Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the World Engineers Summit Opening Ceremony on 8 November 2023.
President of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, Mr Dalson Chung,
President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Engineer Mustafa B. Shehu,
Distinguished Guests, Engineers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to join you at the sixth World Engineers Summit (WES). A warm welcome to all our international participants to Singapore. I still fondly recall speaking at the third WES in 2017. The world has changed quite considerably since then. I am glad to see the WES growing as a platform to champion engineering-centric discussions on sustainable development.
Engineering is one of the best established professions in the world — I was almost going to say one of the oldest professions in the world, but I would say it is one of the longest established professions. The word engineer derives from the Latin ingeniare, which means to contrive, or devise, and ingenium, which means cleverness. Engineering is about creating inspired and innovative solutions, and implementing them to solve complex challenges. As we consider the role of engineering in sustainability, I would like to centre my remarks on three core characteristics of engineering: (a) inspiration; (b) innovation; and (c) implementation.
Inspiration: Positioning Ourselves for a Green Future
The existential nature of climate change inspires us to action. Global temperatures have already risen 1.1°C above pre-industrial levelsentering1. And this has led to widespread and rapid changes in our environment, including a higher frequency of extreme weather events. We feel this here in Singapore too. So countries, whether they are big or small, are impacted by climate change. Singapore accounts for only 0.11% of global greenhouse gas emissions — one-tenth of one percent. But as a small, low-lying, island state, we are exposed to the full consequences of climate change — 100%, as with every country.
So how can we all collectively make a difference to this global problem?
Collective action from all countries, and sectors of society and industry is critical. Singapore supports this collective response by helping to facilitate and broker agreements for coordinated action. For example, Singapore facilitated consultations among countries for key aspects of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. And we did the same again in 2021, to arrive at the Article 6 rules for carbon markets under the Paris agreement. Now in both cases there were major sticking points among countries that we helped to bridge. And Singapore now sits on the Supervisory Body that oversees the operationalisation of international carbon markets, and we hope to continue to play a facilitative role.
Domestically, we have taken the fundamental decision to position ourselves for a green future. Now this is a fundamental decision, because we have decided that what we should aim for is a future that we want to see, rather than look back and try and keep what we have. So this is quite a fundamental decision that we have made. And we want to position ourselves to be there for that future. So Singapore has set ambitious and concrete sustainability goals for the next 10 years under our Singapore Green Plan 2030, and to realise net zero emissions by 2050. Now this is going to be easier said than done, particularly given the many constraints that Singapore faces, including the fact that we are alternative energy-disadvantaged. We were the first country in Southeast Asia to introduce a carbon tax. It is currently at a modest level of $5 per tonne, but it is set to rise steadily to between $50 to $80 by 2030. These revenues will incentivise everyone who emits carbon to do less so and to take carbon emissions seriously, to internalise into their operations the negative externalities caused by carbon emissions. And the revenues from the carbon tax will be used to support our transition to the green industries and the green society of the future. We aim to have at least 2 GW-peak of solar deployment by 2030; and it is enough to meet the annual needs of about 350,000 households. In the longer-term, under our National Hydrogen Strategy, we are exploring the potential for hydrogen to supply up to half of our power needs by 2050, and the new gas turbines we are bringing into our power system will be ready.
Singapore is committed to making our next bound of development sustainable, and we are laying the foundation for a low-carbon future. But global challenges require global solutions, and we are equally committed to working constructively with other countries.
Innovation: Unlocking New Solutions
Engineering has transformed the way we all live. In Singapore, it has allowed us to reclaim land from the sea, and turn wastewater and seawater into drinking water. Our gravity-powered deep tunnel sewerage system – an ambitious project that took 20 years to design and build – will serve Singapore for the next 100 years. It is more energy efficient, space efficient, and resilient than the system of pumps, pipes and plants it replaces.
Innovative engineering will be essential in unlocking new, sustainable solutions for the next chapter of global development. Take hydrogen for example. While it holds great promise as a low-carbon energy source, it is a difficult molecule to handle because of its simplicity and small size. Just transporting it without incurring large losses requires a whole host of new engineering solutions in conversion, storage, and safety. I visited a liquid hydrogen ship which called into Singapore about three months ago, and it is quite interesting to see the technology that goes into that—the shipbuilders and the investors are trying to scale it up to 100 times its current size. Innovative engineering will also be needed in other areas, like global food supply. In Singapore, we are working hard on high-yield agri-tech to achieve a “30 by 30” goal – to sustainably produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030. This will be quite a stretch target. The Singapore Government supports such innovation through a combination of R&D, access to technical expertise and facilities, and an enabling regulatory environment.
Another critical enabler of innovation is collaboration, with parties bringing different perspectives, capabilities, and comparative advantages. Indeed, certain solutions are only possible when we work with partners. In the transition to green energy, Singapore faces constraints in generating enough renewable energy at scale because of our small size, lack of great rivers for hydropower, and relatively mild and inconsistent winds. In other parts of our region though, there is much greater potential for renewable energy. However this potential may not be fully realised because of lack of funds for investment or lack of demand. To overcome this, we are working with our ASEAN neighbours to connect our power grids to enable trading of renewable energy – supplying it from where it is most efficiently produced, to where it is most in demand. Singapore aims to import in the first instance 4 GW of renewable energy from our region by 2035.entering2. By creating a regional market for renewable energy, countries in the region stand to benefit both economically and environmentally.
Platforms like WES are important because they facilitate the coming together of minds needed to solve our most complex challenges.
Implementation: Translating Ideas into Action
Third, implementation. We can talk, we can think, we can dream, but engineers are best at getting things done. That makes the difference.
Our ideas and plans to improve sustainability and tackle climate change will ultimately depend on effective implementation – on time, on budget and to specifications. To decarbonise, we need to completely transform our existing industrial and energy systems. This will require a large pool of sustainability-minded engineers across a wide range of specialisations. I am glad that the Institution of Engineers, Singapore launched its IES Green Plan 2030 earlier this year. This is no surprise to me, because I first met your president nearly 30 years ago when we were both in the Ministry of Environment. IES’ Green Plan supports the Singapore Green Plan through the development of sustainability solutions, upskilling of engineers in sustainability, and collaboration with government and industry.
Engineering expertise will also be key in our efforts to adapt to climate change, such as rising sea-levels. In September, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board and the National University of Singapore jointly established the Coastal Protection and Flood Resilience Institute – the first ever Centre of Excellence dedicated to strengthening local capabilities and expertise in coastal protection and flood management. So we are taking this very very seriously.
But every country faces unique challenges in implementation. So while we invest in expanding our own engineering capabilities, we recognise the value of working with and learning from others too. Through our Sustainability Action Package, Singapore has been supporting the capacity-building needs of fellow developing countries in sustainability and climate change, including in decarbonisation, water and food resilience, and sustainable infrastructure. If we do not succeed collectively, we will not succeed at all.
Engineering continues to play a crucial role in transforming our world and improving our lives. Through a combination of inspiration, innovation, and robust implementation, we can overcome the challenges of sustainability and climate change. I wish you and your colleagues good discussions on how we can work together, and help the world and Singapore engineer a more sustainable future for our people and planet everywhere.
Thank you very much.
 Sixth assessment cycle report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Mar 2023.
 EMA has granted Conditional Approvals to projects for future import of low-carbon electricity from Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
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