How Singapore is responding to the threat of rising sea levels

Water, an essential part of life, could bring disaster for many within this century and beyond. For some, it already has.

Loss of land. Saltwater contamination of fertile lands and freshwater reservoirs. Unpredictable weather patterns.

Food shortage. Water shortage.

These are just some of the potential impact coastal countries will experience as a result of climate change.

In some areas, this has already happened.

Professor Adam Switzer, who is associate chair at the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University, has this to say: "We’ve got to move past getting a consensus that the world is warming. That consensus is done."

The numbers show evidence of global warming. Sea levels have been rising by 3.4mm a year since 1993. Over the past 20 years, sea levels had risen by 6 to 8cm. According to the worst possible projection, sea levels could rise by more than 6m by the year 2500.


One concern for climate scientists in the Asean region and around the world is that the poorest communities will experience the worst of climate change.

"Climate change is having its largest impact on the poorest communities," said Prof Switzer.

Scroll on for some of these examples around the South-east Asia and Pacific regions.

, Associate Chair at the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University and Principal Investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore

Sea level rise is not like filling up a sink - it happens at different rates all over the world. This map of the world shows areas where sea levels are rising more than others, represented by red, orange and yellow.

Based on this observation data from Nasa, the large red strip in the Pacific Ocean is caused by winds and ocean currents piling up warm water in the area and is further exacerbated by El Niño.

In the South-east Asia and Pacific Ocean region, there have already been casualties as a result of locally occuring factors combined with relative sea level rise.

In the Solomon Islands, five islands have disappeared according to an Australian climate study published in May 2016.

A Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok is now completely surrounded by water - visual evidence of the coastline disappearing at a rate of about 5m a year. This is mainly due to land subsidence, or sinking land, combined with relative sea level rise.

Cua dai beach in the central town of Hoi An, a Unesco heritage site, has experienced rapid erosion over the last 20 years. It was reported by The Straits Times in July 2015, that six resorts in the area were on the brink of collapse, while two recently completed resorts never opened because of the erosion.

These are just some examples of how rising sea levels are combining with locally occurring environmental factors, such as sinking lands and coastal erosion, to create a real impact on the lives of the people who call these areas home.

For many of these places, they either retreat or defend their shorelines. In the coming climate battle, Singapore has only one option: stand and defend.

Building Singapore’s defences

The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), created under the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010, has been addressing the challenges and opportunities of climate change in Singapore.

How Singapore is mitigating the impact of climate change

The impact of climate change can be minimised if the international community works together to stop greenhouse gas concentration levels from increasing.

The charts below show the four possible sea level rise projections based on the four climate futures used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for its projections.

They use four projections to estimate low to high risk, based on the rate at which greenhouse gas concentration levels rise and fall over the coming century.

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On the home front, the Government is taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency.

Singapore has already taken early action, such as switching from fuel oil to natural gas. Among all fossil fuels, natural gas produces the least amount of carbon emissions per unit of electricity. Natural gas currently accounts for around 95 per cent of Singapore’s electricity fuel mix.

This is part of an effort to meet previous commitments the Government had made in 2009 and 2015. In 2009, Singapore pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16 per cent from business-as-usual levels in 2020. In 2015, Singapore made a further commitment to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and stabilise emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030.


The Government’s 2016 Climate Action Plan document sets out four strategies to achieve Singapore’s 2030 target:
1. Improving energy efficiency;
2. Reducing carbon emissions from power generation;
3. Developing and deploying cutting-edge low carbon technologies;
4. Encouraging collective action among government agencies, individuals, businesses and the community.

For example, the Government has outlined plans to step up the installation of solar panels, including on the rooftops of HDB housing. Various test-bedding projects are also underway such as the  installation of floating solar panels at Tengeh Reservoir.

To further enhance Singapore’s efforts to reduce emissions, the Government recently announced plans to introduce a carbon tax from 2019.

Singapore also hopes to promote the use of public transport, encourage walking and cycling, and continue efforts to increase energy efficiency for industry, households and buildings.

HDB called for a tender in October  2016 for solar panels to be installed at 636 HDB blocks and 31 government sites island-wide.
HDB called for a tender in October 2016 for solar panels to be installed at 636 HDB blocks and 31 government sites island-wide. PHOTO: HDB
PM Lee (front centre) taking a ride on the 4km-long cycling path that loops around Ang Mo Kio. PHOTO: ST FILE
PM Lee (front centre) taking a ride on the 4km-long cycling path that loops around Ang Mo Kio. PHOTO: ST FILE

How Singapore is adapting to climate change

Even in the best case scenario, sea levels are still going to rise.

Hence, the Government has introduced measures to adapt to climate change. Scroll on for some examples.

Singapore is adequately protected from coastal floods for the immediate future
Building & Construction Authority (BCA) spokesman

Singapore is a low-lying island. Much of the land is below 15m above sea level and around 30 per cent is below 5m.

Singapore has reclaimed 137.6 sq km of land since 1960. PUB, Singapore's National Water Agency, raised the minimum land reclamation height from 3m to 4m in 2011 as a requirement under their "Code of Practice on Surface Water Drainage".

PUB, the national water agency, announced a study in January 2016 to find ways to protect Singapore’s estuarine reservoirs which may be threatened by salt water contamination as a result of rising seas.

About 70 to 80 per cent of Singapore’s coastline is also protected by hard seawalls and stone embankments that can be reinforced if necessary. These structures offer protection from erosion as well as rising sea levels.

The 1km stretch of Nicoll Drive, which hugs the shoreline near Changi Beach, was raised by 0.8m in 2016. This just clears the Singapore Government’s 0.76m sea level rise projection by 2100.

What else Singapore is doing

To cope with the impact of climate change, Singapore is also looking at these measures:

  • Implementing a food diversification strategy to strengthen food supply resilience, as over 90 per cent of Singapore's food supply is imported
  • Studying measures to ensure the infrastructure is resilient to climate change
  • Better monitoring of vector-borne diseases to minimise outbreaks
  • Addressing flood risks by improving the drainage system
  • Replacing storm vulnerable tree species with those that are more resilient to stronger winds and frequent heavy rains
  • Safeguarding Singapore’s biodiversity by increasing ecological connectivity between green spaces
  • Conducting specialised research through the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) to improve understanding and expertise in climate science

What causes sea levels to rise?

Thermal expansion, which means warmer ocean temperatures, and melting ice, excluding Antarctic glaciers, are the main causes of sea level rise, according to Nasa’s climate scientists.

For Singapore, the rate at which Antarctic ice sheets are melting has raised concerns among climate scientists here. Prof Switzer said the Earth Observatory of Singapore will conduct a study in this area within the next 18 months.

He said: "There are fairly good indications that significant melt in Antarctica will have potentially dire consequences in South-east Asia."

Why are oceans getting warmer?

Oceans are getting warmer because they absorb over 90 per cent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases. This causes the seawater to expand and take up more space.

Melting ice caps and glaciers

When the ice caps and glaciers melt, this causes more water to be added to the ocean. Analysis by Nasa scientists and satellites show this is happening at a faster rate than previously thought.

Loss of Arctic sea ice from 1984 to 2016

In this before and after, new ice is represented by blue while ice four years or older is represented by white. This visualises the long-term trend of melting Arctic ice.

image 1984 image 2016

Climate change is happening, but what can you do?

Here are 10 tips which can help reduce your carbon footprint:

For more, visit Singapore Power’s website.

Sources: Earth Observatory of Singapore, Building and Construction Authority, National University of Singapore, Nasa, National Climate Change Secretariat of Singapore,, Nangyang Technological University Multi-Platform Game Innovation Centre, Nasa’s Scientific Visualization Studio, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PUB, Singapore Power
Singapore Underwater project produced by: