There is a stark message coming from climate scientists with the publishing of the latest (first since 2013) landmark IPCC Report. It’s a wake up call for many continuing the status quo – we have to change how we live, how we educate, and how we work.

The report details humanity’s role in driving climate change as ‘unequivocal’. We now need to recognise the climate emergency in all that we do and acknowledge it in the decisions we make everyday.

In the IPCC report, the situation is communicated clearly, with graphics and narrative to convey the global position and detail of the various future scenarios – the most positive requiring humanity to emit an 1/8th of the CO2 we currently emit each year. Because of this, we have ethical choices to make and activities in the next decade are critical.

Global warming is the greatest existential challenge of our age, perhaps of any age, measured by the scale of the societal changes necessary to mitigate and adapt to it. We have lost some choices on the table due to inaction – and we need to take urgent action to prevent further choices being limited.

We now know that Earth is expected to hit the “safe level” of 1.5 °C that the world committed to, regardless of how deeply global governments cut green house gas emissions. The results are already being felt, not just through rising temperatures, but also through loss of ice cover, rising sea levels, extreme droughts, forest fires, floods and storms across the globe. And with the detail of where we are heading, it could continue to get even worse or catastrophic.

The report is transparent and demonstrates that this is about justice too – those that caused the crises will not be the ones to bear the worst of the impacts. We have the moral duty to create solutions that are equitable and sustainable.

The report provides a really clear message that every tonne of CO2 matters – for each tonne, the consequences get worse and worse. Don’t take this as an excuse to continue on as planned and just celebrate cutting a few tonnes, if you are in a position to make or influence change – you are responsible to do so.

So what can engineers do?

Personally, I’m sad, angry and frustrated – as I’m sure many are. And when thinking about what we can do about it, the biggest personal contribution I can make is through my work as an engineer. As explored in UNESCO’s Engineering for Sustainable Development Report (2021), engineering has a powerful, unique and important role to address our global challenges.

Our profession has such a huge potential to help humanity find our way to a sustainable and safe future, with a disproportionately higher impact in comparison to many other professions. But we are not yet making this contribution, and if we continue with the status quo, history will judge us for our inability to take the necessary actions. Now is a critical time to reflect deeply about the role of engineering and how we should be challenging ourselves today, to be able to reinvent tomorrow.

The report said we need a ‘mix of adaptation and mitigation options to limit global warming to 1.5°C, implemented in a participatory and integrated manner, which can enable rapid, systemic transitions in urban and rural areas.’ It’s about regenerating how to make things better than they were before, not just doing damage control.

If we look at the global response to the pandemic, we have all witnessed how quickly humanity can react to provide solutions in a crisis. We need everyone to think in a similar way about taking action for the climate crisis.

Globally responsible engineering

This report resonates with the Responsible, Purposeful, Inclusive and Regenerative principles of globally responsible engineering, and more so than ever we need these principles to be the pillars at the heart of our engineering practice.

If this report inspires you to take action today – demonstrate your professional commitment to addressing the climate emergency, and join the movement that is inspiring and upskilling the engineering community to deliver solutions that are equitable and sustainable. Become a member of Engineers Without Borders UK today.

Make the commitment

By Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at Engineers Without Borders UK