As soon as Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference in Melbourne ended, Damian Ogden, Group Executive Policy and Public Affairs, Engineers Australia, travelled to Dubai to raise awareness of the engineering profession’s pivotal role in combating climate change at COP28. Here are his reflections.
Engineers Australia is a recognised observer of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and COP28 provided an important platform for us to highlight the engineering innovations that will be key to a net zero future.
As an accredited observer I was able to follow negotiations between the Conference of Parties (COP) which brings together delegates from member countries to determine goals and actions to address climate change. It is also attended by global business leaders, policymakers and research institutions who are collaborating to meet net-zero targets.
There was a strong focus on supporting climate action and building resilience in those countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. To this end, the Australian government pledged $100 million to support the Pacific region with the foundational contribution to the Pacific Resilience Facility (PRF), which is the first Pacific-led, owned and managed community resilience financing facility.
The end of investment in fossil fuel projects
The government also announced it will sign the Glasgow Statement and will no longer finance international oil, gas and coal projects. However, despite domestic oil and gas projects not being part of the Statement, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Hon Chris Bowen MP said Australia would join more than 115 other countries across the globe in committing to a tripling of renewable energy capacity and a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030.
There were some tough discussions though, particularly on how we’re tracking on total global emissions, or the Global Stocktake. At COP28, governments sought to finalise the five-year analysis process which assesses each country’s progress on emissions reduction in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep the average global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
What’s emerging is a potential scenario where we overshoot 1.5°C and are looking at between 2.2°C and 2.9°C this century. In light of this stark assessment, much of the debate centred around committing to a phase-out of fossil fuels.
After prolonged and fraught negotiations countries made a historic statement, agreeing to ‘transition from fossil fuels’ specifically in energy systems. It is now for countries to take steps to meet these agreements and achieve net zero by 2050.
Innovation and implementation will be critical over the next decade.
Engaging with decision-makers
During the week, I had many opportunities to speak with Australian Government representatives on the central role of engineers in transitioning to a clean economy and meeting our net zero targets. I had discussions with the Assistant Minister for Health Hon Gerardine Kearney MP, and Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles. I also attended events with Minister for Climate Change and Energy Hon Chris Bowen MP and Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy Senator Hon Jenny McAllister MP.
One of the week’s highlights was the opportunity to tour the first green ammonia powered ship, Fortescue’s ‘Green Pioneer’ which travelled from its Singapore base to Dubai for the conference.
It is a great example of what’s possible given it was developed in just 18 months. I spoke with the engineers behind the project – one of whom was an Engineers Australia member – and discussed the systems, processes and technologies deployed. It was nothing short of inspiring.
Whole life carbon assessment
I also visited Heriot-Watt University to hear from, and meet with Tina Paillet, President-Elect, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) who launched the Whole life carbon assessment (WLCA) report. The institution’s work closely aligns with Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering Initiative, (CSEI) which has a focus on providing guidance for engineers on effective methods of calculating and analysing embodied carbon.
It is clear that engineers are at the heart of the solutions to many of the themes discussed at COP28 from reductions in carbon emissions in the built environment, to accelerated implementation of national adaptation plans and transitioning our economy beyond fossil fuel extraction.
Advocating on behalf of Engineers Australia, in shining a spotlight on the innovative work of engineers at COP28, was a privilege. It was an opportunity to champion all engineers who are working towards a sustainable future and meeting net-zero targets on the world stage.