First, accept the fact that food shortage might no longer be a novelty in Singapore.
During the National Day Rally 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted that the Singapore government might need approximately S$100 billion in the next 100 years to protect Singapore against rising sea levels, one of the many threats posed by climate change.
He further stressed that climate change is one of mankind’s gravest challenges, “For us, climate change is existential.”
Without a doubt, these commitments by our Prime Minister were comforting.
For a food-loving nation, we have been strangely silent about one of the biggest challenges posed by a changing climate could be: our food security.
Singapore considers Thailand, Vietnam, India and Japan as primary sources of rice. In these countries, any climate change events such as floods, droughts or crop failures would inevitably affect food distribution.
We already saw this in 2008, when Singapore was among the countries threatened by rice shortage caused by massive floods in Thailand.
FEEDING A CLIMATE-STRESSED WORLD
Every rise in global temperature has an impact on our plates. Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather adversely impact our food security.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted that the production of major crops like wheat, rice, and maize will be negatively impacted with a global temperature increase of 2°C or more. These projected impacts will occur in the context of rising crop demand, projected to increase by about 14% per decade until 2050.
With an increasing number of mouths to feed and declining food production, the threat to our food security must no longer be underestimated and tackled in a comprehensive manner.
THE PROBLEM ON OUR PLATES
More than 90% of our daily food needs are met with supply from over 180 countries. Potatoes from Holland and berries flown all the way from Peru are not uncommon sights in our supermarkets.
As we pour millions into defending our roads from rising sea levels, we overlook the fact that our choices – especially in Singapore – are further contributing to emissions as well.
As the impact of climate change on agricultural production and productivity deepens at an international level, increasing food prices and the number of people at risk of food insecurity are expected.
The latest IPCC report, just released earlier this week, has found that catches by fisheries are expected to decline up to 24% by the end of this century because of climate change. For Singapore – a nation that consumes more seafood per capita than the global average – our access to seafood will be impacted, with prices for most species already rising as we speak.
The Singapore government has introduced a remarkable initiative to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030. While this unquestionably reduces carbon emissions from food imports and ensures a more secure supply of food, we can and must do more to protect the food we put on our plates.
WE HAVE THE SOLUTIONS
Have you ever thought about how climate-friendly your favourite hawker dishes are? Roti prata served with a vegetarian curry would have a lower carbon footprint as the dish is mostly plant-based. By eating wisely, we are also helping to reduce the resources spent growing, producing, processing, and transporting the ingredients.
Second, think about reducing emissions by choosing food items produced locally or sourced from this region. The further the distance, the higher the carbon footprint. This means importing apples from China would emit less carbon emissions than that of U.S. Fortunately, people in Singapore are increasingly aware of what they purchase, use and the impact of these products on the environment. A survey of people in Singapore recently conducted by YouGov has found that 65% are likely to choose locally-produced food or household products with a lower carbon footprint.
Third, for any long-term sustainability, investment in research and development (R&D) is key. Given our strong capacity in technology, finance and human resources, Singapore could invest in climate-related R&D for food varieties that can adapt to the changing climate. Similarly, it is critical for us to support climate adaptation measures in countries that Singapore relies on for food to ensure minimal disruption to the production and transportation of key supplies.
Lastly, with rates or subsidies as policy tools, we can collectively shift market demand towards climate-friendly industries and encourage local food production. 3 out of 4 people in Singapore are willing to pay for electricity from a renewable or clean energy provider. Know that the growth of the renewable energy sector will be supported by a greater willingness among consumers to pay a premium for these options!
YOU CAN HELP TO MINIMISE FUTURE RISKS IN SINGAPORE BEFORE 30 SEP
While countries have committed to the Paris Agreement, the nationally determined contributions (NDC) that our governments have submitted – Singapore included – are still woefully inadequate. We are looking at a 2.70C plus world and all the foreseeable and disastrous consequences that come with it.
The science is clear: halve our carbon emissions by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions around 2050. But whether governments have the will to make this reality, is less so.
Singapore needs to do our fair share by aiming for a net-zero emission goal by 2050 – starting with the right policy moves now. Here is the good news: The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) is asking for all our views on developing Singapore’s long-term climate strategy.
This is the most important moment to contribute to a low-carbon future for Singapore. YOU need to get involved.
The writer is Sandeep Chamling Rai, WWF-Singapore’s Senior Advisor, Global Climate Adaptation Policy.
Read all our recommendations at wwf.sg/climate and help us send them to the NCCS before 30 Sep now.