If the international community is to develop an effective action plan to tackle global warming, the engineering sector will have to be central to it. That is the suggestion of academics at Cambridge and Utrecht universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have called on the industry to develop ways of ensuring that less material is used when designing buildings and products.
The study, which has been published by the Royal Society, observes that ambitious climate change targets will not be met simply by increasing recycling and developing low-carbon energy supplies. The responsibility is complicated by economic pressures, with the international community reluctant to accept expensive methods of tackling climate change.
The team of academics say global warming concerns could be overcome by designing products for longer and more intense use, reducing waste and reusing more components. However, this would require a dramatic change in attitude from the business and political communities, both of which appear happy to encourage inefficient use of material.
"With a growing population and increasing wealth, demand for material extraction and processing is likely to double in the next 40 years," the academics reflected. "The environmental impacts of the required processing will become critical. In particular, the industrial sector drives nearly one third of global energy demand, with most of this energy used to produce bulk materials.
"However, there will be significant limits to future improvements in process efficiency, because energy costs have already driven key processes near to their technical limits."
The research team called on the international community to produce less new material as a means of tackling climate change, but warned of inevitable conflicts over the different solutions proposed for increasing material efficiency. What's more, the authors of the report stressed the need to place physical efficiency rather than economic efficiency at the centre of the debate.
To what extent do you think the engineering community is responsible for tackling global warming?