So you want to work for the UN?

Throughout COP22 and my meetings with NGOs, governments, and companies, I keep hearing the same message. The world needs more social engineers and environmental economists.

Environmental Economists

Messaging regarding climate change is slowly shifting from focusing on the environment, to focusing on economics. It has been difficult to obtain support from the general public as well as some governments based on environmental effects of climate change alone. Switching to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels, putting in place preventative measures for the effects of climate change-based natural disasters, and most other climate actions are economically beneficial in the long term. Pitching climate action as economically beneficial means that one does not need to ‘believe’ in climate change to support climate action. The economic implications of climate action, and economic measures to make those transitions need to be better understood.

Carbon pricing, cap-and-trade, and other such carbon markets are becoming more prevalent around the world. Just a few weeks ago, Canada announced its own national carbon pricing strategy set to begin in 2018. I heard from several governments that there is a strong understanding of these initiatives on the environmental side, but not the economic side, and hence the impacts of carbon systems being created are not sufficiently understood.

Social Engineers

Engineers are extremely important for developing and implementing solutions to climate change. Civil engineers create infrastructure solutions to melting permafrost. Geological engineers are working on more effective carbon capture and storage solutions. Chemical engineers research the effects of different compounds in our atmosphere. The list goes on. What the problem is then, is that most engineers lack the ability to effectively convey their ideas, and develop solutions that mesh well with current social and economic systems. I heard from the Government of Nunavut, for example, that an incredible amount of research has been done on climate change impacts in the North, but that there is a huge gap in community engagement which is key to implementation of these solutions. My suggestions for you, if you are technically focused in any way, are to focus on the social side of your discipline as well as having a solid baseline your technical work. This could entail taking public speaking or business classes, learning about the social, environmental, and economic spheres surrounding your discipline, and in general understanding the implications of the solutions you develop.

So you want to work for the UN, a government, or NGO related to climate change? I see a large gap in capacity in these two areas. Start thinking about your skills and what else you need to learn in order to fill the current knowledge gaps in our society.


This piece was written by Ambika Opal.

Ambika is a fourth year systems design engineering student, interested in the intersection of engineering and social issues, northern Canada, and climate change. In her spare time, she enjoys speed skating and Pixar movies.


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