Walking into the London headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in December 2022, Mr Kenneth Pang passed media photographers snapping pictures of a big and boisterous crowd of climate change activists. They were demanding the United Nations agency wean shipping off fossil fuels faster.
Mr Pang, who was part of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) delegation discussing decarbonisation policies with the IMO, says it was eye-opening to see people fight openly for a cause they believe in.
That incident made him reflect on his own role to help achieve net-zero emissions in the maritime industry.
Shipping is highly dependent on fossil fuels to carry more than 80 per cent of the world’s trade and, in the process, contributes to about three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
While Mr Pang would like to see fossil fuels phased out more quickly, his work as a sustainability manager with MPA has shown him how complex and challenging it is to achieve net-zero emissions for shipping by or around 2050 as agreed by the 175 IMO member states last year.
“The most difficult thing is that everyone has their own objectives, goals and constraints, so it is not easy getting everyone onto the same page,” says the 28-year-old.
As MPA is the agency at the forefront of maritime decarbonisation in Singapore, Mr Pang feels it is incumbent on him to find solutions.
“Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. Since I have the opportunity, I need to do the best I can in my current role,” he says.
Mr Pang was awarded the MPA Mid-Term Scholarship in 2017 after his first year at the National University of Singapore. His undergraduate degree in chemical engineering covered some aspects of sustainability.
Three years later, after he completed his Master of Science in Business Analytics at Imperial College London under the MPA Overseas Scholarship, he started working at MPA. It quickly dawned on him just how much more he had to learn.
“Academia provides a broad-level understanding and appreciation of a big concept like sustainability, but it was only when I started working at MPA that I realised the many intricacies and details,” says Mr Pang.
He is currently responsible for working with maritime industry partners to develop policies that would replace fossil fuels with alternatives so that the industry can achieve its net-zero targets.
“I am focusing on developing a low- or zero-carbon ammonia supply chain in Singapore,” explains Mr Pang.
Alternative fuels such as ammonia, methanol, biofuels and hydrogen are being studied to be used safely on board ships at a competitive price to encourage the transition from carbon-based fuels like diesel to cleaner energy sources.
For Mr Pang, his undergraduate degree gave him the understanding of chemical properties, production processes and safety considerations of the alternative fuels, while his master’s studies equipped him with skills to analyse data and extract insights for senior management.
However, it was MPA’s trust in him as a new manager that gave him the confidence to engage with a wide range of stakeholders at home and abroad.
Being an MPA scholar has also exposed him to opportunities he never imagined before, such as the meetings with the IMO in London and travelling to engage companies worldwide.
“I got to present MPA’s initiatives to various high-level government officials and private sector senior management from around the world,” says Mr Pang.
“Through participating in various projects and sub-committees at MPA, I was able to understand the organisation and industry better, and present myself more confidently in front of others.”
As a sustainability manager, he works closely with other government agencies, ammonia producers overseas, shipping lines, storage providers, emergency response teams, research institutes, bunker suppliers and traders to ensure ammonia can be imported into Singapore for power generation and bunkering.
“It is through these interactions that I have acquired both technical knowledge and soft skills, including learning how to engage with people from various backgrounds and galvanise them to work together towards a common goal,” adds Mr Pang.
With MPA’s push towards net zero in shipping, he believes the knowledge and skills he has gained from his current role will put him in a good position to make a vital contribution towards achieving sustainability.
He says: “The lateral skill set in sustainability will also allow me to join other departments within MPA if the opportunity arises.”
While he may not grab the media’s attention with loud protests and placards campaigning against fossil fuels, Mr Pang recognises the value of his work in the fight against climate change.
“Being a pioneer in this field and developing regulations and policies that will be used by the maritime industry in the years ahead will allow me to leave a mark in the industry,” he says.