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Engineering solutions to tackle rising sea levels important but more research vital: Experts

Engineering solutions to tackle rising sea levels important but more research vital: Experts

As a low-lying island, Singapore is especially vulnerable to the "grave threat" of rising sea levels, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has warned. (File photo: AFP/Roslan RAHMAN)

SINGAPORE: Experts on Monday (Aug 19) welcomed the possibility of implementing engineering solutions such as land reclamation to tackle rising sea levels but stressed the need for more research into the impact of climate change. 

This follows Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 18), during which he highlighted that Singapore is susceptible to the effects of climate change and vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

As part of strengthening the Republic's coastal defences, Mr Lee explained that one solution could be a reclamation method known as empoldering.

Polders are created by first building a seawall in the water, before pumping out the water behind the seawall to create dry land. This land can be lower than the sea level, but water has to be continually pumped out.

Another alternative would be to reclaim a series of islands offshore, from Marina East to Changi, said Mr Lee. In addition, there are also plans to build a second pump house at Marina Barrage, he added.

Speaking to CNA, Associate Professor Adam Switzer of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) said that "carefully engineered reclamations and flood defences including polders" could be the "best option" for Singapore.

"Land reclamation has a long history in Singapore and no doubt more reclamations will be needed in the future as Singapore grows," said Dr Switzer.  

"Future reclamations need to be carefully planned and based on the upper bounds of projections for future sea levels and careful evaluation of the ecological impacts to our vulnerable coasts."

In his speech, Mr Lee had cited the example of the Netherlands using polders. Professor Benjamin Horton, a leading expert on climate change and rising sea levels, said that the European nation has set a positive example on how it tackles climate change.

READ: Climate change one of the 'gravest challenges facing mankind', impact on Singapore to worsen, says PM Lee

He said: "The PM specifically cited the Netherlands as an example country in dealing with the threat of sea level rise. The Dutch do not view climate change as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to make the country more resilient, more attractive and economically stronger.

"Sea level rise adaptation is a window of opportunity to upgrade infrastructure, increase biodiversity and more meaningfully engage citizens in city life.  I agree with PM that this is the mindset Singaporeans should follow."

There are also other risks that rising sea levels could bring about, Singapore University of Technology and Design's Assistant Professor Lynette Cheah told CNA.

These include the threat of water scarcity in the region and as well as possible disruption to food supplies. 

"Much of the low-lying deltas in South and Southeast Asia that produce most of the world’s rice supply are vulnerable to rising sea levels," explained Prof Cheah.

"The impacts of global warming on food production and food security in Asia will likely lead to a decline in crop yield and productivity. Building resilience to these potential impacts would also be important."


The Centre for Climate Research Singapore's (CCRS) National Sea Level Programme was set up earlier this year to better study how a rise in sea levels could impact Singapore.

But experts pointed out that there remain other research areas which need to be further addressed.

Dr Switzer said rising sea levels are "not the only impact of climate change we face".

"We will likely need parallel programs with groups like CCRS to examine the impacts on our local ecosystems like coral reefs, our human health and our local and regional food resources," he added.

"The recently announced National Sea Level Research Programme is a great new step but it also clear that assessing climate change impacts is also a key new research need in Singapore."

It will also be "important" to have interdisciplinary research that includes social science and humanities, said Associate Professor Winston Chow of the Singapore Management University (SMU).

This will tackle questions such as what natural landscapes in Singapore will be affected by sea levels rising or the building of polders, as well as identifying the important places that should be valued in terms of economic value and cultural heritage, he said.

"In other words, interdisciplinary research giving us not only the raw numbers of sea level rise, but also the benefits of telling us what’s at stake and what can be done to protect and minimise the losses from sea level rise would be critical for future policy," said Prof Chow.

READ: It could cost S$100 billion or more to protect Singapore against rising sea levels, PM Lee says

Ultimately, Singapore will need a "robust" and "accurate" local projection of sea level rise, said Prof Horton, who is also from NTU's EOS.

He said: "Singapore must invest in the science of sea level rise before it spends up to S$100 billion on adaptation measures. 

"Science first, (and then) responsible, cost-effective adaptation follows."


In a Facebook post on Monday, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam described climate change as "the gravest threat to humanity", and that it would "progressively impact" people in Singapore and the region.

He focused attention on tackling CO2 emissions, and said that there needs to be "significant changes" in lifestyles and Singapore's economy in the years to come.

He said: "To begin with, recycling must become a way of life, like it has become in Japan for example. It wasn’t always that way in Japan, which shows how much can be achieved.

"Many Singaporeans have ideas on what needs to be done, and the younger generation especially is taking the initiative. With innovation, changed habits and a restructured economy over time, we can tackle CO2 emissions without lowering Singaporeans’ standards of living."

Source: CNA/mt(mi)


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