Climate change: Existential challenge for Singapore

In Singapore on May 13, the temperature hit 37 degrees Celsius, the highest in four decades.  According to the Meteorological Service, the island is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world, at 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade.  

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Countries throughout the region also experienced extreme heat, raising concerns about the devastating effect and questions on governments’ commitment to fight climate change.  Experts warn that there is more to come.  In the latest YouGov survey conducted in March, around three-quarters of consumers in the Asia Pacific region are worried about climate change causing more natural disasters (74 percent), with around a third saying they are very worried about it.

Singapore is a small city-state that is a strong advocate in the fight against climate change. Despite being one of the smallest countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, the most significant being carbon dioxide, primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas to meet energy needs. 

Being a low-lying small island state, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to climate change effects such as rising sea levels, increased temperatures, and extreme weather events.  Singapore’s coastline has already receded by over 20 meters over the past few decades. 

With sea levels projected to rise by up to one meter by the end of the century, there is a risk of more frequent and severe flooding, with severe consequences for the economy, as it could disrupt key infrastructure such as airports, seaports and power stations, and cause widespread damage to property and homes.

Another impact is the increase in temperature and humidity levels. As it is, Singapore is already one of the warmest and most humid countries in the world.  And with temperatures projected to increase by up to 4°C by the end of the century, Singapore can become too hot to live in, likely to cause a decline in tourism and economic productivity.  People may just find it difficult to work or engage in outdoor activities.

Extreme weather events such as typhoons, heavy rainfall, and droughts have significant socio-economic consequences, such as disrupting transportation networks, causing damage to buildings and infrastructure, and leading to food and water shortages. Singapore’s small size and high population density make it particularly susceptible to the effects of extreme weather events.

As temperatures increase, Singapore’s unique biodiversity and ecosystems could be threatened and lost. Additionally, the country’s green spaces play an essential role in regulating the environmental conditions in urban areas, such as reducing the urban heat island effect, promoting clean air, and reducing the risk of flooding. Climate change could potentially disrupt these ecosystems, leading to the loss of vital urban green spaces.

Be that as it may, the government has recognized the urgency of mitigating the adverse effects of climate change and has been taking action to reduce its carbon footprint and promote sustainable development.

One of the key initiatives is the adoption of a carbon tax in 2019, designed to incentivize businesses to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage the development of innovative technologies and solutions that promote sustainability. The carbon tax has been set at a rate of S$5 per ton of CO2 emitted and is expected to increase to S$10 per ton of CO2 emitted by 2023.

The government has also introduced measures to encourage the use of electric vehicles, such as tax incentives for the purchase of electric cars and the installation of charging infrastructure across the city.

In addition to transportation, Singapore has also taken steps to promote renewable energy. The government has set a target of producing two GW of solar power by 2030, equivalent to about 10 percent of total electricity demand, and incentivized the installation of solar panels, such as the SolarNova program, which encourages the installation of solar panels on public housing rooftops.

Singapore has invested in green buildings an introduced the Green Mark certification scheme for buildings which rates buildings based on their environmental impact. Buildings are evaluated based on factors such as energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and environmental protection measures.

The government is also actively promoting environmental awareness and education, such as various programs to encourage citizens and businesses to adopt sustainable practices, for example the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. The blueprint outlines the vision for a sustainable future and sets out concrete goals for reducing the country’s carbon emissions, improving its environmental protection measures and promoting sustainable development.

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Photo credit: iStock/ allensima

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