Mark Bonner is Head of Climate Change at Engineers Australia.
The time for talk is over – it’s time for action. At COP28 in the UAE later this year, the applied sciences of engineers must take centre stage in addressing climate change.
In a previous organisation I worked in, they had a slogan that said ‘If it’s not farmed, it’s mined’.
But since working in Engineers Australia, I’d take that one step further. Everything is farmed or mined, and engineered. Not only are both farming and mining essentially engineered systems and applications, but their raw materials are then engineered and processed into the things society wants and needs.
With climate change demanding a transformation in how we design, make, power, maintain and decommission our engineered systems and physical assets (including the built environment), it is clear that all engineering systems and technologies that can play a legitimate and practicable role in this work should be allowed to realise their potential.
They will be core to the modernisation of both the global and national economies and the enhancement of the circularity of materials use.
And yet, as recently as COP27, the engineering narrative coming out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) appeared negligible. While there is strong representation of individual technologies such as renewables, biofuels, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, nuclear etc., there’s a sense that they’re all competing and cannibalising each other’s potentials to safeguard a net-zero emissions future.
But at the heart of it, they are all engineered solutions. And it is applied science that establishes a common platform in which all climate solutions can be compared and considered on their merit of engineering evidence.
Finding a voice
Last year, Engineers Australia launched its Climate Smart Engineering Initiative (CSEI) and was accredited to the UNFCCC. We’re also accredited to the United Nations Environment Assembly. Engineers Australia is currently preparing a strategy to engage at COP28.
Engineers Australia has an ambition under its CSEI to globally promote the pivotal role of engineering. This is not just around climate change, but also for a no-waste future and broader sustainability issues coming out of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as biodiversity loss, cleaner production and cleaner consumption.
The UNFCCC’s processes play a fundamental role in the deployment of engineering products and services in developed and developing countries. And the time for engineering, for action rather than further deliberation, has clearly arrived.
Raising the profile of the engineering profession within that UNFCCC environment is vital. It doesn’t just touch key government decision makers but also executives from the biggest private sector and not-for-profit organisations in the world.
There are literally trillions of dollars floating around the global economy and into the energy system that we know will be spent in the coming decade. Engineers can ensure those investments are made in a way that supports what we’re all trying to achieve in terms of the Paris Agreement climate goals.
Engineers Australia can play a significant role in being the primary voice of engineering, alongside organisations like the World Federation for Engineering Organizations, the UN Council of Engineers for the Clean Energy Transition, and the International Standards Organisation to name a few.
We need to shine a light on engineering as being a pivotal to providing solutions for not just climate change, but for many of the world’s deep socio-economic and environmental problems.
Right now, the door of opportunity is opening. We’re into the seventh assessment cycle of the IPCC. Engineers Australia will soon be accredited as an observer to the IPCC. This allows us to nominate experts from our membership to be an influencing and informing engineering voice in the world’s latest and best available science.
Applied science to solve pure science challenges
After six seven-year IPCC assessment cycles, pure science has shown us what is required and why. Now, we’re increasingly entering the age of applied science. We know things will be ugly if we don’t do things differently – the pure science tells us that. What the conversation must turn to in 2023 is the role of applied science of addressing what we already know with a high degree of certainty will be the consequences of inaction.
The time is now for engineering, and for engineers to be the climate warriors as solution providers and primary decision makers. The time is now to put in critical infrastructures from design to end-of-life, to enhance circularity of resources and materials so that all elements of the value chain are valued as assets and can be repurposed and recycled productively back into the economy.
Climate change is the catalyst for the modernisation of the global and national economies with engineers championing positive change. If the global community of engineers don’t make an impact at COP28, then it will be an opportunity missed given that the right time is right now.
How do we get green hydrogen to price parity with brown or black hydrogen? How do we transform the global energy system reliably and securely? How do we reimagine the design of cities for the climate impacts of the near future?
Engineers are responsible and capable of coming up with many of the answers.
Engineers must no longer be seen as humble players. We need to be front and centre of this agenda, and through Engineers Australia’s leadership and stewardship at COP28 as an accredited organisation this should well signal and reflect that.
Other COP28 themes will be:
- The five-yearly Paris Agreement mandated ‘Global Stocktake’, which will for the first time update the world on the collective progress of all nations as committed to in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to deliver on the UNFCCC’s mitigation and adaptation goals; as well as assess the sufficiency of the NDCs.
- Insufficiency of mitigation and financial ambitions. On the back of the IPCC’s findings that the world is materially off track to halting global average temperature rise to 2°C let alone below 1.5°C, COP28 will need to secure and announce new and enhanced ambitions, especially by large emitters.
- Carbon markets, especially as they relate to the Kyoto Protocol’s flexibility mechanisms (Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation) and the Paris Agreement’s Article 6.2 (international carbon markets) and Article 6.4 (centralised project level mechanism).
- Less on business-as-usual issues such as addressing ‘implementation’ matters, as was the case at COP27. Implementation issues are generally associated with the operationalisation (rules and modalities) of the UNFCCC’s mechanisms (finance, technology, adaptation, carbon markets, loss and damage, response measures) that aim to facilitate appropriate, sufficient and ‘equitable’ climate action.
- Growing geo-political pressures will play out, especially with the Russia/Ukraine war.