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Engineers need a 'strong voice' to tackle climate change

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Leading consultants and environmental groups have urged engineers to have a “strong voice” in the battle against climate change. 

Reacting to yesterday’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on controlling climate change, consulting engineers have stressed the integral role that engineers should play.  

The IPCC report claims that the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to below a 2ºC increase on pre-industrial temperatures limit by the end of the century may not be enough to stop dramatic damage to the planet. According to the report, if temperatures increase by more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, sea levels will rise more than 100mm than previously thought, Arctic sea ice will disappear completely at least once a decade and 99% of coral reefs will be destroyed.  

The report calls for “rapid and far-reaching” changes to land use, transport modes and energy production cited in a major climate change report.

WSP sustainability director David Symons told New Civil Engineer that it is important engineers have a strong voice on climate change issues. 

“The infrastructure industry has a huge opportunity to work towards zero carbon construction – and that is a business opportunity not just a responsibility,” Symons said. “Our future-ready programme makes sure engineers have a strong voice at the table to work with clients to design more future ready solutions – rather than just redo what we built time.”  

The report also suggests several sectors where improvement can be made, including the elimination of coal-fired power stations – which will consume a third of the world’s ‘‘carbon budget’’ that the IPCC has set.  

Symons added that a lot of the methods for cutting carbon output are already known, and used in some places, but must used more effectively. 

He added: “Sweden has committed to be fossil-free for all of its construction by 2045. It is a challenge, but already the industry can take half of its carbon out by adopting best practise in other sectors including low carbon concrete and looking at modular re-useable infrastructure that can be adapted for future use.” 

Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit director Richard Black said the report was one of the most important to come from the IPCC so far, and that engineers should take the lead on innovation.   

He said: “This is probably the most important report that the IPCC has ever produced. There are challenges in all branches of industry – bringing steel, aluminium, cement, chemicals and other significant industries as close to zero emissions as possible. And there may be a final element in terms of developing technologies to suck carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground. 

“So there is both a need and an opportunity here for engineers to lead the R&D and then the deployment needed across all of these sectors. And the rewards for UK business and research institutes could be substantial, because the rest of the world is going to need these technologies too.” 

Environment Agency’s chief executive Sir James Bevan also labelled the IPCC report as a “wake-up call”. 

He tweeted: “Today’s @IPCC_CH report is a wake-up call. #Climatechange is too true to be good, but we can tackle it. My recent speech sets out how.” 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)  said that the IPCC report is a call to action for industry, building on the recent National Infrastructure Assessment.   

“Today’s report highlights the devastating impact that rising global temperatures could have on our planet and the need for urgent action to prevent the worst from happening,” said an NIC spokesperson. 

“Our National Infrastructure Assessment highlights the need to act now to protect communities from extremes of weather, including floods and droughts. It also shows how falling renewables prices and improved technologies mean sources like wind and solar could make up as much as 50% of our energy mix by 2030, and the need for a truly national charging network to help drivers switch from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • If the actions of consultants, local politicians, opportunistic wild life organisations and the attitude of motivated members of the general public who view engineers as little more than an obstructive charlatan the challenge is far greater than we imagine. Engineers are simply not in the room and not wanted. Our exploitation of those same uninformed people who are out clients needs a major change in attitude on all sides. Towing the corporate line and a lack of ambition will not address the problems we have.

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