We asked one of our Global Engineering Congress speakers for their insight into why the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals should matter to the engineering community.
Diana Guzmán-Barraza is an active consultant in the fields of energy, sustainability, and climate change with a solid track of academic excellence in engineering. She has a strong international profile combining a total of seven years of residence in 14 cities in North America, South America, Asia, and Europe.
We asked her a series of questions about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Q. Why do you think the UN Sustainable Development Goals should matter to the engineering community?
Now more than ever, our planet needs us to take matters into our own hands, and to bring our ecosystems back into balance. The only way forward is to get everybody involved, and the engagement of the engineering community is crucial to drive progress.
Innovation, Science, and Technology play a critical role for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the implementation of the Paris Agreements on global climate change. Engineering is vital to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions -such as those from industrial processes, energy generation, and transportation.
SDGs should matter to the engineering community because our future depends on our ability to deliver the technical aspects of these solutions.
Q. How practically do you think civil engineers can incorporate the UN SDGs into their work?
Reliable energy, transport, and water for all is a priority for the international community. It is up to civil engineers for this infrastructure to be built, sustainably, to contribute towards the achievement of SDG 6, 7, and 11 (on Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, and Sustainable Cities & Communities, respectively).
Q. The UN has recently warned that the world’s progress is uneven and too slow to meet the 2030 targets, how can we drive faster progress?
We can drive progress faster by:
- Increasing technical capacity building, and access to financial assistance.
- Driving capacity building, sustainable development strategies, and technical solutions according to the specific needs, conditions, and priorities of each country.
- Aligning incentives in the public and private sectors to facilitate long-term sustainable development.
- Creating more platforms for inter-sectoral and international collaboration, fostering entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, knowledge transfer, and innovation.
- Encouraging more people-public-private partnerships.
- Raising awareness on reducing carbon and waste footprints in all sectors, age groups, and socio-economic levels.
- Tackling gender imbalance in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), highlighting human and social aspects often overshadowed by technical aspects.
- Offering a broader curriculum in schools to make STEM more appealing to young students, embedding sustainability views & practices at an early age.
Q. Do you think enough attention is paid to sustainable development by project designers and commissioners?
No, we need to raise awareness and drive progress faster.
The level of attention paid to sustainable development by project designers and commissioners varies significantly among them and is influenced by the availability of government incentives to compensate for the additional costs associated to sustainable practices.
Around the world, many project decisions compromise sustainability over profitability. Embedding sustainability early on in project design and preparation phases of investments in infrastructure remains a challenge, especially in developing countries.
We need to come up with new ways to influence decision-makers, and to further implement policies to drive positive change. Measuring, reporting, and verification of institutional sustainability indicators should be encouraged, as well as the adoption of emission reduction strategies beyond green building certification schemes.
Q. How and why could the finance community make the difference on sustainable development?
The finance community has an important role in the road to a sustainable future.
The technologies and solutions to the world´s most pressing challenges already exist but are not accessible to everyone -even though huge amounts of resources coming from diverse sources are mobilized across the world to support efforts to achieve the SDGs in developing countries.
Furthermore, there are significant gaps in financial inclusion for youth, elder, migrants, people in remote areas, and women.
Professionals of the financial sector can contribute innovative ways to improve access to sources of finance at all levels, and to close financial inclusion gaps by developing instruments, cooperatives, and financial intermediation. Growing the momentum around sustainable investment and finance, including impact investment, will support projects and organizations that are creating measurable impact.
The sector also can design new ways to motivate institutional investors to allocate assets towards long-term quality investments in sustainable development.
The finance community can therefore make the difference in the achievement of SDGs.
Q. What three words spring to mind when you think of engineering and the sustainable development goals?
Science, Technology & Innovation
Q. What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the engineering sector right now?
I believe the greatest challenge facing the engineering sector right now is the shortage of enough professionals in the field, which is also characterized by gender imbalance.
At a growth rate of over 80 million per year, global population is skyrocketing. Cities are under unprecedented pressure to improve urban infrastructure to accommodate increasing numbers of people. Many crucial aspects of our day-to-day lives depend on engineering.
In addition, the achievement of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals depend on skilled engineers to be proactive on the challenges of tomorrow, and to carry out the corresponding projects.
At a larger scale, our ability as a species to cope with the changes going on and expected on Earth is truly in the hands of the engineering sector.
The world needs engineers now more than ever.