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Protecting Singapore from climate change effects can cost over S$100 billion, says PM Lee

The PM said that building on land reclaimed from the sea was a "serious option" for the country's future

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Highlighted during PM Lee’s August 18 English National Day Rally speech, is Singapore’s susceptibility to the adverse consequences of climate change and its extreme vulnerability to rising sea levels.

According to the prime minister, climate change issues must be dealt with utmost seriousness, just like the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

The prime minister sees the necessity of working “steadily at it, maintain a stable budget year after year, keep your eye on the target and do it over many years and for several generations.”

He said that the “50 to 100-year problem” of rising sea levels could cost Singapore over S$100 billion.

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“How much will it cost, to protect ourselves against rising sea levels? My guess is probably S$100 billion over 100 years, quite possibly more,” said Mr Lee.

“If we only have 10 years to solve the problem, we won’t have have the time or resources to do it. But because this is a 50 to 100-year problem, we can implement a 50 to 100-year solution.”

The prime minister made it very clear that while Singapore has carried out local interventions to safeguard individual buildings and developments – there is a requirement for new developments to be built at least 4m above sea level, and this requirement is even higher for critical infrastructure – solutions which are not sufficient according to the PM Lee.

“We have many older buildings. These cannot be lifted up, or transported to higher ground,” explained Mr Lee. “In fact, large parts of Singapore are low-lying, and we need to protect these low-lying areas as a whole.” As such, coastal defences need to be built, said Mr Lee.

“We have studied our whole coastline in detail, and we’ve divided it into different segments,” he said.

There will be priority work for more “critical” areas like the City-East Coast and Jurong Island segments.

“We built the Marina Reservoir and Marina Barrage, to protect the city area from flooding,” added Mr Lee. He said that when it rains heavily during high tide, the pumps take water out of Marina Reservoir and deliver it into the sea, so that rain falling in the city area can drain into the reservoir. “When sea levels rise, one pump house will not be enough,” Mr Lee pointed out.

Other solutions are required for the eastern coastline of Singapore, Mr Lee pointed out.

Showcase from overseas

One option – carried out by the Netherlands – is the construction of what the Dutch call “polders”, which is land that is reclaimed from the sea. This is a “serious option” for the Republic, Mr Lee said.

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 sea level, but water has to continually pumped out.

A small polder is currently being built at Pulau Tekong, to gain some “experience” operating one. The new land will be used for SAF training. Another alternative is to reclaim a series of islands offshore, from Marina East to Changi, said Mr Lee. They can be connected by barrages, and a freshwater reservoir similar to Marina Reservoir could be created, he explained.

“We will examine all the options carefully, and when the time comes, we will decide what is the best way to do it,” said Mr Lee.  “This problem has good engineering solutions, although they will all cost money.”

What matters is that Singapore’s climate change plans must be implemented “progressively” and kept “flexible”, Mr Lee stressed.

“But we must start now and sustain the effort, as the Dutch have done over centuries, and as we have done with the SAF,” he said.  “We must make this effort. Otherwise one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do.” -/TISG

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