The role of education in civil engineering to face climate change

Dr Hector U. Levatti, London Southbank University

Artwork: Dr Cécile Girardin

It has been demonstrated that directly or indirectly climate change kills people and extinguishes species on our planet. Since this is a global problem that involves all of us and requires coordinated action to tackle it, the response must be global.

Society and governments have been denying this problem for decades and now we are late to stop the problem. However, the only way to minimise the impact of climate change is to act immediately.

A change of mindset is necessary for society to produce the necessary changes. An important part of this society is the professionals that develop their work in civil engineering. For this reason, education must prioritise the development of holistic skills, especially the ethics and the mindset to make the right decisions early in every project from university to professional life.

The UK government and the United Nations have decided to reduce the carbon emission to zero by 2050 and this is a huge challenge. For engineers, today, soft skills are becoming the most important ones to tackle global problems like climate change in every field or area of the civil engineering industry. In part, this is due to the framework that the COVID-19 pandemic and the technology disruption has created.

As a professional in the construction industry, we need:

  • A cultural change in education for students and academics.
  • To have an ethical responsibility within society.
  • To recognise that sustainability is more important than cost and technicalities.
  • To recognise that reduction of carbon emissions is a priority.
  • To restore instead of rebuilding since it is more sustainable.

To do all of that, we must radically change our curriculum as soon as possible and educate professionals to implement the necessary changes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented global public health and socio-economic crisis. Universities have been forced to rapidly adapt their teaching delivery to match the new reality of maintaining social distancing and offering online and/or blended learning. A successful response demands higher education professionals to demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and creativity in addition to the technical skills required across the sector. Higher education is a key first step in developing a successful professional career; the key to rebuilding the world economy after COVID-19 and combating future challenges.

Student engagement and motivation in blended learning, with an important weight on online learning, is a challenge that needs to be tackled through continuous monitoring and assessment.

Last century the necessary skills were the ability to retain knowledge and have mathematical skills. In this century, the most important skills of the present and future of civil engineers are instead:

  • Creativity
  • Resiliency
  • Innovation
  • Initiative
  • Lateral thinking
  • Leadership
  • Active learning
  • Learning strategies
  • Originality
  • Technology
  • Ideation

Soft skills became the most important ones. This change is due to the technology disruption that has created unlimited access to digital information and tools that help in every professional task. The development of these soft skills will allow us to achieve our goals, such as having affordable and clean energy, a better industry, innovation, and infrastructure, as well as sustainable cities and communities. Objectives defined by the United Nations for our whole world.

Climate Exp0 is the first virtual conference from the COP26 Universities Network and the Italian University Network for Sustainable Development (RUS).