Singapore battles existential threat with new master plan for space

One third of Singapore is just five metres above sea level. (Bloomberg pic)

SINGAPORE: With almost one-third of Singapore just five metres above sea level, land reclamation isn’t only a way to create more space, it’s an environmental imperative.

And while politicians elsewhere dither over climate change, the city-state is taking a decisive stance, rolling out a range of initiatives aimed at limiting the effects of global warming.

“It’s an existential threat,” Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in an interview Thursday.

Singapore, one of the world’s smallest nations, makes up for its lack of space by careful planning.

A draft master plan released in March outlined a strategy to rejuvenate the island’s central area so that more people can live closer to work.

It also proposed creating another 1,000 hectares of parks and park connectors so that in future, more than 90% of households will be within walking distance of a green space.

Wong said Thursday that Singapore has been successfully using polders, or dykes, to reclaim land. It’s a Dutch concept that’s cheaper than using sand to fill in the sea and better for low-lying areas.

The master plan, which is revised every five years and which sets out a strategy for the next 10 to 15 years, also suggested use of underground space for the first time.

While the primary purpose of going beneath the ground is to free up more surface land, Wong said it has other benefits. Underground central cooling systems around the relatively new Marina Bay area are much more energy efficient, he said.

Food security

Singapore also foresees putting more utilities, transport, storage and industrial facilities underground.

Food security is another issue for Singapore, which imports more than 90% of what the population eats. Wong said Singapore has an “ambitious target” to meet 30% of the country’s nutritional needs with home-grown produce by 2030.

The drive to enhance food security is partly driven by environmental factors that may disrupt supply chains globally.

“This can’t be done through traditional agricultural production, we don’t have land for it,” Wong said. “The only way to do it would be through innovative methods, like for example vertical farming.”

Wong added that Singapore has strengths in advanced manufacturing and biotechnology that should give it an edge in the so-called agri-tech sector.