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Weathering the storm better

Cities and businesses should plan for extreme weather events to mitigate impact on infrastructure and the economy

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Associate Professor Winston Chow.

Whether it's heatwaves, floods, or tropical cyclones, extreme weather events are happening more frequently as a result of climate change, with cities bearing the brunt of the impact of such occurrences.

This can include damage and disruption to physical infrastructure, such as power and transport grids that enable businesses to function, as well as the time and money it takes to recover from such calamities.

A study by Winston Chow, Associate Professor of Humanities at the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Social Sciences, explores how a city's urban resilience can be maximised to better withstand the impact of extreme weather.

He notes that governments can create conditions for a city to become more resilient.

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"Anticipating and adapting to extreme events specific to a city from the best science available, and forward-thinking planning, implementation and stakeholder support can make sure a city bounces back to normal from a disruptive event," he says. "Moreover, such an approach would also be financially sensible as ad hoc, or worse, post-hoc planning would undoubtedly be more expensive."

Singapore has not been spared the impact from climate events. The Republic is experiencing hotter days and nights, and more frequent droughts and flash floods from changing rainfall patterns stemming from climate change.

While the increased heat may not be immediately apparent due to the widespread use of air-conditioning, there is still a problem due to more energy being consumed from non-renewable fuels. This adds to the country's greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

The changing rainfall patterns are more acutely felt, says Assoc Prof Chow, as dry weather in the region is a major problem when coupled with forest fires in Indonesia that leads to the haze conditions that Singapore has been experiencing recently.

Meanwhile, flash floods from heavy rainfall can disrupt local transport and cause flood damage to businesses.

This was what happened in 2010, when floods in Orchard Road ended up costing S$23 million in insurance claims.

A resilient response

The response to these weather and climate events has largely been led by the government.

Some examples include engineering investments in drainage control and water technology from PUB to reduce flood and drought impacts, and the commissioning of research projects by government and academia aimed at reducing exposure to extreme heat in cities.

However, Assoc Prof Chow notes that not all solutions are technical in nature, and that the best options can involve including natural solutions that increase resilience, as these tend to have multiple benefits.

For instance, naturalising the Kallang River cutting through Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park has reduced the likelihood of flash floods in the immediate area, and also lowered temperatures for residents.

It also allows for a recreational space for visitors, a business space for F&B and spa outlets that benefit from the unique environment, and for flora and fauna - including migrating birds, local otters, and butterflies - to have a habitat.

Businesses need to get involved

Driving sustainable urban development to combat the impact of extreme weather requires leadership not only from government and academia, but also action from the private sector, argues Assoc Prof Chow.

"In recent times, there has been greater environmental awareness among consumers and other stakeholders in areas such as plastic pollution, zero-waste, and reducing personal carbon emissions.

Businesses slow to adapt to this change in awareness are very likely to lose out - the challenge is understanding sector-specific actions accounting for this raised awareness can benefit businesses," he says.

He urges the local business community to take the risks of extreme weather seriously.

Indeed, the Global Risks Report unveiled at Davos earlier this year indicated that extreme weather events and climate change issues are the two biggest risks facing economies in the future, continuing a trend since 2017.

"Not considering sustainability explicitly in business decisions would indeed not be in any private sector firm's best interests!"

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