Monday 16 November 2015

Singapore can play a part in the Arctic: DPM Teo Chee Hean at the Opening Session of the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum on 12 November 2015

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2015

Though the Arctic is a "seemingly distant region", its developments have a great impact on Singapore, both environmentally and economically, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

But he envisions Singapore playing a part in the development of the Arctic by creating suitable technology for the region and sharing expertise, like managing oil spills, with the eight Arctic nations.

Such engagement between Singapore and the Arctic nations has boosted the industry capabilities of both sides for sustainable resource development in the polar region, he added.

A most recent effort he pinpointed is the collaboration between the National University of Singapore and University of Alaska Fairbanks in areas such as cold regions engineering and oil spill research.

Mr Teo underlined mutual gains from strengthening cooperation when he opened the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum, the first major meeting in Asia on the region's future.

Singapore is hosting the one-day forum, attended by 150 government officials and researchers from countries that include the eight nations which form the Arctic Council, an inter-governmental organisation that sets the rules for the future development of the polar region.

Its members are: United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Singapore is a permanent observer at the council.

In his speech, Mr Teo also underlined the need for Singapore, as a maritime nation, to maintain a keen interest in the Arctic as changes there will "invariably change the future of marine transport". A robust legal and institutional framework is also important as economic activity in the Arctic grows, he added.

"As a small island state that has always depended on sea-borne trade as our economic lifeline, we believe it is in the interest of all states to preserve the freedom of navigation and rights to safe passage through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and other waters, as provided for by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said.

Environmentally, a warmer Arctic has far-reaching impact globally, both in terms of costs and investment potential.

For Singapore, it has led to shore protection works to guard against erosion, and the raising of the minimum level of newly reclaimed land to pre-empt the projected rise in sea level.

Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, in his opening address at the forum, similarly noted that the Arctic affects every country in the world.

"It is extraordinarily rich in resources which are of great relevance and importance for the economies of the 21st and 22nd century - not just oil and gas but also hydrothermal resources."

He also spoke of the need to create an "environmentally responsible" framework for countries with a financial interest in the region.

Dr Grimsson, whose three-day state visit to Singapore ends today, is leader of the Arctic Circle, which seeks to address issues the Arctic faces because of climate change and melting sea ice.

During forum discussions, participants talked about the best ways to govern northern sea routes, new technologies to meet infrastructure needs, and investment and research opportunities in the region.

How Arctic developments affect Singapore
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2015

Climate change

Global warming, which causes sea ice in the Arctic to melt, makes low-lying Singapore especially vulnerable to climate change.

But steps have been taken to fortify the country. Since 2011, the Government has raised the minimum level of newly reclaimed land by an additional metre, to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide levels.

There are also shore protection works covering more than 70 per cent of Singapore's coastline to guard against erosion.

Economic potential

The current world demand for oil is more than 34 billion barrels a year, but the Arctic is estimated to hold the equivalent of 426 billion barrels of oil. To extract it, specialised products like Arctic-grade drilling rigs are needed.

Experts say firms could invest as much as US$100 billion (S$142 billion) in the area in the next 10 years.

Singapore companies in the maritime industry could tap this.

Keppel Offshore & Marine, for instance, has hitherto delivered 10 ice-class vessels, which can cut through solid ice that is more than 1.7m thick and operate in temperatures as low as -45 deg C.

It is also collaborating with drilling contractors to develop the world's first Arctic-grade, environmentally friendly "green" rig.

Impact on shipping industry

Melting Arctic ice has widened a channel - the Northern Sea Route between Russia and Norway - that enables ships to deliver European oil and products to North-east Asia in a much shorter time. During the warmer summer months, ships sail through the route, which is faster than the Suez Canal-Malacca Strait link that benefits Singapore.

But one way Singapore can stay relevant is to adhere to international codes that ensure safe shipping.

As a member of the International Maritime Organisation, it adopted the Polar Code in May, which imposes, among other things, stringent design and operation requirements on ships operating in polar waters.

Relevant ships flying the Singapore flag will also have to go for regular inspections to certify that they comply with these requirements.

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