We work in the regions most acutely threatened by climate change. Against a backdrop of unprecedented global heatwaves, wildfires, retreating ice, record sea level rises and extreme cyclones, we created our 2030 strategy. In it, the impacts of climate change are factored into everything, rather than operate as a standalone program or focus. We need to build partnerships in full acknowledgement of not only the enormity of these issues at hand, but of the power of a committed network who understand the urgency to create positive change. We focus our attention regionally, on those at risk of being left behind by a fast changing climate, environmental degradation, increasing people movement and increasing inequality. Our revisioned purpose was clear: ‘To harness the potential of engineering to create an equitable reality for the planet and its people.”
The communities we work with are already dealing with the effects of climate change
The latest IPCC report, the first of three parts, focuses on the physical science basis for climate change. It is a grim read. The communities we work with, however, don’t need a report to tell them about the consequences of rapidly accelerating global heating. Their lived experience is of alarming changes unfolding faster and faster. The work our staff do, on the ground in Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu builds the capacity of these communities to respond and adapt to a changed climate.
Building capacity on the ground
In Timor-Leste, we are providing emergency relief following extreme flooding in April – a weather event the IPCC warns will become more frequent should emissions continue unchecked – which displaced over a thousand people and damaged public access to clean water in communities already facing water contamination and drought.
Staff in Vanuatu work to provide hygiene and sanitation infrastructure in Efate Province that is resistant to flooding and high-water conditions. They are also working with Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health on the completion of emergency sanitation and hygiene guidelines. For a country that is the most natural disaster prone on earth, it means they have a plan for addressing the more nuanced responses needed for these dynamic and catastrophic situations.
In Cambodia, we launched the ATEC Biodigester, which converts animal and kitchen waste into a green source of fuel and fertilizer, allowing households in the Tonle Sap Lake and River region to reduce their carbon footprint and develop climate change resistant technologies. ATEC are now delivering bio-digesters and inductions cookstoves in Cambodia and Bangladesh, and have recently been approved for carbon credits.
In Australia we support Aboriginal ranger programs and infrastructure to enable Traditional Owners to undertake sustainable natural resource management. We support Traditional Owners to return to and thrive On Country through the provision of basic infrastructure engineered to withstand a changing climate.
“The IPCC report underscores that the decisions we make today will resonate for centuries. The engineering sector can and should be a leading voice in the call for urgent action to address climate change. Engineers are crucial to the solution and are ready to get to work on securing an equitable future for people and for the planet,” said Gaetano Romano, Senior Engineering Manager, EWB.
Holding the experience of our communities in the same hand as partners supporting new fossil fuel projects was a tension that was ultimately unworkable. From a place of integrity, we had to draw a line in the sand when it came to partnering with organisations working on new fossil fuel projects. We knew then, because we respected the science. Today still, as outlined in the IPCC report, it is unequivocal – that the burning of fossil fuels drives extreme weather events. Extreme weather events disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people and exacerbate structural inequality. We work with those vulnerable people.
It’s been two years since a combined team comprising of a board member, the CEO, program Directors and staff worked together to update our Ethical Partnerships policy and interconnecting process documents. Our Ethical Partnerships policy provides overarching guidance on current and potential EWB partner organisations. It is supported by a tool that is utilised by any of our staff or chapter members holding partnership roles. This tool enables the user to step through any partnership proposal, in an unbiased way, to ensure that the prospective partner and the proposed work are ethically aligned.
We also ensure we track climate change indicators in our program work. We measure the environmental and climate sustainability of our Sanitation in Challenging Environments Program and the Water in Challenging Environments Program. We analyse specific local climate change scenarios that are then taken into account in all phases of technology development, from ideation and design to piloting and testing. In doing this, we forecast that our technical solutions will be fit for purpose for a longer time in a changing environment.
Coordinating action on climate change
Over the last two years, engineers across the sector have mobilised in response to climate change concerns. In 2019, they reached out to us and we stepped up. Together, we launched the sector’s response to the climate crisis, Australian Engineers Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency.
The impending climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the two most serious issues of our time. Australian Engineers Declare are determined to address this.
Engineering activities are connected with over 65% of Australia’s Direct Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
As such, engineering teams have a responsibility to actively support the transition of our economy towards a low carbon future. This begins with honestly and loudly declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency.
Meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries demands a paradigm shift in our activities and our behaviours. Together with our clients, we will need to design and implement systems, infrastructure and technologies that can contribute to constantly regenerating and self-sustaining economic and ecological systems…” – Australian Engineers Declare
Engineers are Problem Solvers
Despite the IPCC report declaring situation critical, the report also provides some hope of avoiding a future of truly catastrophic warming. If we act now. Specifically, engineers can and should be a key part of the solution. At EWB we commit to continuing to make operational decisions which are values and science aligned. And although we feel the heaviness of this most recent report, we urge our community to avoid the temptation of falling into despair without pausing on the intermediate step of taking action. Remember, we engineers are problem solvers!
The IPCC will release two volumes about ways to adapt to, and reduce, climate change in 2022. But there is no need to wait until then. As outlined on Australian Engineers Declare, engineers can immediately take action in the following twelve ways –
- Evaluate all new projects against the environmental necessity to mitigate climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach.
- Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices, that respect ecological limits whilst enabling socially just access to resources and services, and a higher governmental funding priority to support this.
- Advocate for and undertake 21st century economic assessments that take a whole-of-system, whole-of-life approach, and take into account the implications of expanding beyond ecological ceilings and failing to meet fundamental human rights and social justice obligations.
- Join with other professions and work with government to develop a stronger and more comprehensive whole-of-government response to the climate emergency.
- Collaborate with policy makers and planners, contractors and clients to further these broad outcomes.
- Learn from and collaborate with First Nations to adopt work practices that are respectful, culturally sensitive and regenerative.
- Upgrade existing infrastructure and technology for extended use when the opportunity arises for carbon emissions reduction.
- Accelerate the shift to circular economy principles (e.g. minimise wasteful use of resources) and low embodied carbon materials in all our work.
- Implement climate change and biodiversity loss mitigation principles.
- Raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action in our organisations and networks.
- Track and share stories of success as individuals and companies make climate positive choices, building pride and solidarity in the engineering sector and our role in delivering a healthy planet.
- Share knowledge and research to that end, on an open source basis.
- Read the IPCC’s sixth Assessment, click here
- If you don’t have the headspace for slogging it out through the IPCC report, click here for a summary of the report by The Climate Council, Australia’s leading climate change communications organisation
- To sign the Australian Engineers Declare, declaration click here
- For more information on the principles that can guide the actions of engineers, today, read Chris Buntine’s excellent summary on Linked In
- Donate to help keep EWB staff on the ground, supporting vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change