SINGAPORE: In light of the global existential issue of climate change, the Ministry for Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) wants to embed in Singapore’s DNA the instinct to care for the environment, like our national consciousness for conserving water, said Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (Mar 6).
“This will ensure that Singapore remains the best liveable city for our children. And the best choice for companies to base their businesses here because we have successful climate action policy and also active citizenry,” he added.
Said Mr Masagos: “Singapore is vulnerable, from rising sea levels to increasing rainfall intensities to longer dry spells ... We need to take climate action now, for the sake of our next generation. If the previous generation left us a clean and green city, we must make our legacy a sustainable city, as we pass on this treasured and precious land to our children.”
As an example of climate change’s impact on Singapore, he pointed to how 2018 started with a "January Singapore winter" and intense rainfall, recalling: “On 8th January, half the month’s average rainfall fell over four hours in Singapore but little rain fell over Linggiu. In February, high tides caused temporary flooding even without rain. With rising sea levels, we could experience more of such phenomena.”
Singapore adopts a whole-of-Government approach through the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, with support from the the National Climate Change Secretariat.
A Public Sector Sustainability Plan was launched last year, but Mr Masagos warned that “the Government however cannot deal with climate change alone”.
“Everyone needs to join forces to reduce our carbon footprint. This is why Singapore designated 2018 as our Year of Climate Action,” he said.
ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
To cope with climate change, Singapore has and will continue to invest “billions of dollars” in infrastructure such as raising coastal roads, enhancing stormwater systems and diversifying water supply, said Mr Masagos, adding that “all these will take time and hence we have started early”.
Aside from wide-ranging efforts to look after Singapore's water supply and conservation, mitigation for flash floods must also be factored in.
“PUB (Public Utilities Board) has set higher drainage standards since 2011 - up to 45 per cent capacity increase - but our drains cannot be built to accommodate every extreme rainfall event,” Mr Masagos explained. “This would entail massive land take and much higher costs.”
Continuous drainage improvement works at Stamford Diversion Canal, Stamford Detention Tank and Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal will be completed in 2018, and work will commence at another 22 locations this year, adding to existing works at 73 locations.
“As flash floods cannot be completely eliminated, we will help members of the public better cope by providing timely situation updates, including SMS alerts about water levels. Those who wish to receive alerts from more than one water level (sensor) can write in to PUB,” said Mr Masagos.
To safeguard against rising sea levels, over 70 per cent of Singapore’s coastline is protected by hard walls or stone embankments.
“We raised minimum reclamation levels by one metre in 2011, to at least four metres above mean sea level,” Mr Masagos stated. “We will build Changi Airport Terminal 5 at 5.5 metres above mean sea level. To address Singapore’s long-term protection needs, the Building and Construction Authority is conducting a Coastal Adaptation Study to recommend a national framework.”
Pest problems could also escalate with climate change. Mr Masagos noted that while the number of dengue cases in 2017 was five times lower than in 2016, there was a “significant” increase in mosquitoes caught.
“We cannot become complacent,” he said. “Climate change may worsen the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and Chikungunya. We are studying how male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes mosquitoes can be used to suppress the mosquito population. We will conduct further studies this year to strengthen our planning for an eventual suppression trial.”
And in terms of everyday habits, Singaporeans can do their part by disposing food waste properly at home and returning trays in hawker centres, to prevent attracting rodents and houseflies.
MITIGATING CLIMATE CHANGE
Mr Masagos also talked about reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Singapore enhanced the Energy Conservation Act last year, to use more solar energy and build more “green” buildings.
“Good” transport policy also has an impact on climate change, said Mr Masagos as he referred to the “car-lite” initiatives.
“By 2030, eight in 10 households will live within 10 minutes of a train station. We have frozen the growth of our car population starting last month. All this will reduce our fossil fuel use and carbon footprint,” he declared.
The Vehicular Emissions Scheme announced last year will promote cleaner new vehicles, on top of enforcement against smoky foreign vehicles at checkpoints. “My Ministry is reviewing how to reduce vehicular pollution from older, more polluting vehicles. We will announce our recommendations in due course,” said Mr Masagos.
He then spoke about how the carbon tax will encourage companies to evaluate opportunities to switch to more energy efficient technologies and more sustainable processes.
Said Mr Masagos: “An NEA (National Environment Agency) poll showed that close to 70 per cent of the public was supportive of a carbon tax.”
“We aim to strike a balance between providing sufficient incentive for companies and Singaporeans to reduce their carbon emissions, and giving them enough time to adjust. Our carbon tax will be applied uniformly without exemptions.”
“We will introduce a fixed-price credits-based system where companies will purchase and surrender credits to pay the carbon tax,” he explained. This will allow the Government and companies to build capability to operate in a linked market with other carbon pricing jurisdictions.
“Organisations and companies have begun leading change,” said Mr Masagos. “The World Bank will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects from 2019. I’m happy that ExxonMobil, a major investor here and a leader in energy efficiency, and one of the companies affected by our carbon tax, has recently pledged to take climate action on MEWR’s webpage.”
“Many firms, including many of our SMEs, have made their climate action pledges on MEWR’s webpage. I’m glad we are taking this journey together.”
JOINING THE GLOBAL FIGHT
Mr Masagos reiterated Singapore’s strong support for the United Nations’ stance on climate change, announcing he will lead a delegation there in July to undertake Singapore’s first Voluntary Review of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Singapore will also convene a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Action on 10 July 2018, in conjunction with the Singapore International Water Week – CleanEnviro Summit Singapore – World Cities summit joint event.
“We will continue to plug ourselves into the global movement on climate change, and work with partners to shape the international agenda,” Mr Masagos declared.
“As the saying goes, ‘If we are not at the table, we will be on the menu’. To get a seat at the table, we must be credible. This means that Singapore must fulfil our international obligations and show leadership on climate action.”