Mark Apsey shares IChemE’s new position statement on climate change and the consultation process through which it was established
IN recent times, there has been significant discussion about IChemE’s position on climate change and the role of chemical engineering in mitigation and adaptation. In early 2020, the Board of Trustees asked the Learned Society Committee to develop a position statement on climate change. The task was delegated to the IChemE Energy Centre, acknowledging the expertise of the Board and its members. A task group was formed and, following consultation with members and the member communities, I’m now pleased to report that a position statement has been formally established (see opposite).
Net Zero (84% support)
IChemE fully supports the aims of the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C relative to pre-industrial levels.
Achieving this climate goal will require net emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be reduced to zero.
Emissions reduction must start NOW (85% support)
We agree that serious action to combat climate change is urgent and must start immediately and accelerate. IChemE will work with associated industries and governments to achieve the rate of change needed to remain below 1.5°C.
The IPCC articulates this as reducing global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 7.6% year on year to 2030 (as an interim target) or reducing total emissions by at least 50% each decade from now to 2050.
Guided by UN Sustainable Development Goals (86% support)
Climate change, its mitigation and adaptation to its impacts does not exist in isolation. IChemE endorses the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address climate change, and end all forms of poverty and inequality while making sure that no one is left behind.
This means that the actions of chemical engineers should minimise adverse impact and not shift impact elsewhere – either geographically, socially, economically, or environmentally.
Systems thinking (93% support)
To achieve the desired outcomes, a global systems thinking approach is essential. Full and robust assessment of life cycles, their emissions and any other potential adverse impacts, together with the drive to a circular economy, is essential practice and must be encoded in industry standards for planning, design, construction, operation and decommissioning.
Global mechanisms (80% support)
IChemE endorses the view that governments must take responsibility for the total emissions of greenhouse gases from their economies and must work to meet the goal of net zero by 2050 by introducing and implementing appropriate policies on taxation, carbon pricing and other policy tools.
Best available techniques (91% support)
IChemE believes that we should make use of best available techniques to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Technologies must be chosen to ensure that they do not entrench the status quo but adapt to changing circumstances. Solutions must be designed to demonstrate the greatest positive outcomes for the environment and society and thus the economy and take into account longevity and operability in a changed environment over the life of the project (eg differing rainfall, temperature profiles).
Innovation (91% support)
IChemE supports the development of new technologies and processes to deliver the transition to net zero emissions by 2050 at the pace required. Innovation will be needed, and IChemE encourages research and development work to find the new best solutions to deploy.
Training an application of skills (91% support)
The transition to a net zero carbon economy will bring opportunities and challenges. IChemE will work with members and the industries they work in to support the education, training and application of skills of the current and future workforce.
Education (92% support)
IChemE will continuously work to ensure that the fundamental principles of sustainability, social responsibility and ethics are embedded in the education and training of chemical engineers. This will be mandatory in accredited education and through continuous professional development.
So how was the position statement developed? We started by forming a core group to define the structure and frame the statement. This included myself as Chair of the Climate Change Task Group and Chair of the IChemE Energy Centre, UK; Mary Stewart, IChemE Energy Centre Board member, Australia; and Stefaan Simons, IChemE Energy Centre Board member, UK.
We identified that the remaining task group members should include representatives of those special interest groups (SIGs) with an interest in energy and climate change, and regional representatives, given that climate change is a global issue with regional impacts and differing geopolitical positions. In all, 16 members joined the task group. This included members from eight SIGs and seven different countries, including representatives from three of IChemE’s national Boards.
In March, we contacted chairs of regional groups and SIGs to explain our goal and invite them to engage. This included nominating a single point of contact for their group as well as liaising with their members, collating input and sharing it with the task group. As a result, 18 groups provided a written submission.
The task group then drafted ten principles which were shared with the contacts from the 18 contributing groups. All were given the opportunity to review, discuss and provide feedback, after which, the ten principles were reduced to nine.
The draft position statement was published for consultation on 5 July, giving IChemE members the opportunity to review, indicate support and provide feedback on each specific section of the statement. While the consultation survey was long, we felt it important to ask members for their views not just on general concepts but the specific wording of each of the principles.
A total of 483 members completed the survey. In addition, 17 members emailed feedback. These included some strong opinions about climate change and whether IChemE should take a position. There were responses from members in 31 countries.
We’re pleased to report that the principles received strong support during the consultation, with more than 80% of respondents either supporting or strongly supporting each principle.
We’ve detailed the level of support against each statement. These include 84% support for the aims of the Paris Agreement and the need to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5oC; and 85% agreeing that emissions reduction must start now.
The actions of chemical engineers should minimise impact and not shift it elsewhere – either geographically, socially, economically, or environmentally
The prominence of ethics in engineering has increased in recent years and there was support from more than 86% for the principle that climate change is a global issue and it is essential that mitigation and adaptation to its impact does not exist in isolation. To this end, IChemE endorses the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This means that the actions of chemical engineers should minimise impact and not shift it elsewhere – either geographically, socially, economically, or environmentally.
The principles that outline the technical, chemical engineering approach to adaptation and mitigation of climate change received over 90% support. This included the essential application of a global systems-thinking approach with full and robust life cycle assessments (93%). Similarly, principles on making use of best available techniques (BAT), and the importance of innovation to provide solutions designed to demonstrate the greatest positive outcomes for the environment and society (and thus the economy) both received 91% support.
The ability of the chemical engineering profession to play its part in adaptation and mitigation of climate change is underpinned by education, training and application of skills. The principle that IChemE will work with members and industry to support education, training and application of skills of the current and future workforce received 91% support. The importance of continuous work to ensure that the fundamental principles of sustainability, social responsibility and ethics are embedded in the education and training of chemical engineers received 92% support.
All the consultation analysis was shared with the task group. All the free-text comments were categorised according to the section of the document they related to and the nature of the comment. The core members of the task group reviewed the categorised data in advance and considered whether any change to the position statement text was warranted. This was then shared with the whole task group and the case discussed. For each point there was then an identified proposal and a vote for or against it.
IChemE Congress was asked to consider the draft position statement. In its position as the voice of members it raised the issue that there was feedback from some who significantly opposed IChemE taking a position on climate change. It also advised that IChemE must ensure any commitments are realistic and deliverable and that IChemE should not identify with any political movement. To this end, I want to note that this is a policy position statement not a political affiliation. IChemE may comment on decisions and activity of others, including government policy related to climate change, but this will be based on evidence and will be non-partisan.
The position statement outlines what the principles mean for IChemE, its members and the sectors where chemical engineers work. In the context of IChemE, there was over 84% support for the view that it is our duty, as set out in our Royal Charter, to bring societal benefit through chemical engineering while safeguarding the public interest. This also stated that the best way to bring about the urgent action required to address the challenges of climate change is for IChemE to support members and their employees in establishing pathways to net zero emissions. This is achieved through promoting understanding and providing education and informed advice. Over 80% of respondents supported a commitment from IChemE to set a net zero target and 72% believed this should have a target date.
That the best way to bring about the urgent action required to address the challenges of climate change is for IChemE to support members and their employees in establishing pathways to net zero emissions
In terms of what the statement means for IChemE members, it acknowledges the pivotal role of the profession in adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change. Chemical engineers at all levels can make a positive impact through the solutions they develop and deliver, and those that they can influence. A meaningful commitment for the profession to address climate change received 92% support.
Finally, in the context of where chemical engineers work, 85% of respondents supported the view that the principles of the statement extends to IChemE working with sectors that employ chemical engineers to make progress on the path to a low carbon emissions and ultimately net zero.
It is important to note that some members identified that the sectors they work in are significant emitters of carbon emissions and can be portrayed in a negative light. There is no denying this; however, IChemE will work with members to support delivering change from the inside, and working to inform those who may take a negative view from the outside.
This work was initiated by the Board of Trustees through a request to the Learned Society Committee. In November, following the task group’s work to update the statement, we presented it to the Learned Society Committee and the Board of Trustees for their consideration and I’m pleased that it received full approval.
Of course, the publication of a position statement is not the end point; it provides the principles that IChemE stands by and commitments for future action.
IChemE has been considered a leader in process safety for many years. Now IChemE has an opportunity to become a leader on matters to address climate change as well. To support this, the Board of Trustees has requested the formation of two working groups. These will work on:
The action plans will be aligned with IChemE’s charitable objectives, Strategy 2024, the Learned Society priority topics and Chemical Engineering Matters.
The member consultation and feedback from Congress identified concerns from a handful of members on the robustness of some aspects of climate change and the need for consistent clarity of language.
The position statement states that IChemE accepts the science and conclusions published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Through the new working groups, IChemE will inform members about how the IPCC works, how chemical engineers have made significant contributions to the IPCC, and how they scrutinise the science.
We have the capability to change the way we do things so that our species is able to thrive within our ecological planetary constraints whilst improving the quality of life for all
Throughout the position statement, words and phrases are used that may be interpreted in different ways. It is important that the intent of the language is widely understood, and work is underway to overcome any common misconceptions. For example, how anthropogenic emissions can have an indirect impact on climate; and provide clear definitions for terms such as net zero, the associated terms of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions; and best available techniques (BAT) in terms of technological applications.
As we approach our centenary celebrations it is an apt time to reflect on the significant achievements of our profession but we must urgently turn our attention to how we can best serve going forward, as society asks, with an increasingly louder and desperate voice, for help to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Our skills and expertise are well placed to solve the complex and integrated systems problem posed to our single shared planet and the myriad of technical challenges along the way.
What will the next 100 years bring for chemical engineers? It is up to us
There is cause for optimism. We have the capability to change the way we do things so that our species is able to thrive within our ecological planetary constraints whilst improving the quality of life for all. This statement is the start, and we must act at pace and scale to make a difference. My challenge to you all is to think about what you can do to help transform your industry. What will the next 100 years bring for chemical engineers? It is up to us.
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