UNESCO report highlights importance of engineering for sustainability goals

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE second UNESCO Engineering Report, Engineering for Sustainable Development: Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, has been published just over a decade after the original report.

The first report, Engineering, Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development, was published in 2010 and highlighted the importance of engineering in dealing with economic, social, and environmental issues. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formulated in 2015 and the second engineering report seeks to respond to the challenges and expectations raised by the SDGs. IChemE is addressing the SDGs, along with the Grand Challenges for Engineering, as part of Strategy 2024.  

The report notes the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that innovation in science, technology, and engineering has been crucial for creating solutions. It also said that engineers should play a more proactive role for recovery that will accelerate action on the SDGs.

It explains engineering’s key role in creating a more sustainable world and gives examples of how engineering can be used to achieve each of the SDGs. It highlights gaps in current engineering capacity as there is currently a global shortage of engineers and a shortage in the calibre of skills needed. There is a lack of understanding among policy-makers and governments on the role of engineering in society. It encourages more collaboration between governments, industry, and academia to increase the number of engineers and to invest more in engineering development.

Engineering needs to become more diverse and ensure that there is a sufficient number of engineers with different backgrounds and experiences. This will enable more effective work on the SDGs by creating solutions that avoid bias and discrimination.

It highlights the importance of engineering education, starting with schools where STEM education needs to be improved by methods such as incorporating sustainability into the curriculum. At university level it is important to ensure accreditation so that the quality of the engineering taught is sufficient. It noted that training engineers to tackle the SDGs will require a change from an academic path to a broader interdisciplinary approach. Soft skills, such as resilience and team working, are seen as the critical skills for the future. There is also a necessity for lifelong learning to keep up with rapid developments in technology, with employers encouraged to invest in continuous professional development for employees.

The report looks at regional trends in engineering, saying that an imbalance in development between different regions is a serious challenge that must be overcome to meet the SDGs by 2030. R&D disparities in terms of expenditure and human resources have widened across the world in the last ten years.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said in the report: “Addressing sustainable development within the challenges of climate change, population growth and urbanisation will require innovative engineering and technology-based solutions.”

“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were conceived to raise awareness of the different aspects of sustainability. All 17 Goals can be related to engineering and every one requires engineering to achieve its goal.”

“This report shows the relevance of the engineering profession in responding to the sustainability challenge, and how inclusive and equitable education can bring about new perspectives and thus respond to the shortage of engineers – one of the principal impediments to economic growth.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.