Engineers Ireland calls for a ‘green and digital recovery’ of economy

15 Oct 2020283 Views

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Engineers Ireland has called on the Government to strategically invest in infrastructure, education and digital technology as it tackles the ongoing climate crisis, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today (15 October), representative group Engineers Ireland published its annual independent assessment of Ireland’s infrastructure and technology, entitled The State of Ireland 2020.

The report, which was developed by an advisory group of engineers and other professionals offers recommendations for the Government and public policy.

This year’s report had a focus on engineering a green and digital recovery from the numerous challenges that the State is currently facing, including the climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Engineers Ireland began the report by pointing out that the ongoing pandemic has revealed “the vulnerability of our social and healthcare systems,” as well as “the myriad of economic and environmental challenges we face”.

At the same time, the report noted that the pandemic has also demonstrated the nation’s agility to engineer dramatic improvements for the good of society.

With that in mind, the representative group outlined a set of recommendations to help the Irish economy to recover by tackling challenges and simultaneously embracing the opportunities arising from the climate crisis, digitalisation and Brexit.

Infrastructure and the environment

In the report, Engineers Ireland called on the Government to increase capital spending across the lifetime of the National Development Plan, focused on decarbonisation and balanced regional development.

As part of this recommendation, Engineers Ireland believes that the Government needs to increase spending by €25bn.

The organisation said that legislative reforms in planning will be needed to enable effective project delivery and consideration to increasing procurement thresholds. Among the recommended pieces of legislation are:

  • The Marine Planning and Development Bill 2020 (to provide a planning regime for offshore renewable energy)
  • The Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill 2018 (to enable the Eastern and Midlands Region Water Supply Project
  • The Housing, Planning and Development Bill 2019 (to speed up planning)

The report also noted that critical State bodies will need to be sufficiently resourced to deliver the increased capital programme. Engineers Ireland recommended increasing the national procurement threshold for open tendering for works related services from €50,000 to €250,000.

Engineers Ireland said that this will strengthen economic growth through job creation, while enhancing efficiency, productivity and competitiveness.

In addition, the organisation said that a Green New Deal for Ireland could accelerate a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, supported by a statutory net zero target for 2050 and funding through the European Green Deal.

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The report read: “Communities must be at the heart of this transition, involved as early as possible and receiving clear benefits from infrastructure projects.”

The group said that Ireland’s electric grid will need new system services, capacity and interconnectors to be developed as soon as possible to ensure Ireland can become a “world leader” in renewable energy integration, which will also support electrified heat and transport.

Engineers Ireland recommended that a Green New Deal for Ireland should include energy system integration and achieving 70pc renewable electricity, a seaport to support offshore wind development, a hydrogen strategy, a radical national retrofit strategy, re-engineering of the national transport system, active State land management, and multi-annual funding for water, wastewater and flood risk management.

The group recommended that towns and cities should be re-engineered for walking, cycling and public transport through both “hard and soft measures” and by progressing major projects such as BusConnects, MetroLink, light rail systems and the DART Interconnector.

Digitalisation and education

Engineers Ireland advised the Government to set out a vision for an equitable, secure and sustainable transition to a digital society in a National Programme for Digital Transformation.

This should include the Government’s plans and vision for a digital society fuelled by data, which the organisation described as “the reusable raw material of the 21st century”.

“The required digital infrastructure is dependent on the accelerated roll-out of the National Broadband Plan and 5G, reinforced cybersecurity and a digital-first public sector,” Engineers Ireland wrote.

According to the representative group, this could contribute towards an all-island data economy based on a “post-Brexit common data space”, or a connected network of digital enterprise hubs and the continued expansion of an industry 4.0-ready and sustainable manufacturing base.

The group also said that there needs to be a review of the security of the State’s critical infrastructures and digital services to reinforce protection from cyberattacks.

Additionally, Engineers Ireland emphasised the importance of investment in education: “Education will be pivotal to the green and digital future. Our higher education system needs a sustainable funding model to respond to current challenges and to prepare for longer-term transitions.”

As part of this, Engineers Ireland said that the Government should increase the number and range of professional engineering apprenticeships through industry-led consortia, while expanding Skillnet to fill skills gaps for the country’s sustainable recovery.

The organisation called for a culture of lifelong learning in both digital skills (such as AI, data analytics and cybersecurity) and human skills (such as communications, management and critical thinking), in which professional bodies like Engineers Ireland can lead and support through professional development programmes.

Engineers Ireland also recommended a nationwide digital literacy programme to help combat disinformation and foster the adoption of new technologies. This could help raise awareness about the abuse of personal data, while counteracting the socio-economic and geographical digital divides exacerbated by Covid-19.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com