How Dutch innovations are spurring Singapore’s climate battle

By Yun Xuan Poon

Interview with H.E. Margriet Vonno, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Singapore and Brunei.

The Mercator projection, a way of mapping the world that’s commonly used by sailors even today, was first invented by geographer Gerardus Mercato in 1569. Nearly 500 years later, the Dutch are still making waves with innovations at sea.

Singapore, a fellow low-lying, land-scarce nation, is looking to the Netherlands for ways to battle rising tides. The Dutch’s experiments with floating buildings, coastal protection and food tech can serve to guide Singapore’s climate adaptation measures.

H.E. Margriet Vonno, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Singapore and Brunei, shares how Dutch innovations are supporting Singapore’s climate change priorities.

Keeping afloat

Singapore and the Netherlands both face the imminent threat of rising sea levels. They need to carefully model and predict the level of protection needed to “not be over- or under protective”, while remaining flexible, says Vonno.

Floating structures could be an option. Singapore, for instance, is building a floating solar farm near the southwest of the island. It will be able to power 16,000 four-room flats for a year, and is expected to be completed this year, reported The Straits Times.

Amsterdam is no stranger to watertop buildings, but a new residential district will bring floating accommodation to the next level. Houses in the Schoonschip project are fixed to the river bed but can rise with the waters, according to CNA. Each home also has solar panels to produce the energy needed by its residents.

Data for climate change

“Data is not only useful in mapping the current situation, but also to build models and simulate the impact of the solution,” Vonno says. She shares two ways the Netherlands is supporting Singapore’s use of data to tackle climate change.

First, Singapore is funding a Dutch-led research project to monitor nasty emissions from diesel vehicles in real time. Lab measurements often don’t match actual emission levels, explained The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.

Second, Singapore has launched the Jurong Island Circular Economy Study, which maps the island’s water, energy, and waste flows. Companies can then identify ways to reuse and recycle resources between them, wrote JTC, which oversees the industrial district.

All in the same boat

Big problems like climate change need big solutions. Singapore emphasises a “whole-of-government” approach to climate change. This has helped government agencies start using solar energy, Tan Kok Yam, Deputy Secretary (Smart Nation and Digital Government) of the Prime Minister’s Office, told GovInsider last year.

The Dutch bring this concept a step further. They pioneered the Dutch diamond model to bring together government, research, industry and civil society organisations, and are applying this to cope with climate change, Vonno shares.

These collaborations have birthed “many” climate adaptation innovations, she notes. One of these is the Sand Motor pilot project, supported by the Dutch government, three companies, and a research institute.

This project borrows the natural movement of waves, tides and wind to redistribute sand along the coasts to form dunes. These help to protect coasts from floods without disturbing the coastal ecosystem too frequently. Traditionally, this process had to be done using machines every five years, wrote EcoShape, the nature-based solutions foundation leading this project.

Another example is Upp!, a Dutch social enterprise which works with local authorities, businesses and citizens to reduce plastic waste. It is helping Can Tho, capital of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, retrieve plastic waste from the Mekong River.

The plastic will be recycled to build a floating park that can house fish farms, homes or jetties. This project combines efforts from the People's Committee of Can Tho, UN partner Recycled Island foundation, and Dutch and Vietnamese universities, Upp! wrote.

Dutch-Singapore partnership

Where can Singapore and the Netherlands go in their partnership on tackling climate change? Vonno is excited about collaborating in food technology, especially in developing alternative proteins.

Singapore’s labs have cooked up quite a storm on this front. Local startup Shiok Meats created the first batch of lab-grown shrimp meat last year, Reuters reported.

“With Singapore’s ambition of producing 30 per cent of its food domestically by 2030, the Dutch expertise in this field can help,” says Vonno. She points to Dutch companies FUMI, which uses microorganisms to make an egg white substitute, and Protifarm, which looks to insects for a sustainable food source.

The two countries are already working closely to share their knowledge on fighting climate change. They have signed an MOU to exchange knowledge on translating global projections by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to national estimates. They will also work together to use these estimates to guide policies, Vonno shares.

As the world walks out of the pandemic, nations will have a chance to build back right. After all, “recovery and climate action go hand-in-hand,” says Vonno. Singapore and the Netherlands will work closely to protect their people and coasts from the effects of climate change.

Images by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Singapore.