Transitioning away from fossil fuels and finding solutions that don’t create new environmental or social issues for the future has to be one of the greatest engineering challenges of all time.
It forms the basis of modern economies and has underpinned much of human development to date. But if we want a future where all people and the planet can thrive we know this has to change.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights that 34% of the 59 Gigatonnes of CO2eq greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced worldwide in 2019 came from the energy sector, 24% from industry, 22% from agriculture, forestry and other land use, 15% from transport, and 6% from buildings.
When the electricity and heat generated by the energy sector is reallocated to final energy demand close to half gets redistributed to industry and the other half to buildings. The majority of this demand is still met by fossil fuels and our demand is projected to continue growing as our global population increases and people’s quality of life improves.
Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone will exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C, so installation of new/additional unabated fossil fuel infrastructure to meet future demand significantly puts at risk the chances of meeting climate targets, alongside increasing the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets.
Reducing energy demand, increasing energy efficiency, and transitioning away from fossil fuel energy resources are all vital strategies in delivering the climate positive transition. Whilst all these strategies are considered possible, transitioning away from fossil fuels is particularly difficult as fossil fuels are so versatile and convenient compared to many alternatives. Acknowledging this is key to addressing the issue.
Fossil fuels have significantly higher energy density than most other known forms of energy, requiring smaller quantities and less space for fuel storage to meet energy demands. Sectors such as transportation are considered incredibly difficult to transition; oil has a high energy to weight ratio giving it a significant advantage over other options particularly where long distances and heavy cargoes are involved. And whilst fossil fuel resources are finite and increasingly more difficult to extract, technological advances continue to enable fossil fuel extraction meaning they are still abundant and inexpensive, so existing market factors alone will not be enough to drive the transition needed.
What ideas can you come up with to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to address towards a climate positive future?
Make sure your design is consistent with the theme of World Engineering Day 2024: Engineering solutions for a sustainable world.
This year, the Hackathon is primarily focused on UN SDG 13:
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
This particular challenge also connects with UN SDG 7:
Ensure access to affordable, reliable and sustainable modern energy for all.
Participants may nominate additional SDGs that are addressed as part of their solution, including but not limited to, for example:
SDG 3 - Good Health and wellbeing
SDG 5 - Gender equality
SDG 6 - Clean water and sanitation
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
The latest IPCC report shows that all modelled pathways to limit warming beyond 2°C include: deploying demand side measures and improving energy efficiency; transitioning to very low or zero carbon energy sources, such as renewables and/or fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS); reducing non-CO2 GHG emissions (i.e. methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases); and, deploying carbon dioxide removal to counterbalance residual GHG emissions.
The degree to which demand reduction measures, and transitioning to alternative energy sources is possible in different economic sectors and geographies varies.
The energy sector is the sector that requires the most significant transition. The IPCC have identified feasible transition measures to include:
Substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use and use of CCS on remaining fossil fuel infrastructure.
Widespread deployment of low-emission energy sources, particularly renewables.
Switching to alternative energy carriers where electrification is less possible (e.g. sustainable biofuels, and hydrogen).
Improving energy efficiency and conservation.
Achieving net zero in the industrial sector entails coordinated action throughout the value chain, including looking for efficiencies in energy and materials use and circular material flows. In particular, the use of steel, cement, plastics and other materials are increasing so developing and sourcing alternative/sustainable options will result in emissions reductions at significant scale.
Tackling emissions associated with buildings, both residential and non-residential, is also needed to limit global temperature increases. Modelled scenarios project that this can be possible by retrofitting existing buildings and ensuring that new builds are based on ambitious sufficiency, efficiency and renewable energy measures.
The transport sector is also a key contributor to global emissions. Demand focused interventions will likely result in the most significant reductions in emissions by reducing demand for transport services overall and supporting the shift to more energy efficient transport modes (e.g. walking, cycling and mass transit systems). In addition, electrifying land based transport and developing sustainable biofuels, low-emissions hydrogen, and derivatives can mitigate emissions from shipping, aviation and heavy duty land transport.
Achieving emissions reductions in agriculture can also deliver large-scale GHG emission reductions and enhanced removal from the atmosphere. Both via reducing emissions and leveraging sustainable agriculture methods and ecosystem restoration to sequester carbon and increase resilience to climate change.
Deploying carbon dioxide removal to counterbalance hard to abate residual emissions is also considered necessary if net zero is to be achieved.
Tackling this issue effectively is also about considering the potential trade-offs and not creating future social and environmental crises. For example, ensuring that the energy transition redresses current inequities of energy access which underpin poverty. Equally, ensuring that the new materials and minerals needed for renewable and alternative energy options do not themselves create significant environmental crises in future.
Human activity over the last 200 years has led to a current temperature rise of 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. This has led to more frequent and hazardous weather events that have caused increasing destruction to people and the planet. Every additional increment in temperature rise will result in more extreme, and more frequent weather events, putting humanity’s future on planet Earth at risk.
There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to change this outlook. The latest UN assessment indicates that to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in 2015 in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Our actions in the next decade will determine whether this will be achieved, or whether we are headed towards a future climate that is incompatible with liveable and sustainable planetary conditions for all
Significant urgent action is therefore needed across all sectors, in all countries, and at all levels of society. Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure alone will exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C. Therefore, we have to immediately reduce carbon emissions, work towards net zero, and accelerate the transition to alternative energy sources. Simultaneously we have to develop and implement effective resilient adaptation measures for people and communities already impacted by climate change.
Engineers from all disciplines are at the forefront of bringing this vision to life, providing the practical means by which humanity has a chance to survive and offer everyone the opportunity to thrive.
Be part of this call to action and shape a brighter future for everyone.
Submissions are due by November 26th 2023 (midnight CET)
You and your team will need to:
Register on the submissions portal
Submission is a 5-min video presenting your solution, along with a short-written element, detailing elements of your entry. English subtitles are required, including for a video in English.
We would like to thank our esteemed partners in this Hackathon: Dr Marlene Kanga, Théophane Bélaud, Jacques de Mereuil, Ivan Juiz of WFEO. Indira Ashwini of UNESCO. Katie Cresswell-Maynard of Engineers Without Borders. Firas N Bou Diab of WFEO Young Engineers/Future Leaders. Tennille Scicluna and Adrian Rivera de Domingo of The Big Creative!
This guideline has been designed to support the development of an engineering solution that demonstrates a considered response to one of the engineering challenges and also how one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are advanced through engineering.
The success of an engineering project depends on much more than just the technical feasibility of the initial concept but also consideration of human factors, environmental context, cost and economic benefits, etc., are very important to the successful implementation of any innovative and ‘technically-sound’ idea.
Below are a series of considerations we recommend you factor into your solution to ensure it is appropriate to the context where it is to be implemented. You might ask yourself these questions a few times throughout the development process – it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right away! How can you build on your original idea, to improve it each time?
Most effective technical solution for the context
Environmental sustainability outcomes
Engagement of key stakeholders
Are there any ethical considerations – such as adverse impacts to the environment, economy, social inclusion, culture, community, resource use, that warrant consideration?
How has your team utilised digital tools, for example to develop models of your proposed solution as part of the solution. Also how the team has utilised ICT in the process of putting forward your submission.
Cost estimates and economic and non-economic benefits
Based on the International Engineering Alliance Global Graduate Attribute and Professional Competencies Profiles.
Considering the proposal presented to you, evaluate whether the submission demonstrates the following engineering competencies.
Graduate Attributes that are addressed in the solution, referencing the International Engineering Alliance Graduate Attribute and Professional Competency (GAPC) Framework
Maximum Score per Category 4
Score: 0 – Not Addressed
Score: 1 – Limited attempt to address
Score: 2 – Some success in addressing the various elements
Score: 3 – Good attempt to address the element
Score: 4 – Addressed very effectively
In 2024, the hackathon has a single submission round. Participants will have the opportunity to make their official submission within 2 weeks of the Hackathon Challenge announcement.
Submission is a 5-min video presenting their solution, along with a short-written element, detailing elements of their entry.
Explore the Hackathon challenges. Teams must select a challenge. Click to learn more