Commentary: Singapore’s heat stress advisory signals a hotter world to come


The heat stress advisory is an important first step to build awareness of the dangers of heat exposure and guide Singaporeans towards behavioural adaptations. Further workplace and lifestyle changes will be inevitable as extremes become more frequent and severe.

In Singapore, we are fortunate to be able to seek refuge from the heat in air-conditioned public spaces like malls and public transport, if not in our own homes. Though this access comes with an economic and energy cost, many of our Southeast Asian neighbours are not so fortunate.

In addition, people who work outdoors, such as construction workers or delivery riders, have less opportunities to take breaks from the heat and bear an inherently higher risk of heat stress and related injuries. As well as physical heat illness, heat exposure can also cause mental fatigue and impact decision-making, impairing our ability to work and go about our lives safely.

On top of climate change, urban growth in Singapore threatens to exacerbate heat stress as forested areas make way for housing and industrial development. According to a National University of Singapore (NUS) study published in 2022, high-rise urban development can push temperatures by up to 4.3 degrees Celsius compared to undeveloped land, whereas residential areas with more vegetation are around 2.5 degrees Celsius warmer.

NUS researchers also found that in Singapore, heat stress risk is highest in the Central Region where dense urban development overlaps with large populations of elderly people. Integrating green spaces into urban development and protecting existing forests must be a priority to mitigate heat extremes and protect our most vulnerable people.

Yet heat not only threatens the health of humans, but also the trees and vegetation that provide essential cooling. A 2022 study published in Nature considered all of Singapore’s urban trees vulnerable to climate change as they will experience future temperatures and precipitation far beyond the conditions they are currently adapted to.

Together with colleagues from the Cooling Singapore 2.0 project, we are seeking to understand how trees will cope in a warmer world, and what it means for the future of parks management.

Building a sustainable and resilient city must also ensure the protection and management of the ecosystems that we depend on. Although our research will help address some of these questions, we must work across sectors – including urban design and policymaking – to reimagine the future of Singapore under an unforgiving climate.

Emma E Ramsay is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Asian School of the Environment at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore, and Perrine Hamel is Assistant Professor at NTU’s Asian School of the Environment and Principal Investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

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