While Engineers Week kicked off last Friday, today (4 March) marks World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, a UNESCO international day to highlight the achievements of engineers and engineering in their role in sustainable development.
Speaking at an Engineers Ireland’s conference in October last year, President Michael D Higgins told the remote audience: “Engineers have a clear role to play to ensure that everyone in the world has access to clean water, sanitation, reliable energy, and safeguarded from climate change’s adverse impacts which are already manifesting.”
Engineers Ireland’s 2020 report found that almost three-quarters (74pc) of the Irish public surveyed believe that engineers have an ethical obligation to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.
But how does this ethical obligation translate into real action for those working within the engineering profession?
Maurice Buckley is the president of Engineers Ireland and executive chair of the Office of Public Works.
He spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the how engineers can deliver projects that benefit a more sustainable world.
“Our approach to sustainability includes the resilience of our built and natural environment in the face of extreme weather (climate adaptation), the need to reduce emissions related to our buildings, vehicles and infrastructure (climate mitigation), biodiversity protection and enhancement, and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
‘We must build resilience to climate change into all our infrastructural investment now’
– MAURICE BUCKLEY
The World Federation of Engineering Organisations is one of Engineer Ireland’s international partners. Buckley said it has highlighted the need for engineers to lead the way on the goals for clean water and sanitation, reliable energy, sustainable infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation and education.
“In the midst of the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to make significant and lasting changes to reduce emissions, improve our environment, and to slow climate change. It is a time of huge societal change (brought about by the pandemic), and a time of change is always a time of opportunity.”
‘Greatest challenge ever faced’
Buckley added that while the world is understandably focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, the impacts of the climate crisis have the potential to have far greater consequences for humanity.
“The climate change and biodiversity crisis now are in effect. [This is] a call-to-action for engineers of all ages and disciplines in Ireland and across the world, to use their ingenuity and problem-solving abilities to tackle the greatest challenge ever faced by modern humanity,” he said.
“We must build resilience to climate change into all our infrastructural investment now as well as working with countries all around the globe to reduce emissions and mitigate the change. In the OPW, for example, we are working to design and build defences to protect people and properties from flooding.
“The OPW work with data and models produced by the IPCC, which sees a one-meter sea-level rise as a realistic high-end scenario corresponding to a 1.5-degree global warming. For a three-degree temperature rise, it is possible the sea-level could rise by twice as much with devastating consequences,” he said.
“That is why we in Engineers Ireland declared a climate change and biodiversity emergency in early 2020. That is also why we must use the impetus of recovery stimulus now to make the right long-term sustainable investment choices.”
With this in mind, Engineers Ireland launched a Sustainability Grand Tour, which aims to educate and empower engineers across all sectors to be drivers of climate action in their own network and champion the principles and practices of sustainable development.
The online series of events comprises webinars and panel discussions through to the end of April. They will focus on topics ranging from road design to sustainable housing and energy efficient design.
Dr William Finnegan is a research fellow adjunct lecturer in the School of Engineering at the National University of Ireland Galway. He also works as part of the sustainable and resilient structures research group within the SFI Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) Centre, where his research has mainly focused on developing engineering solutions for renewable energy systems.
He said the Sustainability Grand Tour has had more than 1,500 attendees across its events so far.
“Events such as the Sustainability Grand Tour provide an insight into how sustainable development can be achieved, along with providing examples of case study examples of projects already underway in this country,” he said.
“It is hoped that attendees can take inspiration from these presentations and incorporate the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals into their projects.”
The Sustainability Grand Tour events are free to attend and those interested in attending can register here.
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