Why the climate fight needs engineers

A newly launched professional development scheme for engineers was welcomed by industry professionals, who emphasised the fundamental role that engineering expertise will play in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region's fight against climate change.

Singapore has launched a new programme for engineers which will boost their long-term job prospects and provide the country with the skilled professionals it needs to address future challenges posed by climate change. 

The Engineers Progression Pathway programme, which helps practicing engineers in Singapore develop their professional and technical skills, was launched on Thursday by labour group National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES).

The scheme has three tiers: one for engineers who have just joined the workforce; an Advance Engineering Leadership programme for professional and chartered engineers; and the Global Engineering Leadership programme which grooms senior engineers to take leadership positions within the industry.

IES president Chong Kee Sen said that “with this scheme, IES hope to create long-term career development for engineers, raise standards in the engineering field and groom a strong pipeline of engineering leaders”. 

The new initiative was launched at the Engineers and Sustainable Development Forum 2015 at the NTUC Centre Auditorium.

Engineering expertise is indeed essential for solving Singapore and Asia Pacific’s sustainability challenges, noted experts at the forum, which is a lead-up event for the World Engineers Summit on Climate Change (WES) 2015 that will take place in Singapore in July. 

Edwin Khew, who is deputy president of IES and also chairman of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, told the audience of about 400 guests that “urbanisation and rapid population growth have increased the vulnerability of Asian cities to climate change”.

Cities are already experiencing extreme weather events such as floods, extreme high temperatures and droughts, water shortages, and rising sea levels, said Khew. This, along with rapid urban development, are pushing governments to realise “the urgency of a low carbon economy,” said Khew. 

To achieve the transition to this new, sustainable urban and economic system, “sustainable engineering solutions will be in strong demand, and engineers will see tremendous opportunities, both locally and regionally,” he added. 

Sustainable engineering solutions will be in strong demand, and engineers will see tremendous opportunities, both locally and regionally.

Edwin Khew, deputy president, Institution of Engineers, Singapore

Key areas where engineering has a “frontline role to play in the fight against climate change” include clean environment and water resources; sustainable development and infrastructure; sustainable energy; and resilience and adaptation against climate change, noted Khew, adding that these were the four main themes that would be discussed at WES 2015. 

In a subsequent panel discussion on overcoming environmental challenges by engineering, Choi Shing Kwok, permanent secretary in Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, said that since Singapore achieved independence in 1965, “engineering has played a very crucial role” in the island nation’s sustainable development.

The sophisticated management of waste on Pulau Semakau, such that the southern island is at once Singapore’s only landfill and a nature sanctuary is one example, said Choi. Another key example is the role of desalination and water reclamation technology in allowing Singapore to be water self-sufficient if buying water from Malaysia is no longer an option, he added. 

Singapore’s existing agreement with Malaysia, which allows the city-state to draw water from the state of Johor, is scheduled to expire in 2061.

Going forward, engineering expertise will remain a key part of the solution in realising Singapore’s green growth vision, as laid out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (SSB) 2015, said Choi. 

For example, the SSB’s aim of turning Singapore’s residential areas into “eco-smart” towns will require a mastery of technologies such as fuel cells to power lifts in housing blocks, smart meters, and water efficient appliances. 

Becoming a zero-waste nation - another target of the SSB - will also require the development of a highly convenient and efficient system to recycle waste and reuse discarded materials effectively. 

Additionally, Singapore’s quest to become a green economy, built on jobs in the renewable energy, water, and sustainable mobility sectors, among others, will also require continual innovation by engineers, said Choi. 

In addition to Singapore’s drive to develop sustainably, it also has the goal of becoming the world’s first Smart Nation. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in November unveiled a slew of new initiatives to help Singapore achieve this vision of being an advanced, seamlessly integrated city. 

But, as Sanjay Kuttan, director and country manager of the Clean Technology Centre, DNV GL, noted: “Bringing these bold aspirations to life will not be possible without a strong role for the energy sector - not only from the perspective of being smart, but also from the perspective of being sustainable”.

Singapore has one of the world’s highest carbon emissions per capita, observed Kuttan, and added that locally developed solutions to reduce this statistic could also be shared with other cities in the tropics.

Solving this challenge will take innovations in numerous areas including renewable energy, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency, noted Kuttan, but ultimately, engineers will also have to demonstrate an understanding of how these technologies work together in a broader, truly sustainable power system. 

“We will need engineers who not only excel in their field, but who can step back to thoroughly understand energy within the grand challenge of sustainability - a challenge that we cannot avoid nor fail,” he said. 

Click here to find out more about the World Engineers Summit on Climate Change 2015 and register for the conference.

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