Call for more engineers to tackle society’s ‘biggest challenges’

State’s former envoy to UN urges profession to play part in facing climage-change trials

The Irish education system needs to generate many more engineers armed with skills needed to meet the global climate-change challenge and to build a sustainable world, according to Ireland's former permanent representative to the UN David Donoghue.

Mr Donoghue said engineering, with its established capacity to develop solutions to society’s biggest challenges, had “a clear role to play to ensure that everyone in the world has access to clean water, sanitation, reliable energy, and other basic human needs”. Mr Donoghue has previously co-chaired landmark negotiations that produced the sustainable development goals – the UN’s global plan to end poverty by 2030.

He was speaking in Dublin at the launch of a new Engineers Ireland report on the sector's future. The document, which found in an associated survey, that almost three-quarters of the Irish public believe engineers have an ethical obligation to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.

“Engineers are central to sustainable development and are uniquely placed to help the world meet critical goals including ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all,” he said.


Ireland’s education system should help the country address the challenges set out in sustainable development areas such as climate change, clean energy, water quality and manufacturing by producing graduates and professionals with the critical skills and expertise required, said Mr Donoghue.

“This means second- and third-level curricula that prepare engineers, both in technical and in human terms, to build a more sustainable world,” he said.

The launch was part of Engineers Week 2020, which includes more than 900 events staged countrywide, and coincided with the first annual world engineering day for sustainable development. This is a new Unesco international day to highlight the achievements of and engineering in the modern world and to improve public understanding of how engineering and technology is central to sustainable development.

Engineers Ireland president Marguerite Sayers said the organisation recognised that climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse are the most critical issues facing Earth.

“The council of Engineers Ireland acknowledges the considered opinion of the scientific community that transformational action is required to achieve meaningful outcomes . . . with our existing technologies and fossil fuel dependence, we will fail to achieve our existing commitments,” she said.

Engineers Ireland is committed to becoming “a leading voice for sustainability and our members will take action to address the impact of the emergency”, she added.

Despite Brexit concerns, the report found high demand for engineers continued through 2019 and the outlook for 2020 was positive. Seven out of 10 engineering employers expect their financial position to improve in 2020 and engineering organisations would like to hire more than 5,000 engineers in 2020.

Rather than Brexit or the housing shortage, skills shortages “continue to be engineering organisations’ largest barrier to growth”.

In its 14th year, Engineers Week is co-ordinated by Engineering Ireland's Steps programme and funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Department of Education and Skills and industry partners Arup, the ESB, Intel and Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Details are available atengineersweek.ieThe Engineering 2020 report is available at

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times