Singapore: Innovating Water Supply
Extremely vulnerable to climate change and water insecurity, Singapore innovating its way to being a leader in sustainable water solutions.
Singapore is one of the most densely populated city-states in the world. Set on a low-lying island in tropical South Asia, it has limited land-area, dominated by urban landscapes. This unique set of circumstances makes the sovereign-city extremely vulnerable to climate change, and poses significant challenges for adaptation.
Singapore is also extremely dependant on imported fossil fuels, but in the wake of the Paris Agreement, and its pledge to cut emissions intensity — emissions per dollar of GDP — by 35 percent by 2030 (on 2005 levels), the city-state is shifting its focus towards decarbonisation.
Most notable are the city’s plans to boost solar from 2 percent to 5 percent by 2020 and to introduce a carbon tax from 2019.
And while the city-state looks to reduce its own carbon impact, it’s also examining how it can adapt to the impacts of climate change, most notably by innovating its water sector.
A water-secure Singapore
For 40 years, Singapore’s “Four National Taps” water strategy has allowed the city-state to build a robust, diversified, and sustainable water supply. The city-state has harnessed recycled water and desalinated seawater in addition to local catchments and imported water. With these new sources of water unaffected by changes in weather, Singapore has been able to become a water-secure city, despite increasing droughts due to climate change.
Recycled and desalinated water now meet up to 65 percent of the city’s water demand, and with three more desalination plants planned for construction by 2020, it could reach 85 percent of demand by 2060.
Through this innovation, Singapore has also become a global ‘hydrohub’, housing a thriving cluster of 180 water companies and over 20 research centres, including national companies Hyflux and Sembcorp, and international firms like Veolia and Nitto Denko.
Such companies have taken the know-how gained from building recycling and desalination plants in Singapore to implement sustainable water solutions on a global scale. For example, Hyflux’s projects include the largest seawater desalination plant in the world, in Algeria, and the largest in China.
With the importance of the water sector only set to grow as global demographic, economic, and environmental trends continue, Singapore has set itself as a pioneer and will find itself in a good position to tap into the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon, water secure future.
Cape Town: Protecting A Growing Population From Drought
Faced with three years of serious drought, the South African capital is ramping up its efforts to conserve and diversify its water supply.
Despite its coastal location, Cape Town is under severe water pressure. Facing its third year of serious drought, the city had to ramp up water conservation measures.
While effective to date, these measures will not be enough to stave off the worsening drought, and the city’s population — already marked with inequality and poverty — will be left vulnerable.
The city has already begun investigation into the possibility of using the Table Mountain Region aquifer and options to recycle water and desalinate seawater; all of which could be crucial to build a climate resilient city.
Cape Town is already experiencing climate vulnerability. It is hit with rainstorms, extreme hot days and drought, flash floods, and extreme wind. And as the rest of South Africa also suffer, the city’s four million population is expected to expand rapidly as climate change drives rural to urban migration, with these communities often ending up in parts of the city at risk of flooding.
Such shifts could push Cape Town’s economy to the brink, including in the fishing, agriculture, infrastructure, and insurance industries. In the longer term, tourism could also be impacted.
As Cape Town’s population grows, so will the demand for energy.
South Africa is hugely reliant on coal for its energy and in the capital the average carbon footprint is 5.6 tonnes per person. However, with a draft carbon tax bill, carbon offset regulations, and plans to invest in 20,000MW of new renewable energy infrastructure by 2030, the shift away from fossil fuels has begun.
Such moves are expected to incentivise energy efficiency and simulate the low-carbon economy, and Cape Town is already making moves to ensure it benefits from these developments.
The city is currently negotiating with the national government to install large-scale renewable energy supply, and has a plan for a Green Industrial Zone to attract renewable energy manufacturers and maintenance companies into the city. It has a target to boost the proportion of renewable energy from zero in 2012 to 10 percent by 2022; with 2 percent currently coming from wind, solar and hydro.
With plans to reduce the city’s dependence on the national grid by 10 percent by 2019, diversifying its energy supply, improving energy efficiency, and securing the city's water supply are all steps in the right direction, which will boost economic development and jobs in the city.
California: A State-Wide Approach To Water Conservation
In the aftermath of record-breaking drought and faced with crippling water shortages, cities, companies and citizens are joining forces in California to protect supplies.
The American state of California, located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, is a thriving region known for culture, technology, and agriculture. It houses Silicon Valley and Hollywood and its economy — and its carbon emissions — matches that of many sovereign nations.
In recent years, California has become an epicentre for climate change impacts in the U.S. From 2012 to 2014, low rainfall and unusually high temperatures brought about the state’s worst drought in 1,200 years, which led to severe water stress, losses in agricultural produce, economic losses to the tune of US$2 billion in 2014 alone, and wildfires that blew through the fire services budget and further hit the agricultural sector.
In January 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in California.
In the wake of continued drought, an Executive Order by the State of California called for a 25 percent reduction in portable urban water usage to relieve pressure on dwindling water resources.
With water stress expected to increase in the years to come, due to climate change and population growth, the cities of California have joined forces with the business community to conserve water and build resilience. No one body is fully in charge of water governance at the water basin level; working together is crucial.
A collaborative approach
Californian cities are responding to increased water stress in a number of creative ways:
Large companies are also getting in on the action:
And through working together with companies, cities have been able to go even further. For example, between April and August 2015, the city of Benicia worked with a leak detection contractor, Utility Services Association, to search for water leaks on 125 miles of pipeline throughout the city. They found 49 water leaks and were able to repair the 41 leaks on public city pipes by February 2016.
But company and city action will only go so far without citizen engagement and many Californian cities are also looking to engage their local populations. Benicia, for example, took a very citizen-inclusive and democratic approach to water governance, using public meetings, direct mail and online pledges to engage communities. Coupled with Benicia’s other actions, this approach saw Benicia’s water use reduced by 46 percent by December 2015 compared to 2013 with residents using record-low 43 gallons per person per day.
California’s response to the record-breaking drought has built up the state’s resilience to water stress, and has raised awareness of the risks and solutions. As climate change advances, we will see more frequent and more severe droughts and other water risks. The lessons of California show that water resilience can be achieved only by regional cities, companies, and citizens working together with shared goals within a holistic strategy.
Image credit: "Cracked Mud : California Drought," Tyler Bell, 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/