Remarks by the Hon. Pennelope Beckles, Minister of Planning and Development

May 15th, 2024


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Hon. Pennelope Beckles
Minister of Planning and Development.

Engineering a more Sustainable Future

  • Engineer Kala Trebouhansingh, President, Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago;
  • Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago Executive Council Members;
  • Professor Clément Imbert, ORTT, Chairman of Board of Governors, University of Trinidad and Tobago;
  • Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago members;
  • Conference Partners- University of the West Indies and University of Trinidad and Tobago;
  • Distinguished Speakers and Panellists and other invited Guests;
  • Representatives of the media.

Good morning and welcome to everyone in attendance this morning.

Congratulations are in order to the Association of Petroleum Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago, APETT, for your continued success in conducting this Technical Conference every year. I must also commend you on the themes for this year’s Conference which focus on sustainable development for small island developing states, energy and energy related industries, the resilience, safety and inclusivity of engineering infrastructure, Artificial Intelligence, engineering education and ethics.

Let me start with an anecdote. I was told that for every problem there is an engineering solution. I was also told that that must be true as the problems are initially caused by engineering designs.

Either way, the role of engineering in the development process cannot be denied.

According to a UNESCO 2021 Engineering for Sustainable Development Report, engineering is a vital ingredient for achieving all seventeen of the global Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. Some key information noted in this Report is that there is a shortage of engineers for implementing the SDGs. Off the bat, we have an opportunity for our current engineers and the youth who may have already decided they want to get into engineering or those who don’t know they have the potential to be a part of this life changing field. APETT does an excellent job in promoting engineers as playing a vital role in addressing basic human needs through the improvement of our quality of life and the creation of opportunities for sustainable growth on a local, national, regional and global level. In this context, I urge the Association to continue growing and getting the youth on board.

The delicate ecosystems and limited resources of island nations necessitate a holistic approach to development that balances economic growth, social inclusion and environmental preservation. Sustainable development not only ensures the well-being of current generations but also safeguards the interests of future ones. By prioritizing engineering in sustainability, SIDs in the Caribbean region can mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, promote renewable energy sources, and foster resilient economies that are less vulnerable to external shocks. Engineering solutions are important for driving the elements of this Conference’s themes as well as economic development by creating innovative solutions, advancing technology, and improving infrastructure.

The challenges faced by small island developing states are compounded by the ever evolving geopolitics demonstrating the vulnerability that SIDS have to exogenous economic and environmental shocks and over which we have little or no control.

Specifically, given the unique challenges SIDS face in achieving sustainability due to their small size, limited resources, and vulnerability to climate change, engineering a more sustainable future for SIDS requires a multi-faceted approach, including:

  1. Renewable Energy Infrastructure: Developing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power can reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and increase energy security. As Trinidad and Tobago joins the global effort to combat global warming, we are intent to achieve our Nationally Determined Contributions commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions in the power generation, transportation and industrial sectors. Wind and solar energy are potential areas for development in Trinidad and Tobago’s drive to for carbon reduction and sustainable development. Wind resource assessments and major solar projects are underway and a cadre skilled engineers in these areas is important. Renewable energy engineers design, implement, and maintain renewable energy infrastructure, making renewable energy solutions available in new places using current technology. Engineers also optimize technology to be more efficient and economical or support the search for new renewable energy technologies entirely.
       
  2. Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Designing infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events and rising sea levels is crucial for SIDS. This includes resilient buildings, coastal protection measures, and sustainable water management systems. This is in keeping with our policy position of building climate resiliency through the national development process. Moving beyond renewable resources, our susceptibility to natural disasters and climate-related hazards dictate that SIDs must prioritize the development of infrastructure that can withstand and recover from adverse events. This includes resilient transportation networks, water and sanitation systems, as well as communication technologies that ensure continuity of essential services and facilitate emergency response efforts. Furthermore, engineering infrastructure must be designed with inclusivity in mind, ensuring equal access and participation for all members of society, including marginalized and vulnerable communities. This facilitates a social importance of engineering, to bring people together, keep them safe and ensure the well-being of our communities. So the task is to not only guarantee that our structures are safe, efficient, and sustainable, but also to consider the economic and social impact of designs on our everyday lives.
       
  3. Sustainable Agriculture and Fisheries: Promoting sustainable farming practices and fisheries management can help preserve natural resources and ensure food security for island communities. We are already experiencing warmer sea temperatures that will affect fisheries and food supply.
       
  4. Waste Management and Recycling: Implementing efficient waste management systems, including recycling and composting, can reduce pollution and conserve limited landfill space. Our land fills are already overflowing with waste that not only pose fire threats, but the emissions from those fires have seen the effects on human health.
       
  5. Education and Capacity Building: Investing in education and training programs in engineering, sustainability, and climate resilience can empower local communities to drive sustainable development initiatives. This is crucial to creating the skills set for the future green and sustainable economy, which Trinidad and Tobago cannot escape.
       
  6. International Cooperation: Collaborating with international partners, organizations, and donors can provide SIDS with technical expertise, funding, and access to best practices in sustainable engineering. We have already begun to articulate such needs in international fora such as the climate negotiations

By combining these strategies, SIDS can work towards a more resilient and sustainable future, ensuring the well-being of both current and future generations. However, in order to fully optimise these approaches, development issues and priorities must be incorporated into engineering designs in the face of modern reality such as climate change. Integrating climate risks into engineering designs must be the first order of business in building climate resiliency in all its facets and in all relevant sectors.

Determining the skills needed it perhaps the next order of business as engineering disciplines are applicable in all aspects of national development. To bolster this, the Ministry of Planning and Development has undertaken the advancement of a National Manpower Plan. The Plan is being developed based on research conducted by the Ministry of Planning and Development which revealed that there is a sense of urgency within the business sector to produce a Plan for Trinidad and Tobago. What the research identified was existence of skills gaps in areas within the local labour market. This has also been confirmed by various surveys such as the World Bank’s Enterprise Survey 2010 and the Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development’s Vacancy Survey Report 2012. In the Enterprise Survey, 30% of firms in Trinidad and Tobago stated that an inadequately educated workforce was a major constraint to business and development.

A National Manpower Plan will serve to inform these requirements across the board within the education and employment systems of Trinidad and Tobago. It will also serve as a guide for setting priorities in terms of the critical skills needed for targeted areas of development and by extension the areas in which the demand for skills are needed. The Plan will also determine the future skills needs, while also indicating gaps and ways to address these imbalances, ensuring that the needs of employers, sectors and the overall economy are met. In addition, The National Manpower Plan is also intended to address the structure of the manpower system and make recommendations to address any challenges that affect labour demand and supply within Trinidad and Tobago.

The integration of artificial intelligence, AI and digitalization in manufacturing and processing presents significant opportunities for SIDs to enhance productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness. By leveraging AI algorithms, automation, and data analytics, manufacturing agencies can optimize production processes, reduce waste, and improve product quality. Digitalization also enables businesses in SIDs to access global markets, engage in e-commerce, and participate in the digital economy, thereby diversifying our economies and creating new opportunities for growth and development. This therefore places small island economies in a position to be catalysts in the global economy irrespective of size.

A skilled and ethical engineering workforce is essential for driving innovation, solving complex challenges and ensuring the responsible development and deployment of technology. Small Island Developing States must invest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM education, vocational training, and lifelong learning opportunities to equip our citizens with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the 21st-century economy. Moreover, engineers must adhere to ethical standards and principles that prioritize the well-being of society, protect the environment, and uphold human rights.

In conclusion, the data unequivocally affirms that engineering stands as a catalyst for progress across these themes vital to the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States like those in the Caribbean. By harnessing the transformative power of engineering, our nations can chart a course towards a future characterized by resilience, inclusivity, and prosperity for all.

I thank you for your time today and I wish you all a successful conference.

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