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GEC action plan for Sustainable Development Goals

17 January 2019

Nathan Baker says the Global Engineering Congress led to a coordinated plan of action for achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

GEC action plan for Sustainable Development Goals
Over 3,500 delegates attended the five-day Global Engineering Congress in October. Image credit: Visual Eye

For a week in October 2018, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) welcomed institutions, businesses and governments from across the world to the Global Engineering Congress (GEC) at One Great George Street in London.

Held in partnership with the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO), the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Commonwealth Engineers’ Council, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and the European Council of Civil Engineers, the event reflected a change in the engineering profession’s response to global issues.

Its purpose was to turn words into action and find the engineering means for achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030 (UN, 2015). The aim was to transform how engineers engage with the goals, and to help them demonstrate the impact of the goals on a project, national and global scale.

Urging civil engineers to act

ICE, an institution with international reach, took a deliberate decision to frame the congress around the SDGs. Rather than simply continue to talk about issues as urgent as climate change, poverty and inequality, the UN’s pre-existing framework was chosen to urge engineers to act.

The event was attended by over 3,500 delegates from 82 countries plus 18 government delegations. They listened to 200 speakers and took part in more than 100 sessions. Sidebar conversations were held between clients, the supply chain and investors, and beyond the congress millions of people were reached through social media.

The overwhelming consensus was that the congress exceeded delegates’ expectations. It generated energy, enthusiasm and passion. The audience was far more diverse and inclusive than any previously seen at ICE. Ministers and students exchanged ideas in an open forum, while investors set out how the power of engineering can be harnessed to address the challenges of the SDGs.

Transforming infrastructure and lives

The opening plenary session included a letter of support from UN secretary general António Guterres. From that to the very last panel debate there was vision, commitment and a willingness across the global engineering profession to work together to transform infrastructure and lives in a manner wholly different, and with far greater passion, than ever seen before.

The key points of each session were captured through a special ‘action room’. ICE and its partners will now lead on developing an ongoing programme of work, and a dedicated team is being established at ICE to map key themes and take the actions forward. Discussions are ongoing with the UN, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and global engineering institutions to agree a coordinated plan of action.

A key emerging theme is that engineers must continue to collaborate with an ever-wider range of stakeholders to understand how they can best apply their expertise for global benefit. Only by leading the field in issues as important as those covered at the congress can ICE ensure maximum value for its members and for society as a whole.

Energy, intellect and passion

Any profession is only as good as the energy, intellect and passion of its participants; the GEC demonstrated beautifully that ICE has a healthy supply of all three in its membership and wider network. ICE’s job is to harness these by supplying members with the knowledge, convening power and public forum they need to contribute positively to the world.

ICE is well placed to continue to lead on such crucial global issues, and to demonstrate to the wider world that engineers, and in particular ICE’s members, have an enormous part to play in their successful resolution.

This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (172 CE1) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal.

  • Nathan Baker, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM)