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The heat is on


The latest scientific report into climate change is due out tomorrow.

And by all accounts the conclusions drawn by the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will make for very scary reading.

While I'll be long gone by the time the real effects of the abuse of our planet start to bite, my kids are going to face some challenging times ahead.

I can't help but think that if civil engineers really do consider themselves the guardians of the built and natural environment we had better start to shoulder some responsibility.

cknowledgement of the problems is, of course, a start.

So perhaps the most positive thing to take from this report by 2,000 of the world's leading climate scientists is that they virtually rule out any further doubt over man's influence on global warming.

According to reports, the findings of the IPCC's fourth assessment, Climate Change 2007; the Physical Science Basis, will be stark. Heat waves will be hotter and longer-lasting with average world temperatures set to rise by 2infinityC-4.5infinityC this century. Ominously the report also warns that we cannot rule out a possible rise of some 6infinityC.

These rises are predicted to leave us with an ice-free Arctic during the summer, which, when combined with the continued melting of polar ice, will contribute to a rise in sea levels by an average 0.43m by 2100 and perhaps 0.8m by 2300.

So even with the most conservative outlook, life as we know it is set to disappear.

As such this report could fi ally kick start the international action needed to drastically cut emissions and plan for the future. Yet the key question remains - what are we going to do about it?

Civil engineering alone cannot sweep away what, in large part, it has made possible - global industrialisation.

It cannot reduce the amount of waste in the developed world or insist that developing economies slow down.

But we can provide leadership when it comes to planning, development and sustainable resource use.

We can work harder to make better use of existing low carbon technologies and invest in the development of new materials and techniques.

We can infl uence two of the biggest contributors to global warming - transport and electricity use/generation.

We have to infl uence our clients and the financing community that there are alternatives to our development models.

It is possible. Zero-carbon cities are being designed in China. Zero-carbon developments are with us in the UK.

Renewable energy generation and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are all around us, waiting for investment. And serious inroads have been made to make planning, design and construction more sustainable.

So in the same way that 19th century civil engineers made their name driving the industrial revolution, 21st century civil engineers must take this opportunity to make their name tackling climate change. Get involved before it's too late.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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