Lian Pin Koh has managed to make a career out of tree hugging, although it is more about cutting-edge science than hugging trees. As a conservation scientist, he has dedicated the last 20 years of his professional life to reconciling the often conflicting needs of humanity and the environment.
He is currently a professor at the department of biological sciences at National University of Singapore (NUS) and the director of the university’s new Centre of Nature-based Climate Solutions, which was established only last year. Koh’s research is centred on developing science-based strategies that can inform better policymaking. He is particularly interested in the environmental issues of our region, where rapid population growth, poverty and other developmental pains collide with a rich biodiversity that deserves more respect. “The natural world is important for a healthy and happy life, and is worth protecting,” he says.
In order to make a difference, however, Koh believes that his contemporaries and himself have to make a concerted effort to leave the ivory tower. A lot more can be done in academia to translate research into impactful outcomes, he points out, saying: “It’s a misconception that academics are uninterested or unable to do so.”
Prior to his current tenure at NUS, Koh spent more than a decade abroad in various academic pursuits, including as an assistant professor at ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich. He returned to Singapore last year under the Returning Singaporean Scientists scheme by the National Research Foundation, citing an intention to help Singapore address climate change and other emerging environmental challenges.
Given his interest in effecting change in policymaking, it comes as no surprise that Koh is a nominated Member of Parliament. “I believe that Singapore can make a difference,” he says passionately. When not at work, Koh can be found spending time in nature or in the air flying small-engine aircraft. “Risks remind me of my mortality and help me feel alive.”