Regional disparities in engineering, especially in Africa, must be addressed if the world is to realize a common future where no one is left behind, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and partners.
The study highlights currently insufficient engineering capacities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the internationally agreed blueprint for a peaceful and prosperous planet, as well as the lack of diversity in the field.
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“Engineering is one of the keys to the sustainable development of our societies, and to activate its full potential, the world needs more engineers and more equality”, said Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General.
Pandemic accelerates action
The report, entitled Engineering for Sustainable Development: Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, was prepared in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Engineering; the International Centre for Engineering Education (ICEE), based at Tsinghua University in Beijing; the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO); and other international engineering organizations.
It was released ahead of World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, observed this Thursday, 4 March.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the call for urgent action to deliver on the SDGs, while affirming the relevance of engineering to sustainable development”, the authors said.
Women ‘historically underrepresented’
The report underscores how equal opportunity for all is crucial to ensuring inclusivity and gender balance in a profession that has played an essential role in development and human well-being.
Engineering is critical to mitigating the impact of climate change and advancing the SDGs, especially in Africa and the small island developing States, UNESCO said.
Despite the profession’s importance, the UN agency noted that women have been “historically underrepresented” in engineering, making up only 10 to 20 per cent of workers.
Barriers hampering women include persistent gender stereotypes in the field and inadequate policies or educational environments that do not meet their needs and aspirations.
Transforming and innovating
The report showcases engineering innovations and actions from across the world that are contributing to meeting the SDGs. The 17 goals aim to end poverty, reduce inequality and spur economic growth, while also protecting the natural environment.
Examples mentioned include the increase in digital technology use during the pandemic, such as telemedicine for virtual treatment, while Artificial Intelligence, or “AI”, is helping to make water systems more adaptive and efficient.
The authors said “engineering itself needs to transform to become more innovative, inclusive, cooperative and responsible”, underlining the need for “a new paradigm” that bridges disciplines in order to address complex issues such as climate change, urbanization and preserving the health of oceans and forests.