Engineers need to re-engage with society and have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change, says report.
A report by Engineering the Future – an alliance of the UK’s leading engineering and technological institutions – has examined the challenges of adapting the UK’s infrastructure to the threat of climate change.
The report looks at the vulnerability of different sectors to the effects of climate change, including transport, energy, communications and water, and calls for a more joined up process of decision making in Government and a new approach to sharing information in the commercial sector. Without such approaches, the impacts of climate change could have severely detrimental effects on UK society and the economy by crippling vital services such as electricity, roads and broadband.
Speaking at a news briefing to introduce the report, David Nickols, chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers said engineers need to re-engage with economists and society.
In the Victorian time when Britain’s infrastructure was being initiated, engineers were well integrated with financiers and what the population needs were. And in much of the 20th century, engineers lived on that history and often worked in isolation, he said.
Engineers were now at a point where they needed to re-engage with society and economists in a way that they haven’t had to in the past 50 to 100 years, because the solutions aren’t so obvious and depended a lot on people’s behaviour, Mr Nickols said.
Our engineering training needs to cover economics and people’s behaviour, he said.
One of the 20 findings in the report looks at the engineering profession and the skills that will be needed. The group says that there will be a demand for more engineers with the skills to deal with complex infrastructure systems. “Engineers need to develop further their ability to embrace probabilistic methods and flexible solutions, and to deal with complex risk scenarios.”
Another finding of the report focuses on the interdependencies between the infrastructure sectors. A failure in one area can very quickly lead to “cascade failure”, the report says. Research and experience from each sector needs to be shared.
The energy infrastructure is “critical”, because all other sectors are reliant on a supply of electricity, especially ICT, the group says in the report. “Building a resilient energy infrastructure is therefore a priority, and it is a project that should be worked on across all sectors due to their interests and needs in this regard.”
Other findings in the report focussed on regulation and governance, public engagement and communication, and technology and innovation.
The alliance warns that using overseas technologies to tackle climate change may not be cost-effective as other countries may experience different weather issues and may not deliver the service levels expected by UK consumers. Engineers therefore have a “crucial role in identifying cost-effective technologies that are appropriate for the UK”, the report says.
The public may have to adjust their expectations regarding the continuity of services, the report says. A debate was needed on the balance between acceptable levels of disruption verses higher costs.
‘Infrastructure, Engineering and Climate Change Adaptation – ensuring services in an uncertain future’ was commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The findings will feed into the Defra led cross-Government Infrastructure and Adaptation project.
The Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Chemical Engineers took part in the report.