Following the intentions set at the G7 summit, COP26 represents a critical moment for agreeing concrete global action on our path to net zero. The engineering profession must step up and play its role, now and beyond November, writes the Academy’s President, Professor Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE.
Engineers are essential to delivering net zero. There is no doubt that our solutions-focused profession has a crucial offering and a vital role to play in tackling one of the world’s greatest challenges. Through the Engineering Zero campaign, the Academy is taking the opportunity presented by COP26 to launch a multi-faceted programme of work, collaborating with our partners to bring about action and lasting change.
This November, delegations from UN member states will gather in Glasgow to accelerate collective action towards preventing an irreversible climate catastrophe. While this month’s G7 meeting re-affirmed rich countries’ pledge to protect the planet, the discussions were notably light on setting detailed actions, and other issues dominated in the media coverage. It is hard to under-estimate the importance of COP26 for reaching global agreement on decarbonisation pathways and financing packages that match the urgency and scale of the climate crisis.
The number of governments worldwide now setting net zero targets is certainly a positive sign, but the major question is of course how these targets will be achieved. The engineering profession is a massive part of that “how”, and our goal for Engineering Zero is that, with our partners, we will highlight the unique contribution our profession has to offer. We will go further, too, and seek to advance engineers’ capacity to fulfil their role.
In this blog post, we are sharing our plans, developed in partnership with the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC), for Engineering Zero. We are also asking the profession to join us in our campaign, so that together we can achieve our goals.
Engineering Zero is designed to make a real contribution to our ongoing aims to influence policy on climate change, and to raise awareness of the impact of engineering, in keeping with the Academy’s 2020-2025 strategy. These activities will encompass the following:
Net zero policy
We will publish briefings and explainers in a variety of formats in advance of COP26, to promote engineering thinking to policymakers worldwide. Working with NEPC partners we will communicate the scale of change needed to achieve net zero, promote opportunities to improve systems and demonstrate the role of engineers in the transition. The briefings will be disseminated alongside our latest policy papers exploring topics such as decarbonising construction, the role of hydrogen in achieving net zero and the importance of using an engineering systems approach to managing complex change. The reach of these expert-led briefings will be extended through our engagement with our international networks and partner academies around the world and we look forward to sharing them with you.
Throughout Engineering Zero, we will showcase the innovations and ideas of engineers across our digital channels. Through a series of first-person stories, we will advance understanding of how engineers around the world and across the profession are contributing to delivering net zero, broaden perceptions of engineering, and, by integrating this activity with our This is Engineering campaign, we will also encourage young people to play their part by choosing a career in engineering. We’ll invite budding and experienced engineers from across the profession to share their stories too.
Interactive events at COP26
In the weeks prior to, during, and immediately after COP26, we will run a series of live Ask the Engineers events sharing engineering commentary and responses as news breaks from the conference. We will engage the public with engineering solutions to net zero, and we will explore, discuss and challenge in depth the proceedings in Glasgow. We hope you will join us for this series online.
Engineering Zero beyond COP26
The activities we launch today build on existing work by the Academy, the NEPC and our partners. In January, our Critical Conversation live event set the tone for the year leading up to COP26 by exploring some of the burning questions posed by the target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Academy Fellows leading the NEPC’s net zero policy project, Dervilla Mitchell CBE FREng and Professor Nilay Shah OBE FREng, joined Academy CEO Dr Hayaatun Sillem CBE to share their views on decision-making in the face of uncertainty, how to enact whole-system transformation fast enough while paving the way for future interventions, the need for a holistic approach to ensure a just transition, and of course the role of engineers.
Last month, we partnered with the RSE on a live panel event on ‘Engineering in the Climate Emergency’. I had the pleasure of chairing the panel in a searching discussion on how big a challenge lies ahead to decarbonise the economy.
Both events followed the publication of the NEPC paper Beyond COVID-19: Laying the foundations for a net zero recovery. In this, the NEPC offered foundations and actions to set the UK on a decisive pathway to net zero emissions.
That pathway must involve engineers. Our profession can offer solutions, but we must work ambitiously and collaboratively if we are to drive change. Our crucial offering to this monumental challenge relies on engineers being engaged alongside policy makers, it relies on investment in green engineering skills, and it relies on us working together across disciplines. We look forward to doing that with the engineering profession and with our partners through Engineering Zero.