We have the technology to slash global emissions, say engineers

Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 23 September 2011

The technology needed to cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 already exists, according to a joint statement by eleven of the world’s largest engineering organisations.

The statement was presented on Friday 23 September to the South African Deputy High Commissioner ahead of December’s COP17 climate change talks in Durban.

The statement says that generating electricity from wind, waves and the sun, growing biofuels sustainably, zero emissions transport, low carbon buildings and energy efficiency technologies have all been demonstrated. However they are not being developed for wide-scale use fast enough and there is a desperate need for financial and legislative support from governments around the world if they are to fulfil their potential.

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – one of the eleven organisations supporting the statement – said:

“While the world’s politicians have been locked in talks with no output, engineers across the globe have been busy developing technologies that can bring down emissions and help create a more stable future for the planet.

“We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale.”

The statement calls for:

  • A global commitment at Durban to a peak in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, followed by substantial reductions by 2050;
  • Governments to ensure that green policies do not unfairly and unintentionally act to the detriment of one particular industry or country;
  • Intensive effort to train and retrain workforces to ensure we have the right skills for the new industries that will spring up around green technologies;
  • A heavier emphasis to be placed on boosting energy efficiency, which is the best available measure to bring down emissions in the short and medium term.

The eleven organisations include the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), India’s Institution of Engineers (IEI), Germany’s Association of Engineers (VDI), Australia’s Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers (APESMA) and the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Collectively they represent over 1.2 million engineers spanning four continents.

The joint statement is the product of a landmark biennial conference held yesterday and today at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The Future Climate 2 conference brought together speakers from government, academia and engineering institutions from around the world to discuss the technologies needed to combat climate change.

Highlights from the conference included:

  • The German Association of Engineers (VDI) reported that the phasing out of nuclear power in Germany could lead to a doubling in national carbon emissions by 2050, with domestic renewable energy simply unable to fill the gap. To reach a planned 80% reduction in emissions, Germany must brace itself for expensive technological fixes and the large-scale import of green electricity produced by solar power from the Mediterranean;
  • The President of the Japanese Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME) spoke about what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after March’s earthquake and tsunami. The 50 year old technology withstood the earthquake but not the tsunami. The Onigawa power plant, far closer to the earthquake’s epicentre, survived despite being hit by a 13m high wave because its walls stood 14.8m high. Local villagers even sheltered from the tsunami inside the plant;
  • The UK Committee for Climate Change, which is advising the Government on its low carbon strategy, recommends an energy mix of 40% nuclear, 40% renewable, 15% Carbon Capture and Storage and 5% fossil fuel by 2030. It also suggests that we should aim for 40% of our vehicles to be hybrid and 20% to be wholly electric by 2030;
  • An investigation into the environmental impact of reducing the high level meat in our diets showed that it would free up tens of thousands of hectares of arable land in the UK. If this land was, in turn, left to revert back to its natural woodland state this could lead to huge reductions in CO2.

The Future Climate 2 conference took place at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London on the 22-23 September 2011. The eleven engineering institutions that signed up to the joint statement were:

o   The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) (UK)
o   The Institution of Engineers (India)
o   The Association of German Engineers (VDI) (Germany)
o   The Japanese Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME) (Japan)
o   The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers (APESMA) (Australia)
o   The Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) (Denmark)
o   The Civil Engineer Organisation of Honduras (CICH) (Honduras)
o   The Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sweden)
o   The Norwegian Society of Engineers (NITO) (Norway)
o   The Finnish Association of Graduate Engineers (TEK) (Finland)
o   The Union of Professional Engineers (UIL) (Finland)

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