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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution aggravate climate change and hinder achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? If so, how do we prevent this?

The previous three industrial revolutions have brought unprecedented advancements but have unintentionally left the world facing its two greatest challenges, the climate crisis and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The world is at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) which is being touted as the revolution to solve these problems. However, the literature review highlighted how there has been no previous insight on what the most promising 4IR technologies were and what their system impact on climate change and the SDGs would be.

This dissertation’s aim is to provide a holistic assessment of 4IR and help guide its implementation to ensure it helps tackle these problems. A four-stage methodology was developed to address this. Stages 1-3 filtered 4IR technologies and selected the most promising in terms of technical maturity, global impact, and potential environmental impact. Stage 4 assessed the most promising technologies wider impacts on climate change and the SDGs using causal loop diagrams (CLDs).

Over 40 technologies across six sectors were identified with less than half having a promising blend of technical maturity and global impact. These technologies did directly decrease emissions, but the relative scale is generally very low, and this is without negative life-cycle impacts considered. The CLDs of the most promising technologies showed they had a generally negative impact on the SDGs. Specifically, they may offset or even increase consumption and exacerbate existing class divisions.

This research highlighted that the most transformational technologies of 4IR are further away than assumed. Therefore, governments should not delay policy and focus on expanding the use of existing technology in the next 15-20 years, as they are available at scale, affordable and can provide deeper emissions cuts.

Overall, 4IR may have a future role to play but only if past lessons can be learnt. Governments should take an active role to ensure 4IR tackles climate change and promote the SDGs. This will involve further research on determining the full life cycle and social impacts of 4IR technologies before they are deployed and regulating to mitigate these impacts.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.