President’s editorial: Engineers can help politicians make the right decisions

At the recently concluded COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow leaders from almost 200 countries gathered to negotiate practical ways to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. But the summit revealed that there are still gaps between countries that support the agenda, countries that are putting on the brakes and poor nations that will be hit hard if emissions are not rapidly reduced.

Some decisions, climate pledges, new collaborations and alliances from the Glasgow conference have a chance of being realised. The agreement between the USA and China, which account for around 40 percent of global emissions, to work together towards meeting the Paris goal received a lot of attention. Vehicle manufacturers in several countries promised to focus on producing zero-emission vehicles. Big corporations will aim to transition to green technology and green energy. There was finally some serious discussion about rapidly phasing out fossil fuels. We were so close to an historic agreement which would have been achieved if India, among other nations, had not at the last minute managed to water down the language from “phasing out” to “phasing down”.

There is, however, increasing awareness of the fact that time is running out for us to succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also meeting the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We will need to invest big in a very comprehensive technology transformation globally. Education, research and innovation cannot solve the climate crisis on their own, but the trio is essential in making the measures decided upon by the big climate conferences a reality. New technology needs to replace antiquated systems, do so in a climate-smart way – and do it quickly.

Engineers are natural optimists. Engineers are researchers, creators and designers who build solutions based on solid scientific foundations and system knowledge. Engineers understand the processes required to develop and build sustainable products, services and large systems. Engineers can help politicians and decision-makers handle complex problems.

Engineering academies have a vital role to play in explaining why engineering sciences and technology are the keys to the solutions to the climate crisis. The academies contribute knowledge and expertise. Our strong international networks help us all move in the same direction. We can and want to ensure that the ambitions, pledges and decisions from COP26 are turned into action – “building back better” as it is often called today. Global cooperation is important. The climate knows no boundaries.