Day one at GEC
ICE President welcomes delegates to the ‘home of infrastructure’
ICE President Lord Robert Mair opened the Global Engineering Congress (GEC), welcoming delegates to the ‘home of infrastructure’.
He talked about how the engineer of the future faces many different challenges to those of the past.
One in eight people lives in extreme poverty; nearly 800 million people still suffer from hunger; 60 million children of primary school-age are out of school; 700 million people still use unclean water sources; and over two billion are without improved sanitation.
“We as a profession have the tools to tackles these challenges,” said President Mair.
“This week’s GEC agenda is about solidarity and cooperation: it is about how we share our skills and specialties and our economic and natural resources so that we can help to pave the way for economic development that leaves no one behind.”
ICE President: ‘today is our chance to really make a difference’
‘Critical role’ of science and engineering
Miguel Clusener-Godt, Director Ecological and Earth Science Division, UNESCO, set the scene for the GEC.
He explained how the SDGs evolved from the UN Millennium Development Goals, creating a new framework for meeting the targets that haven‘t yet been achieved.
Outlining the work of UNESCO in helping to meet the SDGs, he emphasised the critical role of science and engineering.
“How an engineer is trained to think today could affect the quality of life in the 22nd century and beyond,” he said.
WFEO emphasises the need for diversity and creativity
Dr Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) began her keynote address by reading out a message by the UN Secretary General for the opening of the GEC.
In her own speech, Dr Kanga emphasised the need for diversity and creativity in engineering to develop solutions for sustainable development.
She said: “We have a clear vision for what we need to do and now we need to roll up our sleeves and do it together …This Congress is a chance to celebrate but also to look forward to the future and engineer a better world.”
Welcome statement from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
“I congratulate the Institution of Civil Engineers on its 200th anniversary. As one of the world’s oldest such organisations, the Institution has made significant contributions to the development of the very infrastructure of modern life.
“I also thank the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, which encompasses institutions from 100 nations and 30 million engineers, for its leadership of the profession internationally – and which is marking its 50th anniversary.
"Both milestones demonstrate the important contribution that engineering has made to our economies and our societies.
“The United Nations will continue to count on your engagement and support as we strive to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals –the world’s blueprint for building a future of peace and prosperity for all on a healthy planet.
“Every one of the goals requires solutions rooted in science, technology and engineering. I am therefore pleased that the focus of this Global Engineering Congress is to advance the goals relating to water, energy, infrastructure and cities.
“Climate action is especially urgent; climate change is running faster than we are, and I continue to stress the need to do what science demands before it is too late.
“In this Year of Engineering in the United Kingdom, I thank you for your commitment to our shared objectives and offer all the participants in the Global Engineering Congress my best wishes for a successful event.
How technology creates job opportunities
During the morning Inspire stream, the panel engaged with the audience in a lively debate on emerging technologies and the ramifications for employment and wider society.
Moderator Gong Ke, WFEO President Elect and member of the UN Science Advisory Council, acknowledged people’s fears that AI may threaten jobs. But he pointed out how the Industrial Revolution and then technology created new jobs and opportunities.
Jianping Wu, professor at Tsinghua University, emphasised that the ultimate aim of the SDGs is to improve people’s quality of life.
He argued that AI has the potential to increase leisure time for many people.
"Bear this in mind when talking about the future and robots taking over people’s jobs,” he said.
Speaking more specifically on technology’s impact on engineering, Wu introduced the audience to his recent research work on the ‘virtual city’.
He said: “If the data is there, we can use mathematical models to operate, to predict, to assess if our systems are correct or not … In the future, we can help humans to manage the real world … using data, using artificial intelligence.”
‘We need people to feel the impacts’
Speaking at the session on Future Climate – Engineering Solutions, was Professor Jianzhong Wu from Cardiff University.
Professor Wu highlighted that energy systems are one of the most important infrastructure of modern society.
He spoke about the huge level of investment the smart energy sector is seeing each year, and said while the change in energy forms poses many questions, it also offers a lot of opportunities for engineers.
Andrew Webster, Chair Future Climate Engineering Solutions (FCES) project, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, also spoke about the importance of storytelling when looking to tackle the UN SDGs:
“We need to point to the humanness of the challenges, we need people to feel the impacts. As engineers, we need to move into that space of the public reaction.”
‘Without diversity, you won’t get innovation’
Jeanette Southwood, VP Strategic Partnerships, Engineers Canada, spoke at the Innovate panel on improving diversity in engineering.
In recognising the importance of having a diverse workforce, Engineers Canada has committed to a new programme, 30 by 30, in which it hopes to increase the number of females in engineering from 13% to 30% by 2030.
Susan Freeman-Greene, CEO, Engineers New Zealand, also spoke on the importance of diversity of thought.
“Without diversity, you won’t get innovation, and without innovation we can’t solve the deep-seated problems this world faces,” she said.
She also highlighted the Wonder Project, which Engineers NZ is launching in schools next year.
The initiative aims to spark the curiosity of children and inspire them into STEM subjects.
UNESCO: ‘engineering is vital to the SDGs’
The afternoon’s Cities stream featured presentations and a panel discussion on humanitarian engineering for sustainable development.
Tony Marjoram, author of the first UNESCO Engineering Report, argued for a more informed approach to policymaking, looking at the long-term future.
He urged engineers to get involved with this process, saying that “engineering is vital to the SDGs … Engineers need to articulate policies to governments in this context”.
How 2 earthquakes demonstrate the crucial role of infrastructure
Geoffrey Morgan, Infrastructure Sustainability and Resilience Specialist at UNOPS, explained how infrastructure enables development, underpinning all the SDGs.
“Infrastructure provides the backbone for economic growth,” he said.
Morgan used the examples of two separate earthquakes to illustrate the crucial role of infrastructure.
A 2010 earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, led to 200,000 fatalities in Haiti.
However, Japan experienced an earthquake of the same magnitude in 2016 and only suffered 50 fatalities.
“Natural disasters only occur when infrastructure fails,” Morgan said.
He urged the audience to think of infrastructure as a holistic system, not just a set of assets. He then introduced the Capacity Assessment Tool for Infrastructure, which identifies the need for new assets to meet long-term objectives and helps to manage risk.
‘Corruption prevention is hard work, but we can do it’
The afternoon’s keynote address was given by Neill Stansbury, Co-Founder of the Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre.
He spoke about how the infrastructure industry can tackle corruption through better leadership, awareness and effective financial controls.
“Corruption prevention is hard work but we can do it …We can all make a huge difference to this if we work together,” he said.