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ICE State of the Nation 2024: how do civil engineers contribute to the UN SDGs?

Date
12 January 2024

Can civil engineers deliver modern infrastructure projects while mitigating climate impacts and delivering positive outcomes for society and nature?

ICE State of the Nation 2024: how do civil engineers contribute to the UN SDGs?
The report focuses on four critical areas for the infrastructure sector to address. Image credit: Shutterstock

Civil engineers have a vital role to play in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

They can directly address some of the biggest challenges facing the water, energy and transport sectors.

These include those set out by the UK National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in its second National Infrastructure Assessment.

With these challenges in mind, the expertise of the ICE’s global membership has been harnessed to produce the forthcoming State of the Nation: Infrastructure in 2024 report.

The report, publishing on 25 January, seeks to present a clear view of how the profession can support delivery against the SDGs.

It focuses specifically on the challenges of providing affordable and resilient transport, water, and low-carbon energy solutions amid the climate crisis.

What are the SDGs?

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – adopted by all UN member states in 2015 – provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

At its heart are the 17 SDGs and their associated 169 targets – urgent calls to action for all countries, whether developed or developing, in global partnership.

The goals recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with improved access to safe and affordable transport, clean water and sanitation, and reliable and sustainable energy systems.

All while tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity.

Agenda at risk

The need to act is acute.

The UN’s SDG Report 2023: Special Edition highlights that progress on more than half of the targets is weak and insufficient.

Progress has stalled or even reversed on a third of the goals.

These include key targets on poverty, hunger and climate.

As UN secretary-general António Guterres put it: “Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda could become an epitaph for a world that might have been.”

A closer look

To provide greater context for the SDGs report, the ICE commissioned University College London (UCL) to find out which of the SDGs civil engineers could have the greatest impact on.

The research identified clear gaps in how infrastructure projects were addressing core targets.

It was particularly notable that many goals relating to nature and the environment were lacking in evidence and outcomes.

The road ahead

The State of the Nation report includes clear position statements from the ICE, to outline how engineers can drive change and address the challenges facing the industry.

It also features case studies of projects that have delivered improved transport, water or energy solutions while mitigating their carbon impacts and bringing positive outcomes for nature.

The report focuses on four critical areas for the infrastructure sector to address:

  • Phasing out fossil fuels
  • Delivering sustainable transport systems
  • Reducing the risk of flooding
  • Ensuring good design and carbon management

It demonstrates the scale of these challenges and the practical solutions that civil engineers can provide.

It acknowledges that while progress has been made, a considerable journey lies ahead in terms of creating decarbonised, climate-resilient infrastructure systems.

It also recognises the need for the UK to get better at controlling the costs of building infrastructure, which remain comparatively high by international standards.

In addition, the report directs readers towards relevant ICE resources and initiatives. These include:

State of the Nation 2024

Sign up to join ICE President Professor Anusha Shah and ICE vice-president David Porter at the launch of the State of the Nation 2024 report on 25 January at the ICE’s One Great George Street London HQ.

Learn about the report’s findings and discuss how engineers can support the UN SDGs while working to address productivity, decarbonisation and resilience issues.

The NIC’s Sir John Armitt will provide insight into the implications of the second National Infrastructure Assessment.

And, UCL’s Professor Priti Parikh, an ICE trustee, will discuss the ICE/UCL research into how civil engineers are addressing the UN SDGs.

  • David Porter, vice president at Institution of Civil Engineers