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It will cost S$100b or more over next 50 to 100 years to protect Singapore against rising sea levels: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — It will cost Singapore S$100 billion or more over the next 50 to 100 years to protect itself against rising sea levels, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 18), stressing that the country should treat climate change defences like it treats the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) — “with utmost seriousness”.

It will cost S$100b or more over next 50 to 100 years to protect Singapore against rising sea levels: PM Lee

It will likely cost Singapore about S$100 billion over the next 50 to 100 years to protect itself against rising sea levels, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at his National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 18).

SINGAPORE — It will cost Singapore S$100 billion or more over the next 50 to 100 years to protect itself against rising sea levels, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 18), stressing that the country should treat climate change defences like it treats the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) — “with utmost seriousness”.

In his English speech at the National Day Rally, Mr Lee noted that both represent matters of "life and death".

“Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation,” Mr Lee said.

But he warned that there is one difference between the SAF and climate change: With the SAF, the country can deter threats and hopes never to go to war. But with climate change, it is known for sure that sea levels will rise — the uncertainty is whether they rise a few decades sooner or later.

HOW WOULD THE S$100 BILLION BE SPENT?

The S$100 billion will mainly be spent on coastal defences, Mr Lee said, because significant areas of Singapore are 4m above mean sea level or lower, and will be increasingly at risk of going underwater when sea levels rise.

One critical segment stretches from East Coast to the city. Currently, Marina Reservoir and Marina Barrage protect the city area from flooding. The Pump House at the Barrage pumps water out of Marina Reservoir into the sea when it rains heavily, so that rain falling in the city area can then drain into Marina Reservoir.

But this will not be enough when sea levels rise and a second pump house will need to be built at the opposite end of the Barrage, he said.

For the eastern coastline, Singapore will need other solutions and has looked at other countries for inspiration, such as the Netherlands, which uses “polders” — land that has been reclaimed from the sea — and dykes to keep the land dry, he added.

Another alternative, Mr Lee said, is to reclaim a series of islands offshore from Marina East to Changi, connect them up with barrages and create a reservoir, similar to Marina Reservoir.

Singapore is still examining the options carefully and will decide what to do when the time comes, he added.

“This problem does have good engineering solutions, though they will all cost money.”

Singapore’s climate change plans will be implemented progressively and kept flexible, Mr Lee said.

“But we must start now and sustain the effort, as the Dutch have done over centuries and as we have done with the SAF.”

HOW WILL SINGAPORE RAISE THE FUNDS?

Singapore must “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”, Mr Lee said.

“That way we can afford it, and when we need it, we will be ready.”

He added: “If we only have 10 years to solve the problem, we won’t have enough 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 to this problem. 

“In Singapore, long-term problems, we can make long-term solutions. Not everywhere. But in Singapore, yes, we can.”

MITIGATING CLIMATE CHANGE

Efforts must not be spared to mitigate climate change, and Singapore must do its part to reduce carbon emissions, Mr Lee said.

One way this can be done is to reduce waste, he said, remarking that Singapore generates “a huge amount of waste” from excessive packaging, food waste, or electronic waste.

They produce carbon dioxide when incinerated, and while the Pulau Semakau landfill handles trash and incinerated ash, it will eventually fill up, then Singapore will need a “Bukit Semakau” or “Gunung Semakau”, he quipped, referring to how the landfill will become a hill or mountain.

“We must make this effort. Otherwise, one day, our children and grandchildren will be ashamed of what our generation did not do,” Mr Lee said.

Related topics

NDR2019 climate change sea levels National Day Rally Lee Hsien Loong

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