The problems we must solve
Learn more about the global challenges we aim to tackle through our 2021-2030 strategy.
Our planet is in a perilous position. We are draining natural resources, destroying ecosystems, and to avoid further climate crisis, emissions must drop drastically in the next decade. Meanwhile, there continues to be vast inequality across the world, with millions of people still without their basic human rights met.
Engineering has played a significant role – both good and bad – in getting humankind and the planet to where we are today. Now, we must urgently tackle numerous global challenges if we are to ensure a safe and just future for all:
- The risk of not meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals is real. As explored in UNESCO’s Engineering for Sustainable Development Report (2021), engineering has a powerful, unique and important role to address our global challenges. Progress towards these is critical to a better future for all people and generations to come, yet currently we are not on track to meet these targets. With only nine years to go until the goals must be achieved (2030), time is running out.
- We are living in a climate emergency. Globally, 2020 was the second-warmest year on record with a mean temperature 1.2°C above the pre-industrial average. By that measure, this means we are already 80% of the way towards the 1.5°C “safe” level to which the world committed to try to limit global warming. The primary issue is with carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and land use changes that reduce our planet’s ability to draw down greenhouse gases. The results are already being felt, not just through rising temperatures, but also through loss of ice cover, rising sea levels and more extreme droughts, floods and storms across the globe. The engineering community is a significant contributor to this, with the building and construction sector alone responsible for 38% of global emissions.
- We are living in a Biodiversity emergency. Our actions threaten about a million species – 1 in 8 – with extinction. In 2020, the mass of human-made infrastructure exceeded all biomass, and over 70% of ice-free land is now under human control. We are at real risk of destabilising the entire planet, with various life supporting systems being pushed to the limit. This decade is critical for ecosystem and climate restoration. Conserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems is also one of the most cost-effective tools to mitigate climate change.
- The impact of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will last for years. It has had a devastating social impact, with a huge number of lives lost, as well as economic and social disruption, which has exacerbated poverty rates and damaged global education and mental health. The recovery will last well into this decade.
Whilst the engineering community will not tackle the world’s problems alone, we are in a unique and powerful position to accelerate progress. To do this we must overhaul engineering culture to make social and environmental justice a cornerstone of day to day practice, ensuring a more globally responsible approach.
One model we believe can effectively guide this approach is economist Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. This alternative economic framework provides a template by which we can measure and value human development, beyond the simple metric of GDP. The model visually highlights that we should aim to live in the ‘safe and just space’ for all humanity – this means meeting everyone’s social foundations, shaped by the UN SDGs, within the ecological ceiling, defined by the nine planetary boundaries identified by the scientific community (Rockstrom et al).
The UN Sustainable Development Goals, the greatest global consensus on what humanity’s attention should be focused on, highlight both the social and environmental challenges we face. More familiarly known as the ‘UN SDGs’.
Raworth's doughnut economics is an alternative economic framework by which we could measure and value human development (beyond the simple metric of GDP). The model visually highlights that we should aim to live in the ‘safe and just space’ for all humanity, this means meeting everyone’s social foundations (these have been built from the UN SDGs) within the ecological ceiling (defined by the nine planetary boundaries identified by the scientific community (Rockstrom et al))
Analysis of 'the doughnut' undertaken in 2017 shows that we are not meeting the social foundations of all people but we have already exceeded at least four of the nine planetary limits.
We have already overshot at least four of these limits, such as allowing too many species to become extinct and producing too much C02, while millions still lack access to their basic human rights, like clean, running water. Adopting the doughnut model’s principles is vital in engineering, particularly if we are to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
To achieve this, there is an urgent requirement to upskill our current workforce and transform engineering education to prepare future generations to practice globally responsible engineering. Engineering education and practice used to evolve with the needs of society – but evidence shows that this has stagnated, with a recent survey finding that 93% of UK engineering companies with a sustainability strategy do not have staff with the skills to fulfil it. This has to change.
“Our shared goal must be to weave the idea of sustainability into each and every aspect of engineering activity, and to make responsible engineering a common faith among engineering enterprises and engineering professionals.”
Learn about how our 2021-2030 provides a strong, persuasive plan to put global responsibility at the heart of engineering, ensuring a safe and just future for all.