SINGAPORE IS RIGHT: CLIMATE CHANGE IS A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE

27 August, 2019

To treat climate change as an issue of national security may seem drastic – but it may be the right approach. Climate change is an existential threat, and countries need long-term planning, forward-thinking and significant financing to adequately address one of humankind’s “gravest” challenges.

Those sentiments echo Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally 2019 speech, where he outlined the need to “understand, mitigate and adapt” to climate change to ensure the future security and resiliency of Singapore. A large portion of his major policy address was devoted to how the low lying city-state will adapt to climate change, mainly through investing in climate-resilient infrastructure. 

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that sea levels will rise by 1 meter by 2100 due to the accelerating rate of melting ice sheets. By 2050, Singapore would be one of the many cities experiencing unprecedented climate shifts, including a much hotter climate and distinctly heavier rainstorms.

Jurong Island and the stretch of land between East Coast and the city center of Singapore are among the most vulnerable, with many residential, commercial and industrial properties dotted along the coastline. Without proper resilience planning, unabated climate change could lead to heat and water related hazards that could damage threaten Singapore’s economy and Singaporeans’ way of life. 

The Singapore government has already put in place infrastructure to future proof certain areas like requiring new developments to be built 4 meters above sea level, up from the previous 3 meters, and critical infrastructure, like Changi Airport’s new Terminal 5 and the Tuas Port, to be built 5 meters above sea level. But what else can Singapore do to put a concrete climate change adaptation plan in place?

Learning from other vulnerable cities

Singapore can look to other cities for inspiration. Improving a city’s resilience is not only about safeguarding against a rising sea level. It’s also about ensuring that the urban environment remains livable. The City of New York (NYC) government is working on a massive project where safeguarding public services is part of city-wide flood protection.

The East Side Coastal Resiliency project is the first step to realizing the vision of a resilient New York City post-hurricane Sandy. Together with other partners, Arcadis developed feasibility and conceptual design reports to provide flood protection and social infrastructure for the 200,000 residents and 21,000 business in the area. A range of our multifunctional resiliency solutions, integrated with neighbourhood and community amenities, is helping to improve NYC’s parks and recreational spaces.

Alongside its most critical public infrastructure like transport, tunnels, water and electricity, the city is also incorporating resilience planning for other public assets. Businesses are also encouraged to invest in protecting their premises and production process to ensure business continuity.

In Singapore, PM Lee stated that the estimated price tag for climate change adaptation could be at least S$100 billion over the next 50 to 100 years. This is primarily for large-scale engineering works to build up defenses against rising sea levels. Like in NYC, where some parts are a mere 1.5 meters above sea level, about 30 percent of Singapore lie less than 5 meters above sea level.

Similarly, in the Netherlands, a quarter of land lies below sea level, making it extremely flood-prone. Both the Dutch and the New Yorkers are taking proactive, holistic approaches to water-related resilience planning, which should involve not only solid flood protection and drainage systems, but also multifunctional flood protection solutions such as seawalls, dams, pumps, barriers, polders and dykes.

Multifunctional solutions are essential; investing in flood resilience pays off

Polder development and land reclamation are prime examples of multifunctional resilience solutions. Polders have been long adopted to safeguard Dutch cities against flooding. Arcadis has been involved in Dutch polder development and land reclamation experience for flood protection in large parts of Netherlands since 1888.

Our experience has revealed that while it can be an expensive solution, there are ways to produce cost-effective and sustainable solutions to minimize impact on ecosystems. Through extensive ecological mitigation measures, coastal engineering, flood defense, and life cycle cost expertise, the outcomes and benefits of these large-scale engineering developments are long-term, while mitigating the negative impacts on the environment.

Involve communities and citizens

Communication with all concerned parties is an important component of urban resilience. The use of social media and other digital developments can foster community participation, encourage reflexive learning, and can help steer projects towards the most appropriate solutions. Raising awareness among citizens is essential for improving community resilience and increasing preparedness.

All public and private stakeholders within cities should therefore be prepared to interact and share knowledge between themselves and their local communities. Because resilience planning requires redundancies in combination with large and small-scale measures, the alignment of decision makers and community leaders at all levels can help accelerate implementation.

As Singapore’s Prime Minister has put it, climate change plans, and indeed all resilience planning, must be implemented progressively, flexibly, and with a firm commitment. To quote him: “We should treat climate change defenses like we treat the SAF [Singapore Armed Force] – with utmost seriousness. Work steadily at it, maintain a stable budget year after year, keep your eye on the target, and do it over many years and several generations.”

Government officials, business leaders, investors and asset owners all over the world should also think about climate change adaptation in the same way and place resilience at the heart of any planning process.

And although the conversation is often times framed within the context of disaster or distress, resilience can in fact provide an overwhelmingly positive opportunity. By embracing a resilient approach, governments can drastically improve the quality of life for citizens, while businesses can also improve not only their bottom lines, but also the lives of those in the communities around them.

 Read more about The Business Case for Resilience Report here. https://www.arcadis.com/en/asia/our-perspectives/the-business-case-for-resilience/







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Richard Warburton

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