Government must back climate smart engineering to build on COP optimism

Out of the expected racket of politicking, sales pitches and posturing, something unexpected is emerging from COP26 — an undercurrent of optimism on tackling climate change.
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Out of the expected racket of politicking, sales pitches and posturing, something unexpected is emerging from COP26 — an undercurrent of optimism on tackling climate change.

I put this down to an energised focus by many attendees on practical solutions and partnerships, as much as I do new targets and pledges. 

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his COP26 address, “it will be our scientists, our technologists, our engineers, our entrepreneurs, our industrialists, our financiers that will actually chart the path to net zero, and it is up to us as leaders of governments to back them in.”

As CEO of Engineers Australia, the profession’s peak body, we are calling on the Australian Government to make good on that statement by providing the necessary support to engineers to take the country to net zero. 

If ‘technology not taxes’ is to be our mantra on this journey, it needs to emerge as more than a pithy slogan. 

It must be a byword for bold reforms and much greater investment. 

For our profession - that means new infrastructure projects and all regulations and policy affecting the practice of engineering, must be assessed and revised to be consistent with restricting warming to 1.5°C.

It also means building a larger profession. 

At COP26 — the World Federation of Engineering Organisations — our international counterpart, called for greater assistance from governments to train more engineers.

In Australia, we have long suffered from a domestic engineering skills shortage.

As the job of both emissions reduction and adaptation grows larger, we must secure our pipeline of domestically trained engineers to help get the work done.

We must also ensure our migration program supports positive migrant employment outcomes and attracts the critical skills of the future. 

Crucial as engineering will be, we recognise we are but one piece of a larger puzzle.

That’s why we are also joining the chorus of voices calling for Australia to set a highly ambitious 2030 emissions target and develop a comprehensive emissions reduction strategy. 

These are crucial first steps to drive efficient, prompt and coordinated climate action across every sector of our economy. 

With global average warming already passing 1.1°C, the stakes could hardly be higher. 

Engineers have long recognised the scale and urgency of the climate challenge, as well as the substantial opportunities of a rapid and efficient shift to net zero.

We also know that practical action, in the form of great engineering, is crucial to getting us there. 

Engineers have always brought innovative problem-solving, technical skills, and leadership to the great challenges of the day.

Already, for every rooftop solar system, each low emissions vehicle, and the rising megaprojects set to power the new economy, there are engineers to thank. 

And Australian engineers at that - with our technologies found in 90 per cent of solar panels globally. 

With the right approach from government, our profession can deliver the further solutions needed to keep the 1.5°C goal alive. 

Despite the glimmer of hope sighted in Glasgow over the last fortnight, the climate road ahead for Australia and the world remains precarious.

Climate smart engineering — a key ingredient to a practical yet bold and ambitious approach to tackling climate change — will be crucial in confronting this challenge. 

The world depends on it. 

 

Engineers Australia’s inaugural Climate Smart Engineering conference runs from 16 to 17 November as an online event.

Bronwyn Evans is chief executive of Engineers Australia

 

Originally published in The West Australian, 15 November 2021.