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Sunday, 12 October 2014

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Building a sustainable future:

Engineers have a key role to play

Engineers have a key role in building a sustainable future in the backdrop of emerging issues related to unbalanced development taking place today, ignoring the social and environment aspects of development, Prof. Mohan Munasinghe told the 108th annual sessions of the Institute of Engineers of Sri Lanka (IESL) in Colombo last week.

Prof. Munasinghe, a Sri Lankan physicist, academic and economist, specialises in energy, water resources, sustainable development and climate change.

He said that as a result of the widening inequality in income distribution and resulting poverty and frequent economic and financial shocks, the development we are experiencing today is not sustainable. Global consumption of resources is ecologically imbalanced.

We need to balance it to make our development path more sustainable. Around 1.4 billion of the richest 20 percent of the world's population consume over 80 percent of global output, or 60 times more than the poorest 20 percent. In balancing this, engineers have a role in finding solutions for efficient consumption of resources, he said.

As a result of poor decision-making, climate change, food and water shortages are creeping in on us.

In reality, there are three levels in development. We only look at financial markets and economic growth which are on the surface. The social issues and environmental issues too should be addressed to make development more sustainable, he said.

Economic recessions are caused by the collapse of a greed-driven asset bubble which inflated financial values well beyond the true value of underlying economic resources. Social bubbles are based on poverty and inequity that is growing despite economic growth, excluding billions of the poor from access to productive resources and basic necessities, such as food, water and energy. Mankind faces the bubble of environmental harm and resource shortages, due to myopic economic activities that severely degrade natural assets (air, land and water) on which human well-being ultimately depends.

Climate change is just one grim global manifestation of this threat and ironically, the worst impact will fall on the poor who are the least responsible for the problem. Unfortunately, human response to the issues has been uncoordinated and inadequate, Prof. Munasinghe said.

He said that governments of the rich world quickly found trillions of dollars for stimulus packages, to bail out financial institutions but not the millions of dollars that are needed per year to alleviate poverty or the need to combat climate change.

He said that wars fought by developed countries are not for disarming weapons of mass destruction, but for oil, water or mineral resources. The rich world is responsible for over 80 percent of carbon emission. Engineers need to innovate new efficient resource consumption methods to reduce carbon emission of the developed countries without compromising the living standards they lead today.

Innovation can lead middle income countries to reach the same level of living standards and development but not through the same path the developed countries passed, damaging the environment and widening social inequality and issues, he said.

 

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