Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia: Singapore

24 Feb
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Flickr: nathanhayag

By PISA Program Assistant, Dr. Miriam Grinberg

With a population of over 5 million in a country smaller than New York City, Singapore boasts the seventh-largest gross domestic product per capita in the world. The country’s wealth suggests that it has the financial capacity to combat the effects of climate change (unlike previous countries highlighted in this series) and reduce its carbon footprint. Moreover, given the fact that Singapore lies only 15 meters above sea level on average – and that mean sea level in the surrounding Straits has risen at about 1.2 to 1.7 mm per year between 1975 and 2009 – ignoring the consequences of climate change could prove perilous.

This sea level rise has been accompanied by a rise in mean temperature from 26.6°C to 27.7°C between 1972 and 2014, and this is on track to increase by another 1 to 4 degrees by 2100. These higher temperatures naturally incur increased demands on energy, including in the form of greater air conditioning usage, which in turn produces harmful GHG emissions. In the case of Singapore, its rapid industrialization following its independence from the U.K. in 1963 – while providing a high quality of life for its residents (it ranks 1st in Asia in the U.N. Human Development Index) – also caused emissions to skyrocket.

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Flickr: alex-yosifov

As these emissions contribute to rising temperatures, so do they contribute to extreme weather events and sea level rise. Increased rainfall and flooding, in combination with SLR, means that by 2100 over 745,000 Singaporeans’ homes could be submerged. However, before then, other very real dangers exist as a result of SLR, including: the spread of vector-borne diseases like dengue fever; decreasing biodiversity; and salination of coastal reservoirs that provide Singaporeans with clean drinking water.

Given these dangers, Singapore’s government has, in recent years, engaged in campaigns to reduce emissions, conducted national studies on climate change, and constructed sea walls to mitigate SLR. As a Paris Agreement signatory, for instance, Singapore has vowed to reduce GHG emissions by 36% from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, several national studies undertaken between 2010 and the present have resulted in changes to policy that have raised the minimum land reclamation level from 3 to 4 meters, impacted the design of new container terminals (so that they are built higher up), and led to the creation of a national network of water-level sensors that monitor flooding. Moreover, the government has increased construction of new desalination plants and reservoirs.

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Flickr: andy-nunn

While these measures have not been insignificant, rising temperatures and sea levels will continue to place pressure on Singapore’s ability to balance high energy demands with its stated and written commitment to reducing emissions and protecting its citizens from extreme storms and flooding. Furthermore, as the country continues to enrich itself from the investments of companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon Mobil, some experts have raised doubts that Singapore could willingly slow down its economic development in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Or, even if it did so, its contribution to worldwide emissions is so small that it would not make a huge difference.

In spite of its size, however, Singapore – as a model of socioeconomic development in Asia – can also serve as a leader in the region in the fight against climate change and, specifically, against the current and future impacts of SLR. On the other hand, with its unique political system which relies on authoritarian policies within democratic trappings (a system which has sometimes been praised its neighbors for its efficiency), this may also mean that whatever progress Singapore makes in this area may not necessarily be easy to replicate in larger, more diverse countries.

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia: Thailand

13 Jan
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Flickr: dany13

By PISA Program Assistant, Dr. Miriam Grinberg

Where for the other countries in Southeast Asia covered so far in this series sea level rise is a more recent concern, in Thailand, it has long been cited as an important factor behind the oft-discussed “sinking” of its capital, Bangkok. Local data from around the country has shown an increase in sea level of about 5 mm in the last 25 years, a rise that has been accompanied by increased incidents of cyclones, flooding, and deadly storm surges. The country’s devastating 2011 floods, for example, not only impacted over 1.69 million hectares of land, resulting in economic losses of over $2 billion — it also caused global industrial production to decline by 2.5%, as seven major industrial parks and the 800+ companies therein (largely producing automobile parts and electronics) were inundated.

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“The New Myanmar”: Full Transcript

6 Jan

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On December 12, 2016, PISA hosted Myanmar Ambassador Aung Lynn at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs as part of our PISA-ASEAN Southeast Asia Roundtable Series and the Elliott School’s Ambassador Forum Series. He gave an address entitled “The New Myanmar,” followed by a question and answer session with GW students, faculty, and non-GW affiliates from the media, civil society, and more.

You can read a full transcript of his remarks and the following Q&A below the cut, or download it here.

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Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia: Myanmar

29 Dec

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By PISA Program Assistant, Dr. Miriam Grinberg

Following Myanmar Ambassador Aung Lynn’s visit to the Elliott School of International Affairs on Monday, December 12, PISA provides critical background information on the country through our blog. Previously, we discussed the country’s challenges in natural resource governance and the continued consequences of the Cold War. This post concludes the series with a focus on the impact of sea level rise and climate change on Myanmar’s future.

In my previous post’s overview of the difficulties that Burmese policymakers face in managing and distributing natural resources equitably, I noted that Myanmar is well-known for its rich biodiversity and wealth of resources, such as natural gas and jade. As the country continues to undergo political and economic transformation – including the development of its energy and industry sectors, urban areas, and agricultural production – the sustainability of its new enterprises has increasingly come into question, not to mention their environmental impact. Combined with its geographical location (sandwiched between two of the world’s largest polluters, China and India), it is no wonder that the country was recently called the second most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change.

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Legacies of the Cold War in Asia: Myanmar

15 Dec

Chinese Troops in Burma

By PISA Staff Assistant, Leeann Ji

Following Myanmar Ambassador Aung Lynn’s visit to the Elliott School of International Affairs on Monday, December 12, PISA provides critical background information on the country through our blog. Previously, we discussed the country’s challenges in natural resource governance. Stay tuned for one more post on Myanmar as part of our ongoing series, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia.

A country composed of 14 administrative states and more than 135 different ethnic groups, Myanmar currently lags behind its Southeast Asian counterparts in many different aspects of development (according to 2014 data gathered by the United Nations Development Program). After decades of political turmoil, Myanmar saw a push towards democracy when the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the 2015 elections by a landslide. The election results proved to be a victory for Myanmar, but after the Cold War-era proliferation of communism, years of ideological battles, and an exploding opium and heroin trade, the new Burmese government faces many obstacles on the path to catching up to its ASEAN neighbors.

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The challenge of natural resource governance in Myanmar

9 Dec

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By PISA Program Assistant, Dr. Miriam Grinberg

In the lead-up to Myanmar Ambassador Aung Lynn’s visit to the Elliott School of International Affairs on Monday, December 12, PISA will provide critical background information on the country through our blog. Stay tuned for two more posts on Myanmar as part of our ongoing series, Legacies of the Cold War in Asia and Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia.

The visit of Myanmar’s First State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to the U.S. in September 2016 was hailed as a milestone in the two countries’ relations, and a sign of how far Myanmar has come since Suu Kyi was a political prisoner. It also came at a challenging point in the country’s history, as it faces not only the difficulty of achieving a permanent peace, but also developing in a sustainable and equitable way. Ranked 148 out of 188 in the 2015 UN Human Development Index and 147 out of 167 in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, it is clear that the central government of Myanmar has a long way to go towards ensuring a higher standard of living for its citizens.

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Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in Asia: Indonesia

8 Nov

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By PISA Program Assistant, Dr. Miriam Grinberg

As in Vietnam, Indonesia – the biggest economy in Southeast Asia – is growing at a steady pace year after year, with 15% of its GDP resting on the back of its agricultural sector. In fact, over 44% of Indonesian laborers are employed in this sector, and whether in rice production or fishing, all are feeling the impact of climate change — including creeping sea level rise.

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