Climate refugees: How extreme weather is forcing people to move

Singapore feels heat from 'dangerous, human-made shift in climate'

While Singapore has been spared major natural disasters such as the series of typhoons that hit South-east Asia and neighbouring regions over the last three months, it has experienced its share of what life could be like under the effects of climate change.

This year alone, the island has experienced multiple flash floods, most recently on Sept 19, when roads in the Ang Mo Kio area were flooded after a particularly heavy bout of rain. Floods have hit the main shopping belt of Orchard Road, affecting businesses and lapping halfway up the tyres of cars.

At the other extreme, 2016 ranked as the warmest year both globally and in Singapore, where a mean annual temperature of 28.4 deg C was recorded. This was 0.1 degree higher than the previous record set in 1997, 1998 and 2015.

"In the projected worst-case scenario by climate modelling, almost every day between February and May will be a warm day (maximum temperature exceeding 34 deg C) and almost every night between February and September will be a warm night (minimum temperature exceeding 26.2 deg C)," said a spokesman for the Meteorological Service Singapore. "Singapore could also experience its first 40 deg C days sometime between 2045 and 2065.

"In addition to our wetter months (Nov-Jan) becoming wetter, and drier months (Feb, June-Sept) becoming drier, heavy rainfall events potentially leading to flash flooding are likely to become more frequent and intense," the spokesman added.


In Singapore's Climate Action Plan, released in 2016, the National Climate Change Secretariat listed climate impacts that would pose risks to Singapore in the short and long term.

These include rising sea levels; flooding; drought, which will affect water supply; damage to biodiversity, and destruction of buildings and infrastructure by strong winds; increased rainfall and higher temperatures both in the day and at night.

"These extreme weather events are signals of a dangerous, human-made shift in earth's climate as much as they were a natural stretch of bad luck," said Professor Benjamin Horton, Acting Chair of the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University.

Dr Horton added that multiple studies and assessments have found links between changes in global climate, and changes in regional events, such as heavy rainfall, heatwaves and flooding.

"Global climate change is also likely to influence local phenomena, including severe thunderstorms," he added. "The latest climate models concluded with high confidence that with continued warming projected for the rest of this century, Singapore and other countries in South-east Asia will experience more frequent, record-breaking temperatures, just like the extreme weather event of 2016."

The National Climate Change Secretariat in 2016 released a series of measures currently being undertaken to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Some plans now in progress include the building of a fifth Newater plant and two desalination plants, and making essential structures such as power stations as well as transport and telecommunication infrastructure more resistant to local flooding and temperature changes.

Meanwhile, at the individual level, Singaporeans can do their bit by following the "reduce, reuse and recycle" principle at work, school, commuting and at home, experts say.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 04, 2018, with the headline Singapore feels heat from 'dangerous, human-made shift in climate'. Subscribe