In this Policy Explainer, find out...
How does climate change affect Singapore?
What is Singapore doing to mitigate the impacts of climate change?
How effective are the strategies employed in mitigating the impacts of climate change?
Singapore, and many island nations around the world, are currently facing an existential crisis. With sea levels rising faster than ever, a significant part of Singapore’s current land mass could become inundated, which will cause severe damage to existing infrastructure. While it is important for Singapore to make efforts to go carbon neutral by 2050,¹ it is even more critical for Singapore to safeguard herself from the looming effects of climate change.
This Policy Explainer is the second of a two-part series outlining Singapore’s efforts to combat climate change and mitigate its impacts. This piece will detail how the effects of climate change on Singapore, the strategies Singapore is adopting to mitigate these effects, and the effectiveness of these strategies. The two strategies of focus, which had been introduced in the Singapore Climate Action Plan, include 1) efforts to grow 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030, and 2) the development of coastal protection infrastructure to manage the consequences of rising sea levels.
The Impact of Climate Change on Food Security
The increasing severity of global warming poses a threat to Singapore’s food security for a few reasons.
Climate change threatens the production of agricultural crops, livestock and fisheries, which make up a large part of the food supply. The production of these is largely affected by biotic stressors (e.g. pests or diseases) and abiotic stressors (e.g. change in precipitation, temperature, water loss or heat waves) which are altered by global warming.² With such changes, there is greater unpredictability and fluctuation in the supply of food. On top of that, the frequency of extreme weather events is likely to increase in the future, adversely affecting food supply.³
The increased uncertainty in food production is only amplified by the globalised and interconnected nature of today’s food supply chains. Countries which are key exporters of certain foods may also be key importers of inputs necessary to produce such foods.⁴ For instance, Thailand is a relatively large producer of poultry. However, the feed, which is essential in determining the pricing and survival of the chicken, is largely made out of imported wheat and soybeans.⁵ While this interconnectedness has served to lower global food prices, it has also compounded the effects of global warming along the supply chain. This makes the seemingly disconnected changes in each country far-reaching and deeply felt.
Beyond the direct impacts of climate change, measures to combat climate change have also affected food production. As discussed in the previous Policy Explainer of this series, the carbon tax is a policy that Singapore, alongside many other countries, is implementing. However, its implementation has also led to a rise in energy costs, in turn causing an increase in production costs for food, especially due to the high carbon emissions from livestock production.⁶
Food hoarding is a new phenomenon that exacerbates the impact of a fall in food supply. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the supply of food fell due to bottlenecks in the supply chain, which caused countries to begin hoarding food to protect their national interests.⁷ Such behaviour may be repeated if food supplies are disrupted due to global warming. Food hoarding causes the price and flow of imported food to fluctuate drastically in short periods of time. Such fluctuations could severely impact Singapore’s food supply, of which 90% is imported today, and thus the livelihoods of many Singaporeans. By increasing the supply of domestically produced food, Singapore can therefore increase its self-reliance for food, guarding her from future food crises.
Singapore’s “30 by 30” Initiative
In line with the pillar of ‘Resilient Future’ in the Climate Action Plan, Singapore launched its “30 by 30” initiative in 2019. Under this initiative, Singapore plans to meet 30% of her nutritional needs through locally produced food by 2030. This is a drastic increase from current levels, which is under 10%.⁸ Singapore intends to achieve this by boosting the supply and demand for local produce, by encouraging greater research and implementations of food-tech innovations for the former, and through greater education for the latter. A plethora of strategies have been adopted to achieve, three of which are detailed below.
First, Singapore is heavily investing in research and development (R&D) with S$144 million being put into the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme. The funds will support R&D in three areas: Sustainable Urban Food Production, Future Foods, and Food Safety Science and Innovation. Some breakthroughs thus far include the development of indoor multi-storey LED lighting and recirculating aquaculture systems which have enabled production to multiply from 10 to 15 times compared to traditional farms.⁹
Second, innovations can only reap results if they are utilised. Hence, another S$60 million is being put into the Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund.¹⁰ This fund seeks to support businesses in expanding and investing in new infrastructure and technology. Focus is placed on encouraging pilot-testing of relevant technologies, the purchase of both small-scale equipment and large-scale machinery.¹¹
Third, Singapore is putting greater effort into branding local produce to increase consumption. The Singapore Food Authority (SFA) launched the three-tier SG Fresh Produce logo in 2020. In addition, SFA offers additional certification for quality assurance and sustainable practices among local produce. Collectively, the logos ensure that local produce can be easily identifiable by Singaporeans so that they can make an intentional choice to support local businesses. This will help ensure that the increased supply of local produce will be met by sufficient local demand, thereby minimising resource wastage and maintaining business viability for producers.
Analysis of “30 by 30” Goal
Given its recent launch, the ultimate success of the “30 by 30” initiative remains to be seen. Nonetheless, some triumphs and challenges faced by the respective programmes may be considered at this juncture.
Singapore’s plans to ramp up technology adoption in food production may seem ambitious to some. However, tentative successes in developing new agri-tech solutions has shown promise in the nation’s ability to boost agricultural productivity and eventually meet its national targets. For instance, farms have leveraged data analytics to control environmental conditions such as light and irrigation to track temperature, humidity, and the growth of crops. Furthermore, the use of automated systems has increased, reducing reliance on manual labour.¹²
However, it may be challenging for production goals to be met in some markets.
One example emerges from Singapore’s market for vegetables. Singaporeans are highly sensitive to hikes in vegetables — when prices increase, consumption falls significantly.¹³ As such, local vegetable producers have to keep prices low to remain competitive. This requires producers to produce in larger quantities to spread costs. Yet, this is immensely challenging in land and labour scarce Singapore. Hence, it may be difficult for sufficient vegetable produce to be grown at competitive prices.
Another example can be drawn from local fish production. Production is currently at 10% of Singaporeans’ consumption level but is targeted to increase to 15%. There are difficulties meeting the targets as most of the over 100 licensed fish farms are small farms.¹⁴ While large investments are necessary for the adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies, they remain out of reach for small farms. This makes it challenging for the local fish industry to grow and meet 15% of Singapore’s fish consumption.
The success of the “30 by 30” initiative is also dependent on the population’s willingness to purchase local food produce.¹⁵
For one, price-conscious consumers may be less willing to buy local due to higher prices, instead turning to imported alternatives. Higher prices may be attributed to lower economies of scale and the adoption of environmentally friendly practices, among other reasons. Today, local produce costs approximately 30% more than imported produce.¹⁶
To downplay the effects of higher prices, the Government has been taking steps to encourage consumption. This includes efforts to promote local produce and campaigns to reaffirm Singaporean’s confidence in their quality. Some positive results have been observed, as 59% of Singaporeans surveyed are now making a conscious effort to purchase local produce.¹⁷
While the ramp up in local food production and transition to consuming locally will help enhance Singapore’s food security, other concerns posed by climate change still remain.
Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels
Due to climate change, sea levels around Singapore are expected to rise by up to 1m by 2100. Extreme storms with higher rainfall intensities could become more regular, leading to increased flood risks.¹⁸ Apart from the inconvenience brought about by the floods, this could also lead to damage to property and loss of lives.
This would be even more severe for low-lying coastal regions and reclaimed land. Such areas, encompassing land that is less than 5m above mean sea level, constitute 30% of Singapore’s land area.¹⁹
Singapore’s Coastal Adaptation Measures
In order to mitigate the adverse effects of rising sea levels, the Government has implemented the following measures:
First, seawalls and stone embankments have been constructed, covering 70% to 80% of Singapore’s coastline. The remaining areas to be protected by natural barriers such as mangroves.
Second, a S$125 million research programme has been established to investigate potential solutions in two areas: 1) developing innovative, sustainable and smart solutions to strengthen coastal protection and flood management and 2) advancing coastal science research to further understand the impact of climate change on Singapore's coasts.
Analysis of Coastal Adaptation Measures
Seawalls are built with the intent of protecting coastal areas from rising sea levels²⁰. This is done by reflecting incident wave energy back into the sea, thus preventing high tides and storm surges from reaching inland and causing flooding. Benefits associated with this include the saving of lives and property from the increased propensity of floods due to rising sea levels.
However, apart from the explicit costs of constructing seawalls, negative externalities exist (i.e., costs incurred by third parties who do not benefit from the construction of seawalls). In the United States, it has been documented that seawalls will cause the eventual disappearance of the beach in front of the wall, as well as increase erosion and the impact of storms on adjacent properties.²¹ Given the relative scarcity of beaches in Singapore, the former effect may well diminish the experience of Singapore’s beachgoers.
The construction of seawalls also brings about negative implications on biodiversity. Seawalls support 23% lower biodiversity and 45% fewer organisms than natural shorelines.²² This has had an adverse effect on marine biodiversity around Singapore, such as the disappearance of coral communities from our shores, which require addressing.
Any solutions to these concerns come down to appropriately balancing the reliance on man-made sea walls vis-à-vis natural barriers like mangroves. These natural solutions can help to dissipate waves, serving as a flexible form of coastal defence. Regenerating and conserving mangroves along some coastlines can also guard coasts by buffering storms and allowing sediments to build up.²³
However, nature-based coastal defences are also vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate change alters the ecosystem’s natural processes such as soil formation, nutrient storage and pollution absorption. This can affect the ability of natural barriers to mitigate flooding and tidal surges.²⁴ Hence, man-made and nature-based infrastructure should be installed complementarity to meet coastal defence requirements while mitigating the loss of biodiversity.
This also highlights the importance of R&D to develop knowledge in the modelling of coastal processes, joint occurrences of extreme sea levels, waves and storms, and how they will be affected by sea-level rise and climate change. Such knowledge would be vital in assessing the effects of sea level rise and climate change on coastal processes and inland flooding, thus guiding the development of optimal solutions that tackle all challenges in detail.
Altogether, the strategies outlined seek to alleviate the effects of climate change on Singapore, whether by diversifying her sources of food and increasing self-sufficiency, or by safeguarding the country from the consequences of rising sea levels. Nevertheless, as the adage goes, “prevention is better than cure”. Thus, while Singapore seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change, she must continue to invest in strategies to address its root causes, thereby playing her part to secure the future of our home and the world.
This Policy Explainer was written by members of MAJU. MAJU is an independent, youth-led organisation that focuses on engaging Singaporean youths in a long-term research process to guide them in jointly formulating policy ideas of their own.
By sharing our unique youth perspectives, MAJU hopes to contribute to the policymaking discourse and future of Singapore.