Keeping the world informed and engaged, the United Nations released six key reports in 2019 on climate action, climate economics, and on issues that highlight climate impacts and solutions.
As articulated in the Global Environment Outlook: Providing a decent life and well-being for nearly 10 billion people by 2050, without further compromising the ecological limits of our planet and its benefits, is one of the most serious challenges and responsibilities humanity has ever faced. People worldwide rely on the smooth functioning of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, in different ways and in different contexts. A healthy planet is a necessary foundation for the overall well-being and further advancement of humanity (United Nations 2015a; Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD] 2017a).
The UN Secretary-General’s “Call to Action” is that we must limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of this century to avoid irreversible and catastrophic impacts. This means that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to decline by about 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero in 2050. Australia’s unprecedented wildfires have brought global warming and it’s resulting catastrophic impacts into sharp focus. It’s happening now.
Advancing this call to action, BlackRock, in a 2020 letter to CEOs from Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink, asserted that climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects, and we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance due to climate risk. In addition to exiting investments that present a high sustainability-related risk, Fink went on to say that BlackRock – the world’s largest asset manager – will be increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.
As governments, companies and communities develop their strategies for addressing the significant work ahead, I’m advocating for the role that Environmental Professionals play in planning and developing holistic solutions that are grounded in sound scientific, ecological and engineering principles.
The value of exploring and sharing those innovative solutions is also a central reason that we continue to participate in and support the Climate Leadership Conference and Awards.
In its own call to action to chart new territory for the decades ahead, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently published Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Addressing Grand Challenges.
Referencing my years of personal experience taking on major environmental challenges – from cleaning up nuclear weapon sites for beneficial reuse to transforming contaminated brownfields into Olympic venues and sustainable communities – the publication’s introduction reads true: Environmental engineering and science professionals support the well-being of people and the planet in areas where the two intersect. Over the decades the field has improved countless lives through innovative systems for delivering water, treating waste, and preventing and remediating pollution in air, water, and soil. These achievements are a testament to the multidisciplinary, pragmatic, systems-oriented approach that characterizes the environmental engineering profession.
The study identifies five pressing challenges of the 21st century that environmental engineering and science professionals are uniquely poised to help advance:
- Sustainably supply food, water, and energy
- Curb climate change and adapt to its impacts
- Design a future without pollution and waste
- Create efficient, healthy, resilient cities
- Foster informed decisions and actions
One could argue that all these goals are directly tied to climate change and sustainability. In fact, the study finds the environmental engineering profession aligns with ten of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals:
- Goal 2: Zero Hunger
- Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
- Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
- Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
- Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
- Goal 13: Climate Action
- Goal 14: Life Below Water
- Goal 15: Life on Land
Addressing these interconnected challenges will require global solution approaches that inclusively bring together environmental engineers and their colleagues in the environmental sciences: ecology, biology, physics, chemistry, plant science, zoology, mineralogy, oceanography, limnology, soil science, geology and physical geography, and atmospheric science – collaborating fully with data scientists.
With our future in the balance, the time is now to engage our best and brightest environmental professionals. Addressing the past, we need to continue to remediate environmental damage. And looking to the coming decades, the planning and sustainability steps we take today are critical to leading the world to a more climate-resilient existence.
By Jan Walstrom, Global Environmental Market Director, Jacobs
Jacobs is an Exhibitor at the 2020 Climate Leadership Conference.