Civil Engineering Education and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

By William Kelly posted 12-15-2015 06:39 PM


The United Nations (UN)  2015-20130  Sustainable Development Goals were approved in September 2015 and are effective beginning January 1, 2016.  There are 17 goals and 169 targets and they replace 8 Millennium Development goals with 18 targets. The new goals will guide UN sustainable development activities over the next 15 years. The UN has been a major driver of sustainable development beginning with the 1987 Brundtland Report  (pdf document), followed by numerous summits, agreements, and the Millennium Development Goals.

The World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) provided input to the UN goal setting process through its WFEO UN Relations Committee (WURC).  The WFEO showed how ongoing WFEO activities map to the 17 SDGs (pdf document).  The WFEO represents the global engineering community at the UN and engineering societies based in the United States participate in WFEO through  the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) International Activities Committee (IntAC) WFEO Task Group.

What are the implications for engineering education?  Under Goal  4,  one of the targets is “by 2030 to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.”   Engineering graduates will need to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of sustainable development and the overall university education  needs to ensure  context particularly in the social aspects of sustainable development. It seem likely that many universities will try to address sustainable development broadly and engineering students would benefit.  However, engineering faculty should take opportunities to ensure that the engineering aspects of sustainable development are addressed for all students.

A number of the goals e.g. Goal 6 - water & sanitation, Goal 7 - sustainable energy, Goal 9- resilient infrastructure,  and Goal 11 - resilient and sustainable cities are heavily dependent on civil engineering. However, an examination of the targets for even these goals that are heavily engineering should make it clear that achieving sustainable development as defined in the Goals will require a truly  transdisciplinary approach.  

Civil engineering educators need to play their part in ensuring that higher education provides all graduates with an appropriate working knowledge and understanding of sustainable development. 

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