No one solves problems like engineers, which is why Engineers Australia has launched an ambitious new plan to mobilise engineers to tackle climate change.
Just launched, the Climate Smart Engineering Initiative (CSEI) is a three-year plan to significantly increase both the collaboration and leadership of engineers in mitigating climate change impacts.
Engineers Australia Chief Engineer and CSEI Executive Sponsor Jane MacMaster said engineers were needed to lead a fundamental shift in focus to the future sustainability and resilience of whole-life systems, starting with more circular designs and resource use.
“Our climate plan sets out a framework and, importantly, the activities and actions that can help Australia’s engineering sector deliver real-world impacts to ensure these outcomes are supported,” she said.
“The task is enormous but so is the talent, experience and passion of Australia’s engineers.”
Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew AO HonFIEAust said everything in the training and careers of engineers had been preparing them to take lead roles in solving this challenge.
“We need to transform our systems, our infrastructure and our technology, which means we need practical solutions and innovative engineering,” she said.
“Engineers must be at the forefront in formulating policy and making decisions around how we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost Australia’s resilience to climate change.”
The CSEI builds upon Engineers Australia’s 2021 Climate Change Position Statement and extensive consultation within the profession to map out 29 enduring actions to undertake, across 13 workstreams. The initiative defines key activities, classified into 50 climate engineering streams, to take place over three years.
The key focus is five-fold:
- To serve as a central vehicle for climate action within the engineering profession
- To demonstrate practical commitment to engineering-climate leadership
- To identify high-value engineering opportunities that align the systems and innovations necessary to decarbonise the world
- To inform decision making on future engineering works and investments
- To advocate for high-value, real solutions that lead to measurable emissions reductions.
The actions span areas including mitigation, adaptation, resilience, the circular economy, capacity building and economic opportunity.
One of the most ambitious strategies is rapidly developing near- and net-zero engineering standards and technical specifications across project life cycles.
Other goals include creating a standardised means of calculating the emissions footprint of engineering works, products and services across the entire project and product lifecycle, as well as a mechanism to factor external costs such greenhouse gas emissions into product design, use, maintenance and project feasibility assessments.
Engineers Australia Climate Lead Mark Bonner said the approach of the initiative was not to dictate the response of engineers but to empower them to work across disciplines and sectors to deliver the best responses.
“Just as the solutions to climate change have to be bottom-up and suited to local contexts, so was the planning of this initiative,” he said.
“This is the product of an extensive consultation process with the profession.
“We held six roundtable discussions and consulted with more than 400 individuals. 80% of this plan comes directly from the colleges and divisions of Engineers Australia.”
Bonner said the initiative was primed to spark a new era of cross-disciplinary collaboration.
“We will get to where we need to be a lot quicker if we’re aligning together, sharing best practice, learning from each other and working in harmony,” he said.
How engineers can get involved
MacMaster said the role of engineers would inevitably change as they took leadership on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“Increasingly, we will see the rise of what we call T-shaped engineers,” she said.
“As we innovate, new specialisations will emerge, outside of the traditional disciplines. We might see hydrogen specialists and clean energy specialists and system integration specialists, and the deep subject matter knowledge and experience these engineers will acquire is the stem of the T.
“But engineers will also increasingly be called upon to work in cross-disciplinary teams. The crossbar of T represents the skills they’ll need to do this – general problem solving, stakeholder engagement, teamwork and the ability to communicate clearly with those outside their discipline and their profession.”
Madew said there were a multitude of ways for engineers to get involved with the CSEI, in addition to developing the skills to work collaboratively.
“I would urge all engineers to look at opportunities to contribute and volunteer, either within or outside of their organisation,” she said.
“For instance, if you work for government or a large non-engineering organisation, look for the internal sustainability committees and put your hand up to get involved. You’ll be ensuring engineers have a seat at the table for decisions around climate change responses, while also developing your own skills.
“If you are working for an engineering organisation, I’d urge you to seek out and sit on working groups for industry associations and professional bodies. You’ll learn from others and build networks to drive your own career forward.
Madew said the CSEI would be reviewed and reported on annually to make sure it remains consistent with and relevant to the engineering needs of the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and in support of the Climate Change Position Statement.
“Our CSEI demonstrates that our profession not only has the ambition, competency and commitment to help accelerate the decarbonisation of Australia’s economy, but it also has a plan to assist Australia to be more resilient to the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.”
On November 22-23, leading engineers from across Australia will come together for Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference. Find out the latest speakers announced and view the full program here.