02 April 2014

Climate change: engineers more important than governments

climate Change

The incoming president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), professor Geoff Maitland, is calling on engineers to take a leading role in the battle against climate change, and the transition to low carbon, renewable energies.

Global energy consumption is expected to grow by over 50 percent by 2040 with fossil fuels continuing to dominate, providing up to 80 per cent of energy needs.1 

Over the same period, carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase to 45.5 billion metric tonnes – an increase of nearly 46 per cent – despite widespread concerns about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming.2

IChemE deputy president, professor Geoff Maitland3, believes the current approach to tackling climate change is not working and is calling on engineers, especially chemical engineers, to lead the debate and speed-up the transition to low carbon energy supply. 

His comments coincide with the publication this week of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.4

Maitland said: “Arguably, engineers have a more important role than governments in our transition to renewable energies. Short-term energy policies and ‘political fiddling’ are failing to provide the solutions needed – and fast enough. We are sleep-walking into a catastrophic climate change future.”

Maitland – a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London and a Fellow of IChemE, Royal Society of Chemistry, Energy Institute and the Royal Academy of Engineering, continued: 

“It is inevitable that we will need to pay more for our energy in the future, whatever its source. For many decades, fossil fuels will continue to play a major role but we must all be prepared to pay the real cost of using them, as part of a lower-carbon present. 

"Current prices fail to factor in the costs of carbon capture and storage. And then there are the adaptation costs to mitigate the impact of climate change, such as the floods and droughts which are increasingly disrupting the lives of millions of people across the globe.

“All branches of engineering and energy production need to build bridges and work together to drive forward change. We need to promote and share the real costs of energy, including carbon capture and storage and other carbon mitigation measures. We need to engineer the whole journey from start to finish – and begin to make real progress more quickly.

“We still need the financial and legal frameworks provided by governments to drive and support the changes needed. But the challenge rests with engineers to halt the damage we are doing to our planet – not only to provide cost-effective technological solutions but also to change public opinion about the urgency of the situation, to put more pressure on governments to provide much stronger incentives to reduce carbon emissions now, rather than waiting for renewables to take over long-term.”

Professor Maitland will be outlining his thoughts on the environmental impact of fossil fuels and managing the transition to alternative energies in a speech called The Energy Transition – Fuelling the Debate on 10 April in London, UK. 

The role of chemical engineers in the health, water, food and energy sectors is explored in IChemE’s latest technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

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IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).