Engineering our Climate

Focus Articles
21 March 2016 | Focus Articles | thomas thomas

Environmental engineers are playing a key role in reducing the effects of the environment on our infrastructure and economy. Rebecca Barnes investigates.

Environmental engineering is concerned with the measurement, modelling, control and simulation of the environment. This interdisciplinary subject brings together aspects of mechanical, electrical, electronic, aeronautical, civil, energy and chemical engineering.

It’s clear that this is a huge growth sector – The UK Government is committed to generating 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020, and we will need to drastically restructure our national energy portfolio to achieve this transition, while the Department for Energy and Climate Change estimates that the renewable energy sector alone could create 500,000 new jobs by 2020. 

Certainly, advances in the science, engineering and technology sectors will be critical if the UK is to achieve the target set by the 2008 Climate Change Act, that is an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

The methods in which we use to travel are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and we have already experienced the effects of a changing climate thanks to high temperatures, flash floods and extreme weather conditions, which impacts on our infrastructure, causing costly disruptions.

The UK Climate Projections programme has reported that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and summer temperatures are higher by about 3.4C, while sea levels are higher by an average of 36cm (14 inches), so it’s easy to see that environmental engineers have their work cut out.

It’s vital that our infrastructure system is more resilient to the changing climatic conditions that are anticipated this Century, and this requires proactive teamwork from the Government, the public and private sectors and professionals such as engineers to step up to the challenge, thus reducing the risk of economic disruption.

The engineering profession has a crucial role to play, designing, building and maintaining our infrastructure to enable it to adapt, as well as developing innovative, cost effective solutions to climate threats.

However, as there will be few purely ‘renewables’ jobs, engineers will be required to expand their current skills base; if we don’t incorporate these requirements into the UK workforce, jobs could go to workers from outside the UK.

Greatest demand will be for managers and senior officials, machine and transport workers, associate professionals, staff in technical occupations and for staff in skilled trade occupations.

Plus there are further challenges ahead as replacing, upgrading and decarbonising our infrastructure to meet renewable energy targets is going to need staggering levels in investment, to the tune of between £800 billion and £1 trillion.

So, are you up to the challenge of saving the planet while cutting carbon emissions and driving technological change? No pressure…

Address Book

The Society of Environmental Engineers (SEE) is a professional Society that exists to promote awareness of the discipline of environmental engineering, and to provide members with information, training and representation within the field. Visit

The UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) provide climate information designed to help those needing to plan how they will adapt to a changing climate. Its projections are based on a new methodology designed by the Met Office. Visit

International Society of the Built Envionment (ISBE) is a Society of professionals, academics and government advisors with an interest in environmental engineering and other environmental sectors and issues. Visit

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