Engineering specialists say professional education must improve to meet COP26 ambitions

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Professor Peter Guthrie and civil engineer Collins Kibira have stressed that engineering firms and universities need to adapt how professionals are trained for a Net Zero world. 

Speaking to a global audience about Net Zero and the world’s efforts to deliver it, Professor Guthrie of Cambridge University has suggested that not enough has happened yet, and that education needs to adapt.

“Are we doing enough? No. We’ve had the right information for the last twenty years but universities, industries and countries are not doing enough yet. So we have found ourselves at the eleventh hour but there is hope but COP26 needs to be a real shift.”

“Universities listen to employers, and employers have often not pressed sufficiently to see students emerge having learned and excelled at climate science, ethics and other vital aspects of a more sustainable profession.”

This, he said, is something now changing but he stressed that this represents a challenge for universities and industry.

“University courses need to change radically because the role of the engineer is a lot wider than being good technologists.”

He then pointed out that this will mean making the case for wider social change, something the infrastructure sector had to help with.

“We can’t deliver Net Zero without ‘pain’ and that means making changes and accepting that normal life will be different. We have to do more with less and be prepared to change the business model of our economies and address how we seek to help developing countries raise their living standards while developed nations take responsibility for their past carbon.”

Speaking at the same event, Collins Kibira, a civil engineer with Queensland and Leeds Consulting Engineers, agreed and put the focus on industry.

“We need to address behaviour, technology and the financial mechanisms. Where the money comes from to meet Net Zero commitments matters, along with policy, and will have a big impact. But ultimately engineers will be the ones delivering change on the ground. So, given previous performance on past conventions and commitments, we have hope that we can achieve Net Zero in time, but it is hope, not certainty.”

He then re-emphasised the importance of training young engineers for this role challenge.

“Present projects were designed before present low-carbon standards were put in place. So future leaders need to adapt and we need to change climate responsive design, green infrastructure and community and stakeholder engagement to help change behaviours. That means we need young engineers to be trained in project finance and project management. The commitments coming through are at a very high level and we may have to adapt to radical innovation and perhaps avoid an historic ‘build, build, build’ approach.”

Professor Guthrie and Collins Kibira were speaking at the launch of “Net Zero – What Next?”, the latest research paper in the FIDIC State of the World series. You can read the full report here.