Sustainable Development Goals


Every one of the Sustainable Development Goals needs engineers

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If the world is to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it must turn to engineers for help, writes Adrian Piani.

When the United Nations replaced its Millennium Development Goals of 2000-2015 with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the list of outcomes grew from eight to 17. A better future went from one focused on bringing along developing countries to one bringing along everyone.

Seeking to combat “all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change”, the goals also brought into view the importance of engineers in achieving a brighter future.

A look at the list for the period 2015 to 2030 quickly calls up implications for the profession. Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities) have obvious engineering requirements associated with them.

According to the UN Development Programme, 40 per cent of the global population is affected by water scarcity. The demand for energy is growing, yet the need to mitigate growth in greenhouse gas emissions is clear. The planet is increasingly connected, yet four billion people have no internet access. And more than half of humanity is in cities, with this number set to become two-thirds by 2050, creating many new ‘megacities’.     

There are other goals on the list that have a definite, if not immediately obvious, need for engineering. Number 12 — responsible consumption and production — will need improved methods of recycling and processing if things like food waste are to be reduced.

Then consider number 2: zero hunger. The production of more – and more nutritious – food will be aided by factors that include pest outbreak and climate modelling, safe and sustainable herbicides and fertilisers, and the development of different strains of crops and animals. All of this will require expertise from the relevant engineering disciplines.     

United Nations Sustainable Development GoalsAnswering the call

The profession’s leadership is keenly aware of the need for its contribution. The global peak body, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), has a strategic goal of advancing the SDGs through engineering. Dr Marlene Kanga, a past President of Engineers Australia and the current President of the WFEO, tells us that “every one of the SDGs requires engineering”.

This even includes goal 16: peace, justice and strong institutions. Corruption is a huge waste for developing countries. The WFEO, said Kanga, “has a focus on anti-corruption in engineering, in infrastructure development … and we will certainly have a focus on this at the World Engineers Convention 2019”.

Bringing everyone on the planet along through the SDGs will require a noticeable beefing up of engineering muscle. As an example, it’s predicted that Africa, if it’s to meet the goals, will need a minimum of 2.5 million new engineers to create the necessary economic and social infrastructure.   

Building the future

We also asked the Green Building Council of Australia, which has worked as part of the National Sustainable Development Council, about the goals’ relevance to the built environment. The GBCA, which launched the nation’s Green Star sustainability rating system, represents more than 600 companies and is “the nation’s authority on sustainable buildings, communities and cities”.

Sandra Qian, Senior Advisor of Policy and Government Relations at the organisation, said the SDGs are influencing the way its members think about sustainability issues, with “a sharper focus in our sector on getting the balance right in our cities, communities and buildings”.

Furthermore, engineers, according to the GBCA, had a “clear line of sight to the ways that SDGs can be achieved in their line of work, through those elements of the SDGs which are material, and also by influencing outcomes”, citing a program that linked with Goal 11.

“Our work with rail authorities in Victoria to develop Green Star — Design and As Built railway stations, was a great example of how engineers are using their market power to improve regular business practices by ensuring the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability were included in their projects,” Qian said.

The SDGs offer a framework for sustainability, peace and prosperity. Engineers have an important part to play in achieving these admirable goals. 

Adrian Piani is the former Chair of the College of Environmental Engineers, Engineers Australia, and the current Chief Engineer of the Australian Capital Territory.


The six themes of the World Engineers Convention are aligned to the the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Contribute to building a more sustainable future and register today

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Why engineers are crucial to the success of the SDGs

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Bringing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to fruition will demand the skills of engineers. Here’s how they can contribute.

The United Nations replaced its Millennium Development Goals with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, promote economic growth and prosperity, improve health and education and protect the planet.

Engineers will need to play an important role in making them happen.

Dr Marlene Kanga, a former Engineers Australia National President and President Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO), said engineering skills will be vital to achieve the aspirations of many of these goals.

She said important goals where engineers have a role are: clean water and sanitation for all (Goal 6), availability of sustainable energy sources (Goal 7), creating strong and resilient infrastructure (Goal 9) and liveable cities (Goal 11).

“Natural disaster and resilience is also an essential part of Goal 11, and engineers have an important role in designing and building resilient infrastructure and cities,” she said.

Within each of the goals there are targets such as doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030, and a specific goal to make cities more sustainable with targets to increase affordable housing and access to sustainable transport (Goal 11).

Achieving many of these targets will need integrated engineering solutions that provide resilient infrastructure,  sustainable energy and access to the latest communication technology. Bridging the digital divide, where most of the world does not have access to the internet, is also crucial.

Engineers will need to leverage existing and widely deployed technologies and future developments in ICT – including next-generation mobile broadband, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, 3D printing and others – to provide the tools for integrated solutions for sustainable development.

Engineers Australia is providing its voice to the contributions of engineers in progressing the SDGs via the WFEO. Through its network of national and international engineering member institutions in 90 countries, representing 20 million engineers, WFEO is able to contribute to the discourse on the role of engineering and engineers in the development of technologically and environmentally-feasible solutions.

Key UN SDGs for engineers

  • Access to affordable, reliable sustainable and modern energy.
  • Resilient infrastructure.
  • Inclusive and sustainable industrialisation.
  • Foster innovation.
  • Inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.

The six themes of the World Engineers Convention are aligned to the the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Contribute to building a more sustainable future and register today