Sea levels may rise: But Singapore's okay

The ozone hole is closing, but this could cause Antartica to become warmer due to weekened polar winds. This may lead to sea ice melting and sea levels rising. TEH JEN LEE reports

Teh Jen Lee, The New Paper 17 Sep 08;

THE Greenland ice sheet may be thousands of miles away, but the rate at which it's melting was a point of concern in Parliament yesterday.

Also in question was how much rise in sea level will Singapore experience as a result of global warming.

MP Lam Pin Min (Ang Mo Kio GRC) got the ball rolling by asking about the measures to protect Singapore's coastline and avoid major catastrophes in view of rising sea levels.

MP Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) then raised the question of whether the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources had assessed recent findings that the Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than expected and what impact this would have here.

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim answered both MPs by first stating that the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected last year that climate change could lead to sea level rises of between 18cm and 59cm by the year 2100.

This does not factor in the rapid melting of Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets, as the understanding of these effects is too limited.

Scientists are now working to better understand and project the rate at which the ice sheets may melt, as well as the resulting effects.

Mr Yaacob said: 'As a relatively low-lying, densely populated island in the tropics, Singapore is vulnerable to climate change effects like sea level rises, which can lead to inland flooding.

'However, as a result of our environmental and developmental planning in the past, we already have existing measures in place that significantly reduce our exposure to the risks.'

More than 1m allowance

Since 1991, all new reclamation projects have to be built to a level 125cm above the highest recorded tide level.

This is 66cm more than the IPCC's projected highest sea level rise of 59cm by the end of the 21stcentury in the worst-case scenario.

He said: 'Singapore is, as such, well prepared for any further increases in sea level arising from climate change within the range of over one metre.'

Fewer flood-prone areas

Singapore's development of drainage infrastructure over the last 30 years has reduced flood-prone areas from 3,200 ha in the '70s to 98ha today.

PUB will reduce it to less than 48 ha by 2011 through the development and improvement of drainage infrastructure, such as the widening and deepening of drains and canals.

While the objective of this is to reduce the flood-prone areas and alleviate flooding today, a better drainage system helps to reduce the possibility of upstream flooding when heavy rain coincides with high tide or sea level rise.

Better flood alleviation

The completion of the Marina Barrage project has also enhanced Singapore's flood-alleviation capabilities.

In addition, the National Environment Agency, in consultation with other government agencies, commissioned a two-year study last year to understand the specific implications of climate change in Singapore, based on the IPCC studies.

These include sea level and temperature changes, flooding and coastal erosion. The study is expected to be completed next year.

Mr Yaacob said: 'It will help us better understand how Singapore will be affected and what needs to be done to protect Singapore and ensure that we are able to adapt to these impacts.

'We also continue to monitor closely the developments in scientific understanding of the melting of ice sheets and its impact.

'Our study will give us modelling capability to factor in any new scientific findings to assess the localised effects on Singapore. This information will help in reviewing the adequacy of existing adaptation measures and whether further enhancements are needed.'