Communicating the Urgency of Climate Change Impacts in Singapore

Consolidated thoughts after participating in a number climate-centric events and conversations in May.

Communication of Climate Change Impacts in Singapore

For the average person scanning through the web for “impacts of climate change on Singapore” he or she may have come across the image below-

Impacts of Climate Change in Singapore. Source: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

It is quite straightforward to read how climate change affects Singapore, from sea level rise to water scarcity to effects on public health to food security. (Read more on the National Climate Change Secretariat website).

The National Environment Agency website has something similar and they even published a video “Climate Change: How It Affects You” on 15 December 2015.

The 8 mins 19 seconds video is well narrated, with nice music. It is segmented into:

+ Understanding Climate Change (and its general impacts)
+ 1:50 Climate change impacts on Singapore
+ 2:52 Adapting and coping with climate change
– collective response
– managing floods
– protecting Singapore’s coastlines
– managing our water resources
– keeping the city-state cool
– controlling vector-borne diseases
– preserving Singapore’s biodiversity
+ 5:22 Mitigating and Limiting the Extent of Climate Change
– Energy Efficiency National Partnership
– energy efficiency measures
– research and development
+ 6:48 What you can do to help
– adopt energy efficient practices

I watched the clip three times before I went “Urgh.. Haiz”..  Mainly for two reasons:

1) I felt the angle was too positive- climate change is happening, Singapore will feel the impact, but it’s OK because the government is taking all these measures, which in my opinion, is infrastructure-focused. If one requires more info, one can look at documents like the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 and Singapore’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

2) As with the info one can find on local websites, well.. on NCCS, MEWR and NEA websites, the public-facing info one will see is pretty much that. One does not see when we will hit the tipping point or why we should take action quick.

One may be concerned with the climate impacts on Singapore, and may see this as an important issue as with other issues like poverty, LGBT or human rights issues in Singapore. However, if it does not hit them how urgent this climate change issue is, then I worry how future-ready people living in Singapore really are.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the way climate impacts has always been expressed here in Singapore has been on this positive-neutral tone, showcasing all these government efforts, making us feel protected, and thus perhaps causing complacency among the majority. And I feel we need to change the way we talk about climate impacts.

Below are some of my thoughts, or at least how I would do things differently.

Four Ways  Climate Change Impacts on Singapore can be better Communicated to Highlight the Urgency of the Issue

Communication here does not only refer to communication by the government, but communication by anyone who talks about the issue. I think the People, Public, Private sector each has a different role to play in this, and each entity will have a different tone of voice, and I think that’s a fair point. What I want to emphasise is on the need for more groups and individuals to highlight the urgency of the issue simply because time is not on our side.

1) Show it in our face how global temperature has been rising dramatically

Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading and also a Contributing Author for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, plotted this spiral graph to show how global temperatures has increased from January 1850 to March 2016, and he did this in relation to the target limits.

Specifically to Singapore, April 2016 was the hottest month on record since records began in 1929.

Global temperatures has been rising, and Singapore has been feeling the heat. Do you want temperature to rise even further?

2) Show it in our face how much carbon budget we have left

Carbon Brief did an updated analysis of the 2014 IPCC’s synthesis report and their “figures suggest that just five years of CO2 emissions at current levels would be enough to use up the carbon budget for a good chance – a 66% probability – of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C.

Carbon budget- A carbon budget is the maximum amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere while keeping a reasonable chance of staying below a given temperature rise. (Source: Same Carbon Brief link as para above).

Why 1.5C?- 1.5C marks the point, say many scientists, where there is a real danger of serious “tipping points” in the world’s climate. Temperatures have already risen 1C and show little sign of slowing. (How can global temperature rise be held at 1.5C and what exactly are these impacts? Wait for the Special UN Report- The Guardian, Thursday 14 April 2016).

Briefly, the world has less than 5 years before we reach this critical stage of climate change and climate impacts. Armageddon might just begin in 2020.

3) Tell us how will this affect our survival

Based on a report done by Climate Central: Carbon, Climate, and Rising Seas, Our Global Legacy, published November 2015, based on Singapore’s 2010 population of 4.68 million people, and a global warming scenario of 1.5C,  in the post-2100 period, sea level could rise by 3.1 metres thus submerging lands which will affect 35 000 people. Based on the same report, a global warming scenario of 4C, could result in sea level of 9.5 metres, thus submerging lands affecting 745 000 people in post-2100.

With Singapore being just about 700 km square big, and probably with no more space to reclaim land from by then, we really have nowhere to run to.

It is probably be a good idea to start moving up north now, like.. to Johor. About 5000 Singaporean families have set up homes there, citing cost of living as the main draw. Probably going to be worth the move and investment when we experience the impact of a 4C world.

4) #ConnectTheDots: How is Singapore affected now?

I’ll just touch on two things. Water and Food.

Water-

Singapore’s water supply comes from the “Four National Taps” (a) local catchment water (b) imported water (c) NEWater (d) desalinated water.

With the dry spell recently, Linggiu Reservoir in Johor,  which helps to meet half of Singapore’s water needs (refer to point (b)) caused the water level to be so low that Johor had to implement water rationing- 85 000 people were already affected, and 800 000 people could potentially be asked to do so. At the same time, the Johor government still has to supply water to Singapore because it is obliged to do so contractually. (Refer to ST article on this). Meanwhile, in Singapore, while we have not been asked to ration our water usage, we have been reminded to save water in our own ways.

I think this is the part where I feel we need to change the tone of how we communicate the water issue as a whole. Already, our water supply is affected. Yes, we have the other three national taps which can meet our water needs. However, for me, looking at how other countries have to compromise their own water privilege just so we can continue having our water privilege smells of unfairness and it possibly creates more lax culture.

Climate change is affecting our water supply and we need to tell things as it is.

Food (specifically fruits and vegetables)- 

According to Ms Tan Poh Hong, CEO of AVA Singapore, “In 2013 alone, Singapore imported more than 414,000 tonnes of fruits and 514,000 tonnes of vegetables. These fruits and vegetables came from 55 different countries. Such a diversified sourcing profile enables us to quickly find alternative exporters during unexpected supply disruptions.”

Additionally, according to His Excellency Dato’ Husni Zai Yaacob, High Commissioner of Malaysia to Singapore, “Looking into agriculture sector and specifically on fresh fruits and vegetables, Malaysia’s exports of these products to Singapore were valued at US$163.8 million in 2013. There is definitely room for further growth in this sector in the future.” (US$163.8 million is roughly SGD$220 million).

Climate change is a global phenomena affecting food production worldwide. In Malaysia, with temperatures exceeding 37 C, and dropping food production, the supply of leafy vegetables from Malaysia could drop by 30% in the coming weeks, causing prices to increase, affecting consumer demand and thus business to have lower earnings.

I think as much as we want to be food-secure, we can’t deny the fact that a global crisis on food production can lead to potential food war among countries. And with Singapore importing over 90% of food consumed in the country, it’s time to change this mindset that diversification of food supply can solve everything- (a) What will happen to us when countries do stop supplying food to us because they can’t produce enough for themselves? (b) Paying premium price for scarce food is not sustainable if the problem occurs for more regular, extended periods.

So really, there is a need to communicate climate change is affecting our food production. Singaporeans will definitely care about this.. #CosFood.

On this note: I cannot understand why the 62 farms on the Kranji land area cannot have their land lease renewed when it expired in June 2017. Reading articles on this issue, I think the angles have been “oh the land is needed for military use”, “there’s no clear plan for the agriculture industry”, “family livelihoods are at stake”.. which are all fair points. However, with a global food production problem that will inevitably affect our food supply chain and the money we have to spend on food imports, all the more, should we not focus on being self-reliant on food production?

Add-on: Thought I’d add this in- In December 2015, Singapore imported SGD$200.62 million worth of fruits, vegetables and nuts. In the same period, we imported SGD$161.68  million worth of fish and seafood (excluding marine animals).  Seafood is under threat from warming temperatures and ocean acidification. I think it’s one thing to look into local fish farming and support it, but I personally don’t think it’s going to work well for long, because hey, even our local fish farms have experienced warmer waters, plankton blooms and mass fish deaths. I think it’s one level up the seafood game, if we look further into utilising technology to grow seafood indoors, grow more types of seafood in spot, be productive, and make “seafood so cheap” it can make obsolete the trawling industry which also destroys marine life.

In the face of climate change, food security starts from home.

Three Ground-Up Efforts to Tell the Climate Change and Climate Impacts Stories I Like

I acknowledge Singapore has done a good job on adapting to and mitigating climate change.. from a top-down approach that is. And there are various efforts from the private sector, research think tanks and some green groups in Singapore to talk about climate impacts and find solutions around it. Just highlighting here three ground-up efforts I really like, just because I feel these are the non-mainstream ways of how things are done in Singapore.

1) OOOM

OOOM is about community and climate, a social enterprise using music to work towards peacebuilding and environmental goals. –OOOM on Facebook.

Like how an open mic platform is used to also talk about environmental issues. Very social setting.

2) Up2degrees

Antarctica is the aircon of the World and Singapore aircons are warming it up. Turn your aircon #up2degrees so the planet won’t have to do it – #up2you – Up2degrees on Facebook.

Like how it is targeted on the aircon, considering in a typical household in Singapore air-con accounts for the largest electricity consumption- it becomes relatable to people. Also like how the research done for this project can be used as inputs for legislation purposes.

3) Little Climate

Little Climate is an initiative seeking to build climate awareness in fun and creative ways! Through humour, we aim to encourage people to #ActOnClimate! – Little Climate On Facebook.

Like how the complex IPCC report is broken down into simple English that the layman can understand, and that it’s expressed through cute cartoon characters.

Ending off this post on “Communicating the Urgency of Climate Change Impacts in Singapore”

Bloomberg recently did an interview with the Milton Glaser, a graphic designer, who, among others, created that famous 1977 “I<3NY” logo.  When asked why he designed the “To Vote Is To Exist” poster, he replied “It was just an opportunity to do something that I think needs to be done. And you see, the issue about doing posters urging people to vote is that it’s not enough to say, “Go vote.” You have to justify that. You have to tell people why they should vote. And for me, if you don’t vote, you’re essentially invisible, and you don’t affect the structure of your own life, or anyone else for that matter.”

I think the take-away for me from that interview, in relation to this article is that, it’s not enough to tell people climate change is happening and to tell them to take action. We have to create that sense of urgency so that people become more interested to save their own lives. Because really, why else would we be doing this?

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