Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Inaugural Our Coastal Conversation, on 15 October 2022
1 Good morning. Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and I warmly welcome all of you to the launch of “Our Coastal Conversation” series. Thank you for joining our dialogue today. This marks the start of exciting conversations with our community on coastal protection and flood resilience.
Climate Crisis and Its Global Effects
2 We are living in an increasingly uncertain and disrupted world, as evidenced by recent global health issues and geopolitical events. The COVID-19 pandemic brought countries to a standstill. As our economies recover and reopen, pent up consumer demand has driven prices upwards, leading to inflation. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has disrupted global supplies of essential items such as grain, oil, and gas, resulting in higher energy and food prices. Some countries have reacted by imposing restrictions on food items. Indonesia’s palm oil export ban, India’s wheat and sugar export bans, and Malaysia’s chicken export ban are some recent examples.
Forward Singapore (Steward Pillar): Working Together for a Green, Liveable and Climate-Resilient Singapore
3 What can we do about such extreme weather events? One can feel over-whelmed by the destructive forces that nature can unleash upon us. But I do not, for one moment, think that we are helpless bystanders in climate change. We, humanity, are the cause of the change. And we must individually and collectively take climate action and find the solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
4 Climate Action requires change. It involves trade-offs. Some trade-offs will be difficult.
• Can we, as individuals, reduce our personal carbon footprint?
• Can we use less of Earth’s resources, recycle more, and generate less waste to protect our common environment?
• Can we use more public transportation?
• Would we pay more for energy, water, and food security so that we are able to withstand future supply shocks better?
These are just some of the questions that we must ask ourselves, to chart our new way forward together and ensure a liveable and climate-resilient future for Singapore.
5 We are all stewards of our environment and our planet. Together, we must take action towards climate resiliency now. We must keep our people safe in the face of the threats from more intense rainfall and the rising seas. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that this country that we call home can continue to survive and thrive for decades to come for our children and grandchildren.
Singapore’s Adaptation to Sea Level Rise & More Intense Rainfall
6 We have been investing in flood protection. Some of you may remember that Singapore suffered from frequent flooding in the early years of Singapore’s independence. I do, as I have experienced frequent flooding incidents during my childhood in Bukit Timah. Over the last few decades, we made significant investments to improve our drainage infrastructure. We have greatly reduced the flood-prone areas from 3,200 hectares in 1970s to 28 hectares today. Back in those days, we often experienced flooding in the CBD, including Boat Quay. We have vastly improved the flood protection in these areas by building the Marina Barrage.
7 Climate change brings a new and long-term challenge for low-lying Singapore – sea level rise and more intense rainfall. Projections by the Centre for Climate Change Research Singapore show that mean sea levels could rise by up to one metre by 2100. This means that we are at risk of experiencing flooding in more areas within Singapore if no actions are taken. In fact, sea levels could transiently be as high as four to five metres when coupled with extreme high tides and storm surges – this is high enough to potentially flood one-third of Singapore.
8 We have also seen more intense rainfall events in recent years. In April and August last year, more than an entire month’s rainfall fell on the western parts of Singapore within three to four hours. We must therefore prepare for extreme weather events. With over 300 kilometers of coastlines to protect, we have to start our adaptation measures now.
Trade-offs in Coastal Protection and Flood Resilience
9 PUB, our Coastal Protection Agency, has commenced site-specific studies for different parts of our coastlines. The first being our familiar City-East Coast. This stretch of the coastline houses many cherished and important places like East Coast Park, the Changi Airport, the ECP expressway, our homes, and our CBD. As a small island-state, we need to find effective solutions for the impacts that climate change poses. We should consider several trade-offs in developing our plan:
a) Trade-off in spending - Coastal protection and drainage measures are major infrastructural investments. How much are we prepared to spend, when there are other funding needs such as for healthcare and education? Do we need a foolproof solution or are we prepared to take some risks with a cost-effective solution? An example is how we have built the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System, or DTSS, a significant infrastructure that not only treats wastewater but recycles our used water for water security. It costs us billions to build but it gives us peace of mind about availability of water and avoids polluting our environment and the ocean around us.
b) Trade-off across generations - And such significant investments and long-term efforts will span decades. How much do we start spending now? Do we start investing in coastal protection now when the impact of sea level rise is not yet felt, or do we take a greater risk and leave the problem to later?
c) Trade-off in land use – With a mere 730km2 of precious land area, and multiple competing land use needs, do we expand our drains and canals to accommodate every extreme weather event, or do we find common uses for our infrastructure? The Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park is an example of how we transformed a concrete canal into a naturalised river. It is designed to be a recreational space for park-goers during dry weather, with the public acceptance and readiness to vacate the spaces quickly when heavy rain falls. Can we find similar innovative uses for our coastal protection infrastructure?
Reimagining our coastlines
10 With every crisis lies great opportunity. As we look to fortify our coastlines against rising sea level, this is also an opportunity for us to reimagine the way we design our coastal areas to create a more liveable space for all. Take seawalls for example. They can be simple, functional structures with the main aim of keeping the sea at bay. But what if we were to build something on top of it, or to integrate the wall with nature elements, or perhaps create new recreational amenities that can be enjoyed by our people? The Marina Barrage, with its three-in-one functionality, is a perfect example of how our ingenuity can translate into robust infrastructure with recreational offerings. The Barrage provides a source of water supply, flood control and even a venue for recreation – a popular spot for families to have picnics, fly kites and spend quality time together.
11 The work of coastal protection is significant. Investment will be large, and decisions made today will have long-lasting implications. It will change our coastal areas for good. It is therefore important for the Government to involve the people, the community, businesses, and all stakeholders throughout the process of planning and implementation. Your active and sustained participation is important for the success of this project. Our participants today come from diverse backgrounds– corporates, community groups and schools – and will bring different perspectives to the discussion. We need to develop a better understanding of all the considerations and trade-offs in all aspects of the project – engineering, finance, social and environmental. We must get the hardware and software, along with the “heart-ware”, right. Our nation and our people must come out better with this plan to adapt and tackle climate change. The investments we make today – public funds, our time, our resources - may not bring immediate benefits, but will enable us to leave behind a better Singapore for the generations that will come after us, just as previous generations have done for us. We must build on our past achievements, strive to overcome our present limitations, and pioneer new solutions for a more sustainable future. I look forward to a rich and engaging discussion today. Thank you.