Navigating a Sustainable Future

The Pivotal Role of Engineers in Light of COP28

Emma Menebroker

12/6/20233 min read

Navigating a Sustainable Future: The Pivotal Role of Engineers in Light of COP28

The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), the UN’s annual climate summit, has brought sustainable engineering to the forefront. As countries convene to address urgent threats including climate change and water scarcity, sustainable engineers highlight critical innovations to tackle these global challenges. This article analyzes the impact of sustainability engineers across two key COP28 priorities – achieving “net zero” emissions and addressing drought.

Accelerating the Renewable Energy Transition to Reach Net Zero Emissions

To keep on par with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree Celsius goal, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035. Five years after the agreement, countries must conduct Global Stocktake reports, evaluating their progress towards this carbon-neutral goal. UN elaborated on this goal stating that “non-state actors, including civil society, the private sector, and local communities, play a vital role in strengthening climate action efforts” (1). The UN has also emphasized the need for accurate carbon and methane accounting since there is currently a high amount of variability in some organization’s statistics (2). Many countries are committed to ramping up renewable energy solutions to mitigate their carbon output. During COP28 thus far, 118 countries have committed to triple the world’s global renewable energy production by 2030. Sustainable engineering is driving this shift through advances in renewable power.

There is a wide array of renewable energy sources, which have an indefinite input of energy, including the most well-known solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. To dial in on a few exciting engineering developments in renewable energy, the California-based collaboration Project Nexus is testing out the installation of solar panels over irrigation canals to provide electricity while reducing evaporation in the Central Valley (3). Pavegen tiles are another sustainable energy design, leveraging the force behind a footstep to power the lights (4). Airborne wind energy (AWE) is an emerging renewable energy utilizing kites with propellers to generate power. These systems are flown much higher in the atmosphere than traditional wind turbines, allowing the devices to catch faster winds while being more discrete and less carbon-intensive than their grounded counterparts (5).

A major topic of discussion at COP28 regarding renewable energy is the need to make these technologies, along with their traditional counterparts, accessible to less-wealthy nations that will continually require more energy going forward. Making renewable energy accessible to all will allow the benefits of this transition, including creating a healthier environment and more jobs, to come to fruition.

Tackling Drought and Water Scarcity

Another pertinent topic of discussion at COP28, especially due to the conference’s location in the United Arab Emirates, has been drought. Drought, exacerbated by climate change, demands inventive solutions to ensure water security for communities globally.

Released during the conference, the UN Global Drought Snapshot provides examples backing the bleak truth about the global impacts of drought. The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 40 years, and Europe faced its worst drought in 500 years, with the combined area of Poland and Italy facing this ever-prevalent threat (6). Drought is one of the most pressing climate issues facing humanity.

Sustainable engineers are working to implement tactile solutions, like Source’s Hyropanels that use solar power to harvest water from the air for off-grid communities (7). Agriculture is also shifting towards more sustainable water use, employing tactics such as micro-irrigation to mitigate evaporation and excess water loss. While desalination techniques are still very expensive, this ever-expanding solution cannot be overlooked when discussing engineering solutions to drought. Engineers working to improve desalination techniques must account for both the logistics of the reverse osmosis process itself and the proper disposal of highly concentrated salt ‘waste’ solution.

Concluding Thoughts…

As COP28 catalyzes climate action, sustainable engineering remains indispensable – interweaving urgent environmental priorities with pragmatic solutions. Whether slashing emissions through renewables or battling water scarcity via conservation, engineers convert political aspirations into on-the-ground realities. By integrating big-picture thinking with nuanced technical applications, the field leads the sustainability revolution.

Have a sustainable idea that could change the world for the better? Reach out under the ‘Contact Us’ tab above.


  1. “Global Stocktake reports highlight urgent need for accelerated action to reach climate goals.” United Nations Climate Action, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  2. “COP28: Methane pledge by the ‘giants behind the climate crisis’ falls short, says Guterres.” UN News, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  3. "Reimagining the untapped potential of California's exposed canals.” Solar Aquagrid, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  4. “What is Pavegen?” Pavegen, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  5. Gordon, Oliver. “Airborne wind energy is finally ready for lift-off.” Energy Monitor, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  6. “Drought data shows an “unprecedented emergency on a planetary scale”: UN.” United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Accessed 6 December 2023.

  7. “Meet the Hydropanel.” Source, Accessed 6 December 2023.

    “Renewable energy – powering a safer future.” United Nations Climate Action, Accessed 6 December 2023.