xtreme weather events are gaining in intensity and frequency. During the busy Atlantic hurricane season in 2017, there were an unprecedented nine hurricanes in a row, bringing death, destruction and utter misery in the Caribbean and Florida, while in southern Europe a blistering heatwave dubbed ‘Lucifer’ sent temperatures soaring above 40 degrees C, fanning forest fires, triggering weather warning alerts and damaging crops.
Scientists predict such extreme storms will be the new normal of a warming world. A warmer climate turbocharges the intensity of hurricanes, which pick up energy as they move across the ocean.
While Singapore is spared the worst from extreme weather, it is experiencing rising temperatures, extended dry spells as well as more intense rainfalls and flash floods. According to the National Climate Change Secretariat, between 1972 and 2014, Singapore’s annual mean temperature edged up 1.1 degrees C to 27.7 degrees C in 2014, while its annual average rainfall increased 535 millimetres in 34 years to 2,727 millimetres in 2014.
Being a low-lying island, climate change also poses an existential threat to Singapore. The rising sea level is the most immediate threat as much of Singapore lies only 15 metres above the mean sea level, with about 30 per cent less than 5 metres above the mean sea level.
An increase in the intensity of weather variability also presents significant challenges to the management of water resources. Periods of drought can affect the reliability of water supply, while intense rainfall can overwhelm the drainage system and lead to flash floods.
Singapore has joined the global effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the planet. Its aim is to curb greenhouse gas emissions to 65 million tonnes by around 2030 from 46.83 million tonnes in 2010. It has also pledged to become greener economically by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product by 36 per cent.
Carbon Tax for Large Direct Emitters
Singapore’s latest initiative is the implementation of a carbon tax on large direct emitters of greenhouse gases. Slated for 2019, it will affect between 30 and 40 emitters, including oil refineries and power stations.
In making the announcement, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said, “Introducing a carbon tax is the economically efficient way of reducing greenhouse gases. A carbon tax places a price signal to incentivise emitters to lower emissions.
“Singapore will join dozens of other countries in pricing carbon to address climate change. Many jurisdictions that have put a price on carbon, such as Sweden, are reducing their emissions while maintaining economic growth, promoting green growth and reaping environmental benefits.”
Zero Growth for Cars and Motorcycles
Singapore has also decided to cap its vehicle population, as vehicles are one of the biggest contributors to pollution. From February 2018, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has cut the permissible car and motorcycle growth rate to 0 per cent from the previous 0.25 per cent per annum.
“In view of land constraints and competing needs, there is limited scope for further expansion of the road network,” the LTA said. Currently, 12 per cent of Singapore’s total land area is taken up by roads, almost the same as housing.
The decision is the latest of a 15-year plan to reduce Singapore’s reliance on cars and move towards public transport. Singapore has ramped up its rail network and added new routes and capacity in its bus network. The government will invest S$20 billion in new rail infrastructure, S$4 billion to renew, upgrade and expand rail operating assets, and another S$4 billion in bus contracting subsidies over the next five years.
In spite of the stringent measures to control vehicle expansion, Singapore’s vehicle population has risen nearly 40 per cent since 2000 to about 5.6 million.
The LTA will keep the growth rate for goods vehicles and buses at 0.25 per cent until the first quarter of 2021.
Taking Preventive Measures
As the rise in sea level is a certainty, Singapore is taking preventive measures to forestall possible negative effects. As the Singapore Second National Climate Change Study projected that the mean sea level would edge up by about 1 metre by 2100, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry (MEWR) in 2011 raised the minimum levels for land reclamation by at least one metre.
Selected roads, such as Changi Coast Road and Nicoll Drive, have also been raised to reduce the impact of flooding. To mitigate coastal erosion, seawalls and rock slopes near the coasts have also been installed.
“Given that climate science and projections are still evolving, the government will continue to review our adaptation plans,” the MEWR spokesman told The Straits Times.
For one thing, the Building and Construction Authority is conducting a Coastal Adaptation Study, which will provide long-term recommendations on how to better protect our coastal areas.