COP27: Shortage of engineers threatens climate action

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Sweco chief executive and president Åsa Bergman and FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, have issued a joint warning as COP27 seeks solutions.

In a joint article in Euractiv, industry leaders Asa Bergman and Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE, have emphasised the need for action on talent if Europe is to meet its climate ambitions. Here’s what they said: 

Why now? 
Bergman and Ogunshakin said that the importance of engineering skills has never been greater. Today, the lack of engineers and other specialists is damaging economic growth and sustainable transformation in Europe[1].

“This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP27) has been labelled as the “implementation COP”. Between 6-18 November, over 35,000 participants are expected to gather at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt with the aim to move from climate negotiations and planning to concrete action. Ahead of the climate summit, FIDIC and Sweco urge the world leaders and attendees to mitigate the threatening consequences imposed by the shortage of engineers on climate action.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment report, released in April 2022, makes it clear that we have already passed several tipping points with irreversible effects on our planet. Unless immediate and significant emission reductions are implemented across all sectors, the Paris Agreement ambition to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be out of reach by 2030.”

Why the shortage matters
The leaders explained that climate action is only possible if you have the workforce with the competencies to design the innovations and deliver the solutions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Europe, for example, is facing a skills shortage related to engineering qualifications, a trend that has been evident for several years. As an aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and remote working, such trends can be observed more widely across the globe as the skills market becomes more globally accessible.   

“The current shortage of engineers, today and in the future must be overcome. The International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), representing over one million engineering professionals and 40,000 firms across the globe, and Sweco, with 18,500 engineers, architects and other experts across Europe, have a first-hand view of the myriad of ambitious work conducted today and what is needed in the future to succeed in limiting the global warming.

“Comprehensive joint action by national authorities, academia, employers and industry organisations, and decision makers at all levels will be necessary. In our view, the following actions are required to mitigate the shortage of engineers.”

What are the solutions? 
Both leaders set out three parts to the solution: 

  1. Educate a workforce equipped to transform society
  2. Reskill the present workforce from traditional to green
  3. Widen the competence pool through immigration and mobility

They said “The first step towards bridging the skills gap is ‘simply’ to educate more engineers. The consulting engineering industry and governments have an important role in succeeding with this target. Industry needs to communicate to governments and society the importance of engineering skills in meeting climate ambitions and reaching the targets of the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda. Likewise, governments need to implement both immediate and long-term policies to mitigate the shortage of skilled engineers. These policies need to be stable and predictable since planning and educating a workforce does not happen overnight.”

In regards to reskilling, they explained that: “According to research from the consultancy firm McKinsey, the transition to a carbon neutral economy may require the reskilling of up to 18 million workers within the European Union. Projections reveal that for 2050, the energy sector alone could see an increase of 1.5 million jobs, most of which within renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. In the short-term, FIDIC estimates that $7tn will need to be invested in infrastructure annually to meet the 2030 Agenda goals, a significant increase compared to the previous estimate of $3.7tn. Skilled engineers are essential to implementing these investments.”

To widen the competence pool they proposed: “We can, in the short term, address labour shortages and build capacity by simplifying pathways for immigration employment and mobility. Cumbersome and counterproductive legislation stifling the immigration and mobility of highly skilled engineers and other specialists should be removed.”

The full article can be found here

Sweco recently signed up to the FIDIC Climate Change Charter, committing to a range of actions to decarbonise its business and project outcomes. 

[1] Business Europe, representing more than 20 million companies from 35 countries.