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Engineers urged to face up to global warming

Engineers must seek out and grasp the opportunities presented by global warming, senior climate change experts told NCE this week.

The civils industry could trigger an “age of invention” to help the world meet the challenges of climate change, according to one.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week declared it “extremely likely” that human influence had caused temperatures to rise over the past 60 years.

It made the declaration in its latest report into climate change. It previously reported in 2007.

Mott MacDonald technical lead on climate change David Viner said the evidence of man made global warming was now overwhelming and something had to be done to deal with the consequences.

“Engineers need to be at the forefront of the response to climate change,” he told NCE.

“We can either enter the age of catastrophe or the age of resilience.”

The IPCC said evidence of human intervention in global temperature increases had grown because of the greater quantity and quality of observations; improved understanding of the climate system; and improved modelling.

“This is the fifth instalment of the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence surrounding climate change,” said Viner, a former British Council climate change director.

“Some 800 scientists have contributed to it and thousands of bodies have reviewed it. There is no evidence to contradict this report in anything like the same weight.”

Viner said it was critical for mankind to start working to tackle the consequences global warming. The report says that the average temperature of the Earth has risen by around 0.6˚C since 1986.

“This report shows how important it is to be aware of the protection of assets,” he said. “Cities are vulnerable to sea level rises and storm surges.”
He added that food, land and water security could be threatened by a slowly warming planet.

“The Russian heatwave of 2003 drove up the price of grain,” he said. “Food prices could be pushed up around the world. And social unrest can come from increased prices of living, so it all starts linking in.”

Viner said engineers should seek inventive solutions to the problems caused by climate change.

“Society is developing big infrastructure projects around the world that will be here for a century or longer and these need to be designed with climate resilience in mind,” he said.

“We need to think of how to protect world cities - most are on or near the coast and are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. How can civil engineers come up with ways of making existing infrastructure more resilient?”

New technology and innovative thinking would be needed, he said. “Engineers have a real opportunity to get back to the age of invention and come up with ideas,” he said. “A new Thames Barrier will be needed at some point - can it also be a road, and used for tidal power?”

Lara Potter, former environment director at Arcadis and now partner at consultant EC Harris which merged with Arcadis in 2011, said the IPCC report represented a “tipping point” on climate change.

“It represents a mass of evidence that is critical for civil engineers as it means there is an opportunity to take leadership in sustainable development to tackle and mitigate against climate change,” she said.

This report shows how important it is to be aware of the protection of assets

David Viner, Mott MacDonald

“With the political will it may be easier to do some of the things we have been talking about for some time.”

Potter said the civil engineering profession has to work with other sectors to tackle the effects of climate change.

“There are some significant challenges but with the knowledge and quality of thinking we have, we can solve them,” she said.

“The civil engineering profession needs to upskill in nuclear and renewable energy and make a cultural shift to working alongside other disciplines.”

Potter said greater public acceptance of climate change could make it easier to explain the long-term benefits of spending on infrastructure projects to reduce carbon emissions or protect against the effects of carbon in the atmosphere.

“We need to balance the local environmental issues of a project with the global issue of carbon,” she said.

The IPCC report said evidence of that global warming was “unequivocal”.

“Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed; the amount of snow and ice has diminished; the global mean sea level has risen; and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, the Chinese co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The IPCC Working Group I’s assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, found that each of the last three decades had been the warmest since 1850.

The working group’s Swiss co-chair Thomas Stocker added that global surface temperatures were likely to be more than 1.5˚C higher at the end of this century than at the end of the 20th century in all but one scenario examined.

“Heatwaves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer,” he said.

“As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.”

The report says that global mean sea levels would continue to rise during this century under all scenarios looked at.

In all there are three main IPCC Working Groups. Working Group II will assess the consequences of climate change and options for adapting to it.
Working Group III will look at ways of mitigating climate change.


Climate change: What the IPCC says

Hurricane Katrina: New Orleans flooding

Hurricane Katrina: New Orleans flooding

  • Evidence that the climate system is warming is unequivocal
  • Since the 1950s, many of the unobserved changes are unprecedented over decades to millenia
  • It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0m - 700m) warmed from 1971 to 2010
  • Over the period 1901/2010, global mean sea level rose by 190mm
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years
  • It is very likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century


Rising Waters: The UK at threat from climate change

Rising Waters: The UK at threat from climate change

  • Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system
  • Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all scenarios except [one]
  • The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions
  • It is very likely the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century
  • Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence)
  • Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped

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