Excerpt of Statements by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishan at the Committee of Supply Debate
EXCERPT OF STATEMENTS BY MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHAN AT THE COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE, 6 MARCH 2012
Building Up Climate Research Capabilities
One of the key uncertainties when you are taking a 50-year time frame is obviously climate change. Mr Liang Eng Hwa has asked how we are preparing for this and he has referred to his own anecdotal experiences with having wet weather programmes, having been invoked more often than it was in the past. Well, it is not just anecdotes –we have looked at 30-year data from the Meteorological Service and it has shown that the intensity and the frequency of high intensity rainfall have increased over the past thirty years.
Climate change, whether you believe in it or not, is going to be another confounding factor and, in the case of Singapore, it will increase the intensity and the frequency of such extreme weather events and we have to prepare for it. We have to make sure our infrastructure is ready and we cannot wait for a disaster to occur; you have got to prepare for years or decades in advance. And one of the problems with climate change and the difficulty overseas is that there is too much politics in climate change and not enough science. In the case for Singapore, we intend to approach it from a strictly scientific point of view.
So one of the things we are establishing is the Centre for Climate Research Singapore (CCRS) this year. The Centre will run high-resolution regional climate models. This will allow us to generate long-term projections of rainfall, temperature, wind and sea-level in Singapore over the next 50 to 100 years. The Centre will also undertake research on the complex weather systems which affect Singapore and the region, such as the severe tropical thunderstorms. Those of you who were looking out of the windows yesterday morning would have seen a very dark cloud - a Sumatran squall - moving across from the west to the east. These types of events will increase and we need to understand the mechanics behind it in order to make sensible predictions and plans to deal with it. The CCRS will also build up its capability by leveraging on existing research partnerships and linkages with both local and international experts and organisations, such as the UK Met Office Hadley Centre.
Drainage and Flooding Management Strategies
Last year, we appointed an Expert Panel to review our drainage and flood protection measures. The Panel concluded its review and shared its recommendations in January this year. I am glad to inform Mr Charles Chong that we have accepted the recommendations of the panel, and we will implement a comprehensive plan to strengthen Singapore’s flood resilience. This plan will cover the full spectrum of the drainage system: it will enhance the design and also impose tighter regulatory standards; it will explore new engineering solutions as well as improve the accuracy of flood risk assessments. The implementation of this plan has commenced, so for instance, by the end of the year, we will have a high resolution digital elevation map for the Marina Catchment area. This will enable us to carry out 3-dimensional modelling of the catchment and it will in turn allow us to engage in more accurate flood risk maps and to provide catchment-specific flood management solutions. For the Stamford Canal in particular, whilst the long-term measures such as the diversion canal or detention ponds are being considered, works are already underway within the canal itself in order to increase its flow capacity.
We will also have to extend inter-agency collaboration on drainage infrastructure and to focus on non-traditional measures, such as minimising urban surface runoff generated by new developments. We will continue to engage various professional bodies such as the Institute of Engineers, Singapore and the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore, and all the other relevant professional groups.
I would like to assure Mr Chong that my Ministry will do our best and we will make all the necessary long-term investments into the drainage system. Over the next 5 years, we will invest in at least 20 new drainage infrastructural projects in order to achieve a higher level of flood protection across the entire island. And I also want to give this House the assurance that we will do so but with a very keen eye on the bottom line, and we will make sure that these investments are cost-effective, and we will also adjust the plan as the situation evolves.
Let me also say, quite candidly, given the complexity of the weather systems and the uncertainty in the future, that it is not possible for any Minister for Water Resources to guarantee that floods will never recur. We will therefore have to take the approach of taking all reasonable and cost-effective measures to prevent and to mitigate the impact of floods in Singapore. This means not just drains but also looking at the protection of local buildings. I think someone recommended making sure basement car parks have flood protection measures. This will be imposed through regulatory standards.
Another key element of this strategy is transparency. We will make all the data from all our sensors available in real time –so that the public can be kept fully informed of the situation in real time and can take the necessary precautions. It will also be an avenue for more stakeholders to generate innovative solutions. That is why you may have noticed that whenever there is a heavy storm, there is literally a flood of SMS alerts, a flood of tweets from drain sensors, and updates to social media platforms. Eventually we will put all the real-time closed-circuit television images available on websites and for the public to access. So remember, it is about keeping the public informed, being transparent and honest, and providing new avenues for innovative solutions. So that everyone can have the chance to become part of the solution, rather than just to complain about the problem.
Promoting Energy Efficiency
Let me now turn to energy - since I have told you that in the future, energy equals water as well.
Dr Teo Ho Pin asked what the Ministry was doing to promote energy efficiency among our stakeholders. I agree with him that the public sector has to lead by example. For instance, public sector agencies are required to conduct energy audits of their large buildings and to implement cost-effective energy efficiency measures in order to reduce our consumption.
In the industry and transport sectors, energy management practices will be mandatory for large users from 2013 under the Energy Conservation Act which I will be taking through Parliament later this year. We will offer assistance to companies to improve their energy efficiency by appropriate design, building energy management capabilities and investing in new technologies. We have a scheme called the Grant for Energy Efficient Technologies. So far NEA has approved about 30 projects worth $65 million by 27 companies. These are supposed to generate about $163 million in cost savings over the lifespan of the equipment.
To further moderate energy consumption in households, we have the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) which I am glad that Dr Teo has supported. So far this has been implemented for refrigerators and air conditioners, and it basically works by removing inefficient models from the market, and therefore consumers can avoid being locked into the high operating cost of inefficient appliances.
We will be further tightening the energy performance standards for household air conditioners and refrigerators by the end of 2013. MEPS will also be extended to general lighting by 2014. We will consider extending MEPS to other appliances, such as televisions, in the future.