SINGAPORE: Climate change is one of the gravest challenges the human race faces and Singapore is already feeling its impact - which is likely to worsen over the next few decades, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 18).
“Climate change may seem abstract and distant for many of us, but it is one of the gravest challenges facing humankind,” said Mr Lee in his National Day Rally speech.
The Earth’s average temperature has increased by 1 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial times over 100 years ago, pointed out Mr Lee.
This is a result of more carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere due to of human activity. The gas builds up, traps heat from the sun, causing the planet to warm up.
“One degree Celsius doesn’t sound like much, but it is very significant,” Mr Lee said. “Furthermore, temperatures are continuing to rise, faster and faster.”
READ: NDR 2019: It could cost S$100 billion or more to protect Singapore against rising sea levels, PM Lee says
Global warming has resulted in the weather becoming more extreme, added Mr Lee, with droughts getting more severe and prolonged. At the other end of the spectrum, rainfall and storms are becoming more intense.
He explained: “Singapore is already feeling the impact. Our weather is palpably hotter. Rainstorms are heavier and this will very likely worsen over the next few decades, within the lifetimes of many of us.”
According to a recent Swiss study, by 2050, several cities in the world will experience “unprecedented” climate shifts, added Mr Lee.
Singapore is one of these cities.
THE GRAVE THREAT OF RISING SEA LEVELS
Rising temperatures are also causing ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to melt – leading to rising sea levels. Singapore is “especially vulnerable” to this given that it is a low-lying island, said Mr Lee.
The United Nations currently projects that sea levels will rise by up to 1m by the end of the century, but scientists’ estimates have been going up, and sea levels may quite possibly rise higher and faster than that, added Mr Lee.
Singapore used to face floods in the 1960s and 1970s, especially during the rainy season but these flooding problems are now “largely resolved”, said Mr Lee.
This is because the drainage system has been improved and buildings were required to be built on higher platforms, at least 3m above mean sea level.
As the water can be as high as 2m above sea level during high tide, this leaves a 1m buffer to cope with weather events like heavy rain.
But with global warming, if sea levels rise by 1m, and when it is high tide, there will be no buffer, said Mr Lee.
He added: “If the heavy rain coincides with a high tide, the water will have nowhere to go. We will be, literally, in deep water.”
READ: NDR 2019: Singapore will be 'principled' in approach to China-US trade dispute; ready to help workers
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
In order to understand what climate change means for Singapore, the Government has set up the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS), said Mr Lee.
“CCRS is cooperating with their counterparts in neighbouring countries to study in more detail how climate change is affecting Southeast Asia,” he explained. “They are finding that Singapore, being near the equator, is more vulnerable to climate change than the global model suggests.”
In order to mitigate climate change, Singapore has and will continue to do its part in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, added PM Lee.
For example, Singapore is part of the Paris Climate Agreement and has committed to slow down as well as cap carbon dioxide emissions by around 2030.
Individual Singaporeans also have a role to play by reducing waste and being sustainable in their daily habits, stressed PM Lee.
“Although Singapore may not be able to stop climate change by ourselves, we can contribute to solutions, and we must do our fair share,” he added.
Singapore will also need to adapt to climate change – localised measures have been put in place to protect individual buildings and developments.
For one, new developments are required to be built at least 4m above mean sea level, and this requirement is even higher for critical infrastructure as Tuas Port and Changi Airport terminal 5, said Mr Lee.
READ: National Day Rally 2019: From retirement age to climate change, here are 9 things you need to know
The building of a second pump house at the Marina Barrage has also been planned, while the options to reclaim a series of islands from Marina East to Changi as well as build polders will be considered.
Ultimately, Singapore should treat climate change defences with “utmost seriousness” said Mr Lee.
“Both the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and climate change defences are existential for us. These are life and death matters,” he stressed. “Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation.
“With the SAF, we hope never to go to war ... But with climate change, we know for sure sea levels will rise. And the only uncertainty is whether they rise a few decades earlier, or a few decades later.”