Tropical countries such as Singapore will be a lot hotter and wetter by the turn of this century if climate change predictions come to pass. Weather considered extreme today could well become the norm, with temperatures rising by as much as three to four degrees Celsius and heavy storms becoming more frequent and intense.
Singapore already has one of the hottest tropical rainforest climates on earth.
"Equatorial Singapore will not just be warmer than it is now, but warmer than anywhere on earth with year-round rainfall," ecologist Richard Corlett warns in the first State of the Tropics report by Australia's James Cook University (JCU), which is launched today in Myanmar, Singapore and Australia.
Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore were among 11 international universities that helped to develop the report's framework and review the final product, targeted at policymakers, researchers and others.
Tropical regions are typically those where the mean temperature of the coolest month is above 18 deg C, with a small annual range of temperature.
The report's focus on the tropics reflects how this is a critical zone of population and economic growth, with an impact on the rest of the world, said JCU media and communications head Richard Davis.
The university plans to update the report every five years.
Professor Corlett, who is with the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, told The Sunday Times there is a need for more research in several areas, and Singapore could play a lead role in this.
One area is developing better climate models, something which the Centre for Climate Research Singapore is currently doing. South-East Asia's climate is particularly complicated, with a varied mix of land and sea. Another is conducting experiments on how various species react to sustained higher temperatures.
Professor Stephen Lansing, co-director of NTU's Complexity Institute, said Singapore has the research expertise to model how tropical cities might behave as they grow, or to work out how to cut emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from ricefields in Bali, for example.
In the report, JCU researchers say climate change is making the earth's tropical regions creep gradually towards the poles at a rate of about 1.25 to 2.5 degrees of latitude every quarter-century - or between 138km and 277km.
This will have significant consequences for a number of issues, as well as for people and ecosystems.
Almost half the people in the tropics are already vulnerable to water stress. So if the region expands as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift, even more could be at risk.
An expanded tropical region could increase the habitat for disease-carrying insects. But other plants and animals could face extinction if they cannot move or adapt as warm places become warmer.
NTU and NUS representatives, including NTU president Bertil Andersson, are among experts who will discuss the report at Marina Bay Sands today.
This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
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