Engineering plays crucial role in climate change

In a bid to highlight the importance of engineering in sustainable development and climate change, the Institute of Engineers in Singapore has launched a competition to recognise the most innovative engineering achievements in the city-state.

Singapore’s Institution of Engineers (IES) has launched a competition to recognise the top 50 engineering achievements in the city-state’s history in commemoration of its golden jubilee.

Speaking at the opening of the World Engineers Summit (WES) on Climate Change, president of IES Chong Kee Sen said the competition - called The Engineering Feats @ IES-SG50 - aims to identify innovations, products or projects that have contributed to Singapore’s economic growth over the past five decades as well as improved the lives of citizens.

A panel of judges from the private and public sectors will shortlist the best 100 of the nominations - which will open on 21 August and close on 30 November - and the public will vote on their favourite projects next year.

Indeed, engineers have a crucial role to play in Singapore’s transformation and in improving the lives of its citizens, said Teo Chee Hean, Singapore’s deputy prime minister and coordinating minister for national security and minister for home affairs, at the opening of the summit on Wednesday. 

In Singapore, the work of engineers can be seen everywhere: green buildings, water treatment and incineration plants, land reclaimation, transportation networks, high-tech industries, entertainment facilities and more, Teo said. 

“Besides recognising what engineers have done to help build the Singapore of today, we should look to the future,” Teo said. “We need engineers to make Singapore a Smart Nation to support more convenient and integrated living.”

The Smart Nation initiative was set out late last year by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; it’s a plan for the country to become a leading smart nation by harnessing technology to raise the quality of life for citizens and create new business opportunities.

Singapore as a living lab

As one of the most urban, densely-populated countries in the world, Singapore can serve as a living lab to test and pilot innovative solutions that can help other cities address the effects of global climate change, Teo said. 

The low-lying island in Southeast Asia, with a population of 5.5 million people, is especially vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change and has already seen changes in rainfall patterns and temperature in the form of prolonged dry spells, more severe storms and even hail, he added. 

While it is among the best 20 per cent of countries in emissions intensity – or emissions emitted per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) – and an early adopter of green policies and technology, Singapore is finding ways to reduce emissions, he added.

On July, Singapore committed to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, with the aim of peaking its emissions by that time. It joins countries such as China, United States, Korea, Mexico, and Canada that have made pledges ahead of a global climate change meeting in December in Paris.

To meet that target, Singapore will have to rely on science and technology, research and development, as well as in policies and systems integration. All these will go some way towards addressing climate challenges – both in mitigating the emission of greenhouse gases as well as enhancing the city’s resilience and adaptation to the impact of climate change, Teo said.

“Because of Singapore’s small size and urban environment, we can play a useful role as a living lab to test-bed and pilot innovative urban solutions,” Teo said. “Through these efforts, we hope to develop holistic urban solutions not only for Singapore but which can help other global cities that are also grappling with the challenges of climate change.”

For example, materials, mechanical, electrical and manufacturing engineers can collaborate to reduce the cost and enhance the performance of solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies.

They can also work with economists and policy analysts to introduce innovation, policies and behavioural change programmes to promote energy conservation and efficiency.

Civil and environmental engineers can team up with experts in climate science, data, and communications experts to design and built infrastructure projects to enhance cities’ resilience and adaptation to the effects of climate change, he noted.

Cities as “battlegrounds” for climate change

Cities in Asia are particularly crucial in the fight against climate change because they currently account for about 60 to 80 per cent of the region’s energy consumption and 75 per cent of its carbon emissions.

These numbers will increase; by 2050, 64 per cent of the region’s population will be living in cities and half the global GDP will be produced by Asia, according to estimates by the United Nations.

“Cities, no matter how you look at it, have the responsibility to ensure that the economic growth of countries remains,” said keynote speaker Bindu Lohani, Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Japan and former vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development at the Asian Development Bank.

The engineering profession therefore has a crucial role to play in coming up with solutions to meet the climate change challenge, he added.

Tan Gee Paw, chairman of Singapore’s national water agency PUB, agreed, noting that it was systems engineering that helped Singapore tackle its water crisis over the past several decades. Now, it is also systems engineering that will help Singapore deal with the impact of climate change on its water supply.

Tan said that climate change would bring about more severe droughts and heavier rainfall, resulting in the need for larger reservoirs to collect the extra water that must be used during dry spells.

In the case of Singapore, which has space constraints, a more feasible solution would be using technology to recycle more used water, he added.

“Now, about 30 to 40 per cent of water used by domestic households is sent back to be recycled. Our target is to have 50 per cent and eventually even 75 per cent recycling rates,” Tan said.

While engineers have a vital role to play in the fight against climate change, speakers worried that young people might not be drawn to the industry because of relatively lower salaries - compared to those in investment banking and law - and the ‘glamour’ factor.

Professor Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large at Singapore’s foreign affairs ministry, said that the financial industry is attracting the best brains and talent because it pays well. The engineering industry has to make changes so that it rewards the best talent. 

“Money is an incentive. If you want to motivate people, there must be a promise of profit, a promise of a lucrative career, a promise of a sunshine industry,” said Professor Koh. 

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