While engineering innovation historically has been motivated by a focus on economic development and competitiveness in the commercial market, the links between innovation and the attainment of climate resilience and sustainability goals have become a subject of great interest. Multidisciplinary engineering change on a massive scale in various vital sectors including energy, buildings, infrastructure, food, mobility, waste, water, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, and diverse industries is needed over the coming decades to achieve the global goal of climate resilience. This potentially requires drastic improvement of current engineering systems and the development of advanced technologies at a large commercial scale (from invention, innovation, adoption to diffusion of new technology into the marketplace).
Achieving such multidisciplinary engineering innovation undoubtedly requires not only a set of policy drivers, but also an infusion of financial and human resources to support each stage of the technological-change and innovation processes. Ultimately, the private sector should play a major role in engineering innovation. Recent estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and other Institutions highlight that only 15% of newly promoted technologies could effectively contribute to mitigating the climate change. They also indicate the need to increase significant private-sector investments in research and development (R&D) for green technologies to address climate resilience.
In this regard, engineering innovation challenges incontestably offer huge opportunities for professional development to engineers and scientists in various disciplines where increased efforts are needed to support the sustainability goals. In turn, government policies must provide the signals and potential markets needed to stimulate private-sector investments in R&D to adapt to drastic climate impact and effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The role of government policies is especially critical in fostering engineering innovations that address climate resilience.
A broad portfolio of policies is therefore required, not only to foster advanced technological innovation, but also to boost the subsequent adoption of new technologies by a large range of actors including the public and firms. The policy portfolio should include a combination of “sticks” in the form of regulations that directly or indirectly set limits on carbon emissions, together with “carrots” that provide voluntary incentives to encourage technological innovation and deployment.
Should Hong Kong drive such engineering momentum in the context of zero net target by 2050, a policy portfolio must be imperatively established shortly to support R&D and green innovations, along with other measures including the integration of climate resilience and sustainability approaches and ethics in engineering programmes and courses to build students’ capability for designing advanced technologies with a sustainability mindset; and enhancement of young generation’s interest in engineering studies not only by showing the importance and benefits of further specialisation in emerging green engineering concepts, but also by incentivising the motivation and full commitment of Hong Kong young engineers to contribute to overcome climate resilience and sustainability challenges.
This article is contributed by Ir Dr Alex E Gbaguidi with the coordination of the Environmental Division.