Opening Remarks by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the World Climate Research Programme Sea Level Conference on 12 July 2022
Professor Detlef Stammer, Chair of the World Climate Research Programme Joint Scientific Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and a very warm welcome to our overseas visitors. Singapore is happy to host the third Sea Level Conference of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), following previous conferences in 2017 and in 2006. We look forward to the much-needed in-person conversations on advancing sea level research and bringing climate science closer to practitioners and the wider society.
1 The climate is one of the most complex systems known to humanity. Early civilisations instinctively appreciated the need to understand the "forces of nature", and have been tracking data such as temperature, rainfall, wind, and sea levels for centuries. However, we are only beginning to understand how these variables are influenced by different processes in our oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere, and how they interact with one another as one global climate system.
2 This follows advancements in climate modelling and observation, as well as the creation of platforms for international cooperation in climate research such as the WCRP. The WCRP's work has helped us understand how the world's climate has evolved and might change in the future. For instance, its Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, or CMIP, compares dozens of climate models to generate climate projections for the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC. Through such modelling efforts, we can now visualise not just the physical processes of the world climate system, but also how human activity shapes and is shaped by it. Indeed, climate science has shown us how intricately linked our common destiny is.
Climate change mitigation: challenges and opportunities
3 Critically, climate science has helped sound the alarm and mobilise collective action to reduce global carbon emissions. But we are running out of time. At current rates of emission, global temperatures are expected to rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius by the early 2030s. In fact, the World Meteorological Organisation, or WMO, says that there is a 50:50 chance of us temporarily breaching the 1.5-degree threshold within the next five years.
4 Nonetheless, the decarbonisation of the world economy remains an extremely difficult endeavour and will be reliant on progress in science and technology, political will, and international cooperation. Significant advances in technologies such as green hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage are needed to decarbonise large parts of the world economy, including power and energy, heavy industry, and transportation. The march to net zero may also be delayed by geopolitical instability: the recent global energy crisis has made some countries restart coal-fired power plants as they rethink environmental goals in the context of energy security.
5 The climate transition will require massive investment in green infrastructure such as renewable energy systems, and the transformation of countries' economies. Managing this transition well will be essential to gain broad-based support for fundamental changes to society's way of life and safeguard the livelihoods of many who depend on fossil fuel-reliant industries. In raising climate ambition, countries will need to take care of the vulnerable segments of their populations, while also extending support to other countries facing difficulties in making the green transition.
6 Nonetheless, there are glimpses of hope. The number of countries with net-zero targets increased significantly, from 18 at the start of 2020 to 84 by end-2021; with three-quarters committing to achieve net zero by 2050. I am optimistic that countries will commit to further climate action in the lead-up to COP-27, starting with more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs.
7 There are also many opportunities for cross-border collaboration which can help the world decarbonise. Expanding carbon markets would help countries meet their climate pledges and facilitate the financing of new projects to reduce, replace, and remove carbon. Regional power grids would help countries access renewable energy more reliably and cheaply. This would strengthen energy security, make energy more affordable for households, and facilitate decarbonisation, especially of alternative energy-disadvantaged countries like Singapore.
The role of science in adapting to climate change
8 Even as we do our best to mitigate climate change, we must also plan for the impacts of climate change, which can already be seen today. In the last month alone, severe flooding occurred in a myriad of countries, including Brazil, India, China, and Australia. Singapore is also experiencing more episodes of higher rainfall and temperatures, and our low-lying island state faces an existential threat from sea level rise.
Singapore's investment into climate and climate impact science
9 Climate scientists play a crucial role in guiding countries' adaptation efforts by providing robust analyses of our climate at both global and regional scales. Take for example our region, the Indo-Pacific Maritime Continent, which is what some climate scientists call the engine room of the global climate system. The atmosphere, water bodies and land masses - of peninsulas and islands - here are in constant conversation with each other, exchanging huge quantities of heat and moisture, and fuelling global atmospheric and ocean circulation. Yet climate scientists have found the climate of this region – especially its precipitation – particularly challenging to model.
10 Moreover, this region is highly vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise. Our archipelago is host to numerous low-lying coastal communities, and much of this region's economic activity, such as fishing, agriculture, and trade, takes place in coastal areas. This strong imperative to better understand our region's weather and climate led Singapore to set up the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, or CCRS, in 2013. CCRS is now downscaling WCRP's global circulation models through the ongoing Third National Climate Change Study ("V3").
11 Singapore has also launched the National Sea Level Programme (NSLP) to address knowledge gaps in past and present sea-level changes due to ocean dynamics and extreme sea level events such as storm surges. The NSLP currently funds five projects, including several involving the Earth Observatory of Singapore, one of the organisers today. The NSLP's findings will not only guide coastal protection efforts in Singapore but help build capacity and knowledge for the Indo-Pacific Maritime Continent.
12 Besides the physical risks of sea level rise, we must also understand the multifaceted effects of climate change on our societies and way of life. These include the disruption of global food production, and droughts that threaten access to water. Climate impacts will manifest differently in each region, and their magnitudes will differ based on each region's circumstances and capabilities in adapting to them.We must study climate impacts comprehensively to ensure that countries are adequately prepared to cope.
13 I am thus pleased to announce that the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) will bring together research in climate impact science through the launch of the Climate Impact Science Research Programme, or CISR.The CISR Programme will provide 23.5 million Singapore dollars in funding for research into key knowledge gaps on climate impacts, such as food insecurity. The IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report has informed us that over 30% of global crop and livestock areas could become climatically unsuitable by 2100, in the worst-case scenario.
14 By downscaling global climate projections and producing localised, high-resolution models of wind, rainfall, and temperature, we can better assess the impacts of climate change on local crop and aquaculture yields. We could also evaluate the indirect impact of higher temperatures through the increased prevalence of pests and diseases. This would in turn allow us to strengthen our food resilience, be it through the development of climate-resilient crop varieties or choosing sea spaces with more suitable habitat conditions for aquaculture.
Singapore's international contribution in climate science
15 We hope that Singapore's investments into climate research will contribute to regional and international efforts. Some of our researchers contributed significantly to the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, including:
NTU's Professor Benjamin Horton, who is a Review Editor for the Working Group I Chapter on "Ocean, Cryosphere and Sea Level Change";
SMU's Associate Professor Winston Chow, who is Coordinating Lead Author for two Working Group II chapters on "Cities, Settlements and Key Infrastructure" and "Cities and Settlements by the Sea"; and
Associate Professor Lynette Cheah from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, who is a Review Editor for the Working Group III Chapter on "Transport".
15 Singapore also supports and collaborates with institutions in the region to promote capacity building. For instance, we host the WMO Regional Office for Asia and South-West Pacific, and the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, or ASMC. The WMO Regional Office helps to implement WMO strategic initiatives and programmes and complements our Meteorological Service's capability-building efforts for the region. The joint work that both organisations have done include holding a Leadership and Management Programme for the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services in the Asia and South-West Pacific regions.
16 The ASMC builds regional capacity in the provision of meteorological services, as well as monitoring and early warning of transboundary smoke haze from land and forest fires in the region, to strengthen the region's resilience to climate change. Singapore has committed 5 million Singapore dollars to the ASMC between 2018 and 2022 to help build capabilities in weather and climate prediction and contributed to many capacity-building workshops for ASEAN member states.
17 Moving forward, Singapore will contribute data from the Third National Climate Change Study to the Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment for the Southeast Asia Region, or CORDEX-SEA, which is a WCRP framework to evaluate regional climate model performance through experiments. We will share downscaled climate projections over the CORDEX-SEA domain at 8-kilometre resolution within the region, for countries to use in their adaptation planning process.
18 Let me conclude. As we strive to enhance international collaboration in climate research, platforms such as the WCRP Sea Level Conference will be crucial in bringing together climate scientists, adaptation practitioners and policymakers to reflect on the latest IPCC findings, envision the future of climate research and adaptation, and inspire all stakeholders to build a greener world. I look forward to your contributions inadvancing our understanding of climate science and ensuring a liveable and sustainable future for the world.