Climate Change in Singapore

Librarian Sharon Teng delves into the library’s resources to investigate climate change in Singapore and, in the process, discovers weather phenomena that have taken place in our island nation over the years.

As nice as the “aircon” weather had been for Singapore in early January, it is not necessarily a good sign for the planet. The recent cool weather is a result of the La Nina climate phenomenon which causes more rainy weather and is made worse by accelerating climate change, which has been adversely affecting the planet.¹

It may be hard to believe but even with lockdowns and factory closures across the globe, 2020 was, together with 2016, the joint hottest year ever recorded.² To many, this may just mean more unpredictable weather but it is further reaching than that.

For one, the terms “weather” and “climate” are not synonymous. Weather refers to the daily fluctuations in temperature, rainfall, sunshine cover and wind speed. This is not the same as climate change, which refers to large scale changes in weather patterns, including changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets that occur over several decades or longer.³

Scientists have documented various visible impacts of climate change on our planet due to global warming. Some of these examples include the melting of vast ice sheets and mountain glaciers and the consequent rise in sea levels; the migration of some animal species to cooler regions as their original habitats become inhospitable; and the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, storms and heatwaves.⁴

Global warming occurs when air pollutants and gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide accumulate in the earth’s atmosphere and absorb the solar radiation that is reflected from the earth’s surface. When these pollutants trap the heat and warm the planet, scientists call this the greenhouse effect.⁵

Located at the equator, we in Singapore enjoy a tropical climate with plenty of rainfall, high humidity and a constant temperature all year round. Our climate is largely influenced by the southwest monsoon (June to September) and the northeast monsoon (December to early March).⁶

Since the mid-1970s, the island’s average temperature has increased by an average of 0.25°C every decade due to industralisation. With increased urbanisation and the global warming effect, we can expect the weather in Singapore to keep getting hotter.

Since 1980, Singapore’s annual rainfall has risen by an average of 67 mm per decade.

Hottest, coldest and wettest days in Singapore

Let’s talk records. We all know that it can get pretty hot in Singapore, especially with the high humidity and temperatures hovering around the 30s on most days. But did you know that a high of 37°C was recorded on 17 April 1983?⁷

Conversely, the chilliest temperature recorded was 19.4°C on 30 and 31 January 1934.⁸

On 3 December 1978, a record-breaking deluge of rainfall measuring a high of 512.4 mm lashed down on the island. This was a whopping 108 percent above the average monthly December rainfall.⁹

Weather phenomena in Singapore

Due to our geographical location, we are thankfully spared from devastating natural events such as volcanic eruptions and tornadoes, but that doesn’t mean that we do not have our own weather events to deal with. For example, major floods have occurred in almost every decade since the 1800s. They not only cause inconvenience but also vast amounts of collateral damage.¹⁰

Less common are waterspouts which, according to the National Environment Agency, occur during thunderstorms. They are spotted in our waters once or twice a year.¹¹

Perhaps even stranger for a tropical country, Bukit Batok residents were astonished by hailstones the size of small pebbles that rained down as an intense thunderstorm swept over the western part of Singapore during the afternoon of 23 June 2013.¹²

In January 2018, thanks to a monsoon surge bringing in cool air from the northern hemisphere, Singapore experienced five continuous days of cool and rainy weather, with temperatures dropping to 21°C. According to the Meteorological Service Singapore, such cool spells could become more frequent due to climate change.¹³

Impact of climate change on Singapore and our response

According to the National Climate Change Secretariat, Singapore made early efforts to moderate our carbon emissions by limiting the vehicle population and by shifting from fuel oil to natural gas in the early 2000s. Due to Singapore’s small size and dense urban setting, renewable energy options such as solar and wind power are challenging to implement. Instead, Singapore has focused on improving energy efficiency across key sectors such as power generation, industry, transport, buildings and households as well as water and waste management.¹⁴

In his National Day Rally speech in 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would need to spend S$100 billion over the next century to tackle climate change and rising sea levels.¹⁵

As individuals, we can help to fight climate change in our own simple ways. Why not consider taking more public transport or carpooling to reduce our carbon footprint, or switching to energy efficient appliances to reduce carbon dioxide emissions? We can also try to consume more seasonal and locally grown food and reduce our consumption of animal protein or even possibly consider switching to a plant-based diet.

Do check out the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s FB page to find out more about Singapore’s Climate Change Game Plan.

Sharon Teng is a Librarian at the National Library. She manages the National Library’s Social Science and Humanities collection.

[1] Teh, C. & Ng, W. K. (2021, January 3). Rainfall on Saturday among highest in Singapore in past 39 years. The Straits Times. Retrieved 2021, January 29, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/wet-and-windy-start-to-the-new-year-continues-into-saturday; Wet start to New Year continues as mercury drops to 21.1°C. (2021, January 2). Today. Retrieved 2021, January 29, from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/wet-start-new-year-continues-mercury-drops-213degc

[2] Carrington, D. (2021, Jan 8). Climate crisis: 2020 was joint hottest year ever recorded. The Guardian. Retrieved 2021, January 11 from The Guardian website.

[3] What is climate change?. (2020). Retrieved 17 December 2020 from Australian Academy of Science website https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/science-climate-change/1-what-is-climate-change

[4] Effects of global warming. (2020). Retrieved 17 December 2020, from National Geographic website https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-effects/

[5] Global warming 101. (2016, March 11). Retrieved 17 December 2020, from Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-warming-101#warming

[6] Fong, M. (2012). The weather and climate of Singapore. Singapore: Meteorological Service Singapore. (Call no.: RSING 551.695957 FON)

[7] Wednesday’s 36.7 deg C hottest day in a decade. (2016, April 16). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

[8] The cold snap. (1934, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Historical extremes. (n.d.). Retrieved 18 December 2020, from Meteorological Service Singapore website http://www.weather.gov.sg/climate-historical-extremes-temperature/

[9] Highest rainfall in a day. (1978, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; More rain forecast for next few days. (1978, December 20). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

[10] Floods in Singapore. (1935, March 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Flood chaos in S’pore. (1954, October 24). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Worst floods in 35 years cause three deaths and devastation throughout S’pore. (1969, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Flood chaos: Thousands marooned. (1978, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, K. S. (1987, January 19). 13 died during three major floods in the last 18 years. TheStraits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lam, L. & Seow, R. (2018, May 27). Heavy rain causes flash flood in Orchard Road; vehicles stuck in murky water. Retrieved 17 December 2020, from The Straits Times website https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/flash-flood-in-orchard-road-pub-issues-high-flood-risk-alerts-in-central-region

[11] Driscoll, S. (2016, August 6). Large waterspout spotted off Singapore’s East Coast. Retrieved 17 December 2020, from The Straits Times website https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/large-water-spout-spotted-off-east-coast; Teh, C. (2019, May 16). Waterspout off Singapore coast sparks climate debate. Retrieved 17 December 2020, from The New Paper website https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/waterspout-singapore-coast-sparks-climate-debate

[12] Thunderstorms with hail in Singapore. (n.d.). Retrieved 17 December 2020, from Meteorological Service Singapore website http://www.weather.gov.sg/thunderstorms-with-hail-in-singapore/

[13] Tan, A. (2018, January 18). Five-day cool spell was Singapore’s longest in a decade. Retrieved 17 December 2020, from The Straits Times website https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/five-day-cool-spell-was-singapores-longest-in-a-decade

[14] National circumstances. (2020). Retrieved 17 December 2020, from National Climate Change Secretariat website https://www.nccs.gov.sg/singapores-climate-action/overview/national-circumstances

[15] National Day Rally 2019. (2019, August 18). Retrieved 17 December 2020, from Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore YouTube channel https://youtu.be/bINTmky4vCA

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Singapore’s premier resource centre for materials on or about Singapore and the region.