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Defences against rising sea levels could cost S$100 billion: PM Lee

IT MAY cost S$100 billion or even more for Singapore to protect itself against rising sea levels caused by climate change, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech. The island is studying various coastal defence options, from polders to a reclaimed chain of islands.

If Singapore only had 10 years, it would not have the time or resources to tackle the problem, he noted. "But because this is a 50 to 100-year problem, we can implement a 50 to 100-year solution to this problem."

Though it may seem "abstract and distant", climate change is one of the gravest challenges facing the world - and as a low-lying island, Singapore is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, said Mr Lee.

To adapt, new developments are now required to be built at least 4 metres above mean sea level, up from 3 metres before. Critical infrastructure such as Changi Airport Terminal Five and the Tuas port will be built at least 5 metres above mean sea level.

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But such local measures will not be enough, he added. Beyond localised measures, Singapore’s low-lying areas must be protected as a whole via coastal defences.

In the city area, this is being done with the Marina Reservoir and Marina Barrage. For the eastern coastline, Singapore has studied the Netherlands, where a quarter of the land is under sea level. Known as polders, these areas are reclaimed by building a seawall and pumping out the water behind it. Singapore is building a small polder at Pulau Tekong to gain experience in operating one, said Mr Lee.

Another alternative is to reclaim a series of islands offshore from Marina East to Changi, connect them with barrages, and create a reservoir, similar to Marina Reservoir. "We will examine all the options carefully, and when the time comes, we will decide what is the best way to do it," said Mr Lee.

Singapore should treat climate change defences like the way it treats the Singapore Armed Forces, "with utmost seriousness", he added: "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."

On the topic of renewing Singapore for the next century, Mr Lee turned from coastal defences to coastal developments, sharing plans for the Greater Southern Waterfront which comprises 30 km of the southern coast and 2,000 hectares of land.

With its lease expiring in two years, Keppel Club will be one of the first redevelopments there, he said, noting that it has enough land for 9,000 public and private housing units.

More office space will also be developed in the area. As for recreation, the two old power stations in Pasir Panjang will be redeveloped, followed by Pulau Brani – after Brani Terminal moves out – together with Sentosa. Land will be set aside for the labour movement to build a resort, probably on Pulau Brani, he added.