2020 marks ten years until the rapidly approaching deadline for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals, launched in 2015, laid out 17 targets to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Differing from its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which focused on less developed countries, the SDGs place an emphasis on sustainable consumption, climate change, economic inequality and innovation for all nations, in addition to traditional development areas. UN General Secretary at the time, Mr. Ban Ki-moon described the agenda as,

“[…] a roadmap to ending global poverty, building a life of dignity for all and leaving no one behind. It is also a clarion call to work in partnership and intensify efforts to share prosperity, empower people’s livelihoods, ensure peace and heal our planet for the benefit of this and future generations,”

In November 2016, shortly after the UN’s sustainable agenda was launched, the Paris Agreement was signed, with the aim to ‘strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius’. Both of these ground-breaking pieces of legislation brought human and environmental development agendas to the forefront of policy like never before, tying governments to their duty to protect people and the planet.

With only ten years to go, there is now a serious need to see action from governments, businesses and the third sector to achieve these goals, and crucially consider where engineering plays a role in achieving this.

It is evident how traditional engineering; energy, transport, buildings, clean water and other key infrastructure relate to global development. However, the sector is also vital in meeting the SDG targets in many other ways, for example around “zero hunger” through smarter agricultural practices; improved healthcare through technical innovation; and quality education by improving the way STEM subjects are taught so we can meet skills gaps in key sectors.

To contribute to this conscientious engineering practice, Engineers Without Borders UK advocates for all 17 goals by working to engage and galvanise the engineering community to serve all people and the planet; promoting and educating the sector on the idea of globally responsible engineering. Change Maker and Associate Engineer, Tom Newby explored this concept in a recent interview;

“If we’re going to have any chance continuing an acceptable standard of living for everyone, not just for people in the west, but for people in other countries who have not contributed to the climate crisis, but are suffering most from it. Then responsible global engineering has got to be core part of that […] It’s not acceptable to disassociate the engineering from the impact and that means you have to understand the technical things that engineers are traditionally very good at, but you also have to understand the social context of which you’re working in and whether the engineering you are doing is benefiting the few or the many, or whether you are excluding the marginalised. And you have to consider the economics and the politics and all the complexity, the wonderful complexity that makes up what we do- you can’t simplify it to some maths.”

So what do we do next? Businesses must incorporate the SDGs into their practice, and put the goals at the core of their policies. Engineering education must incorporate the SDGs into their curriculum, providing students with the tools to practice as responsible and well-rounded engineers. We need to see governments commit to initiatives like large scale renewable energy and a public willing to demand it. Organisations acting to achieve the SDGs must seek globally responsible engineering input, and in return, our world-renowned UK engineering firms must work in partnership, in both a pro bono and for-profit capacity, to help these initiatives succeed. 

Through our ongoing work influencing education, engaging industry leaders, and inspiring today’s engineers we are shaping a more globally responsible sector, which will serve all people and the planet. Join our community today to be part of a movement shaping the future of engineering for the better.