Sengkang reportedly one of S'pore's urban heat vulnerability hotspots, WP's He Ting Ru asks govt to address heat issue

She said the vulnerable groups are especially affected by the rising temperatures.

Julia Yee | February 09, 2024, 02:11 PM



Nearing the end of a three-day-long parliamentary sitting on Feb. 8, 2024, Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) He Ting Ru talked about the weather.

She highlighted Singaporeans' heat-related challenges and suggested how the government might alleviate them.

She raised the matter in an adjournment motion titled "Building a Heat-Resilient Singapore".

When it comes to regulating the island's heat, "We need to leave no stone unturned," she said.

Rising temperatures

"When I speak to older constituents," she said, "one thing that often comes up is how much more comfortable our climate seemed to be in the past".

In a parliamentary question filed before the motion, He brought up Singapore's Third National Climate Change Study (V3), a report that produced an updated set of climate projections for Singapore and the Southeast Asia region up to the year 2100 and beyond.

She called attention to the part of the report projecting that annual mean temperatures will rise by 0.55°C per decade under the high emissions scenario.

"But I don't want to just focus on doom and gloom today," she said.

"While we cannot, on our own, stop the climate from getting hotter, we can reduce the impact global warming has on the immediate environment around us.

Reducing this impact is not just a matter of what is nice-to-do. It is a must-do."

Need to tackle heat-related safety issues

She highlighted the "indirect but heat-related" issues faced by Singaporeans.

She explained that humid heat exposure "significantly increases" thermal load during sleep and affects sleep quality.

Alongside the adverse impact on mental health and other physical health effects that heat can cause, poor sleep quality paired with long work hours are also known to contribute to a higher risk of workplace injury, she added.

She pointed to migrant workers staying in dormitories with "no temperature requirements", which puts them at greater risk when operating heavy machinery.

HDB should pay attention to the "inequality" in heat problems

He said that "perhaps the most obvious" is the impact of urban heat on those less well-off, explaining that "better-off Singaporeans" could turn on their air-conditioning or live in passively cooled buildings.

Meanwhile, those "less well-off" have fewer options.

She said that while the Housing Development Board (HDB) has accounted for wind flow and thermal comfort, it should also "pay special attention" to inequality and heat resilience when designing HDB blocks.

Residents in rental and smaller flats should be prioritised in such efforts, she said.

For instance, rental flat residents living in the warmest blocks could be given ready access to public air-conditioned venues in their immediate neighbourhoods during the hottest times of the day.

"Vulnerable groups should also be accorded a decent living standard with regards to heat.

Not only are these groups least able to adapt to climate change, they typically have contributed least to climate change causing carbon emissions."

Importance of green spaces

Bishan Park can be "about 3°C cooler" than residential estates in the city, He said.

Considering the positive impact such nature spaces have on our climate, we should be "doing our best" to retain as many of these as possible.

Pointing out that buyers tend to value greenery near their homes, He also highlighted the possibility of catering to the lower income group.

For example, the regions listed as having "very high" urban heat vulnerability in Singapore's 2020 Urban Heat Vulnerability Analysis could be given "additional attention", retaining and creating green spaces around denser and low-income neighbourhoods.

Urban heat vulnerability takes into account physical exposure indicators such as temperature or amount of vegetation, as well as socio-economic indicators such as age, employment and economic status, which relate to one’s capacity to adapt.

He's GRC, Sengkang, was one of the five urban heat vulnerability hotspots listed, along with Geylang, Punggol, Serangoon, and Woodlands.

Other ways to beat the heat

He also said that the government should "accelerate plans" to retrofit all public sector buildings aligned with the Super Low Energy certification as part of the commitment to having the public sector take the lead on sustainability.

"Particular focus should be placed on ensuring new buildings and building retrofits near residential areas meet Super Low Energy certification in order to reduce heat emissions."

She added that the Green Mark Certification could also be updated to take into account the indirect impact of buildings on their surroundings in terms of heat, to incentivise shade and to discourage excessive asphalt and concrete.

She maintained that "regulation" was key in addressing Singapore's heat problems.

This includes innovative ideas such as having climate change impact assessments for new infrastructure and requiring F&B establishments to serve "hydrating and healthy tap water" for free.

"In some of these cases, there are intermediate solutions that could pave the way and prepare the public for regulation," He explained.

Such as ensuring that the National Stadium and other event venues do not prohibit visitors from bringing in their own water.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) could also install water coolers at all MRT stations as a "quick and meaningful intervention. "

"Every day our environment gets hotter is a pivotal day for our country. This is not to say we should try and build a weather machine or an air-conditioned dome.

But what we are doing well, we should do as quickly as we can.

And what we are doing wrongly or planning to do wrongly, we should do differently so we are not locked into bad choices that our children will pay for."

Government assures that they will continue to address the heat

Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) Amy Khor responded to He's concerns, assuring that the government "has for some time now, and will continue to address this as part of [their] overall climate resilience efforts".

The government adopts "a science-based and proactive heat resilience strategy" with three prongs, she said.

1. Cooling down the environment

The government is implementing national-level strategies to cool our urban environment.

This includes planting more trees, infusing buildings with greenery, scaling up the use of cool materials on buildings, and setting up a network of green spaces across the island.

By 2030, Khor said, every household will be a "10-minute walk" away from a park.

HDB has also taken measures to help vulnerable groups cope with higher temperatures.

Such as creating more openings along corridors in older rental blocks and installing more fans in migrant worker dormitories.

2. Improving heat resilience

MSE and the National Environment Agency (NEA) have also launched a Heat Stress Advisory.

This allows the public to check the heat stress levels on the myENV app before embarking on outdoor activities and take the relevant measures to shield themselves from the heat.

Khor added that Singapore also has "easy access to clean drinking water", a key component in combating heat stress.

"Singapore's tap water is perfectly safe for direct consumption without the need for boiling or water filters. Furthermore, water dispensers are widely available at our hawker centers, parks, bus interchanges, and terminals."

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has also issued guidelines to reduce heat stress for outdoor workers.

3. Understanding the science behind rising temperatures

The government is leveraging science and technology to protect Singaporeans from the heat better.

This includes initiatives like Cooling Singapore 2.0 project, which investigates the impact of heat on different demographic groups.

The project also develops a digital model to simulate Singapore's urban climate and assess the effectiveness of various cooling strategies.

Khor added that researchers are also investigating the impact of warmer, more humid nights on sleep quality.

This will enable them to develop novel cooling solutions, such as smart systems to adjust fan wind speeds and air-conditioning temperatures.

NEA has also launched the second grant call under the Climate Impact Science Research Programme for new research proposals in food security, human health, and rising sea levels.

After sharing what the government is doing to help, Khor urged the public to also "look out for one another" and co-create solutions to beat the heat.

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Top image via MCI and Unsplash