to build up in the atmosphere, trapping heat on the planet.
The warming planet is causing ice sheets to melt and ocean waters to expand, resulting in rising sea levels that could pose a threat to low-lying areas, such as Singapore.
The authorities had earlier said Singapore will be considering a range of options, including engineering feats such as reclamation and building sea walls, as well as nature-based solutions, to protect its people, economy and infrastructure from the rising tides.
But rising sea levels caused by climate change are not the only threat.
Erratic weather patterns caused by climate change or geopolitical tensions could also impact food supplies in the Republic, which imports more than 90 per cent of its food.
More details on Singapore's "grow local" strategy will be given during the debate on the budget for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Heng said.
Mitigating climate change
But even as Singapore continues to look at ways to adapt to the changing climate by protecting its coast and boosting local food production, the Republic is also looking at how it can reduce its carbon footprint.
Singapore contributes 0.11 per cent to global emissions.
On Tuesday, Mr Heng reiterated Singapore's commitment to fighting climate change, saying the nation was doing its part "as a responsible member of the international community".
Singapore has, for example, implemented a carbon tax, and the country will also be finding ways to turn its carbon constraints into strengths, by turning waste into a resource that can be used in the production cycle, he said.
For example, the National Environment Agency will soon begin testing out how Newsand - a construction material made from incineration ash - can be used in building roads along Tanah Merah Coast Road.
Mr Heng also outlined plans to make Singapore's transport sector greener. In 2012, the sector contributed about 15 per cent to Singapore's emissions.
By 2040, Singapore wants to phase out conventional vehicles that run on internal combustion engines in favour of those that run on cleaner energy sources instead.
But dealing with climate change cannot solely be the Government's fight, said Mr Heng.
The Government has put in place policy measures to reduce emissions.
"But to deal with climate change, we have to foster a climate of change in our community - where everyone, whether as an individual, as a business leader or as a community leader, makes conscious decisions to lower our carbon footprint," he said.
Individuals, for one, have the power to choose greener, more energy-efficient household appliances.
To encourage households to do so, the Government will introduce incentives to help lower-income households with the cost of these appliances, said Mr Heng.
At the neighbourhood level, sustainable living will also be incorporated into Housing Board estates under a new HDB Green Towns programme that has three pillars: reducing energy consumption, recycling rainwater and cooling.
Ms Melissa Low, an observer on climate change policy, noted that many of the policies in Mr Heng's Budget speech - such as incentivising people to switch to electric vehicles or buy greener appliances - aimed to empower the individual to make choices that could have an impact on Singapore's carbon emissions.
This is a departure from other recent climate policies, such as the implementation of a carbon tax which targeted large emitters in the industrial sector, as well as national level policies to tackle sea level rise.
Ms Low, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's Energy Studies Institute, noted that this year was an important year for Singapore internationally, as it had to commit to updating the pledge it made under the Paris Agreement five years ago.
She said: "We look forward to hearing more details about the outlined policies, as well as on Singapore's long-term strategy to reduce its emissions, during the debates over the budgets of the various ministries."