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COVID, climate and sleeping frogs

A more diverse profession is essential to help us build resilience against future crises and better respond to the pandemic and climate change, Kevin Kelly, incoming President of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) said in his presidential address.

Kevin Kelly, incoming president of CIBSE

Mr Kelly pointed to the “warning shots” of the SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks that should have spurred an international effort to prepare for a pandemic. Instead, lulled into a false sense of security by the containment of these warning shots, the world was woefully unprepared to deal with the arrival of COVID-19.

Mr Kelly used the analogy of a sleeping frog – apparently a frog immersed in water that is being heated simply sleeps until it is boiled – to describe this behaviour and speculated that climate change threatens to be the next and arguably most significant sleeping frog of all.

Outlining the central role being taken by CIBSE experts in analysing and responding to the threats posed by Climate Change he warned that our industry needs to take a lead in building strongest possible defence.

In his view, this demands positive action to improve inclusivity and diversity within the field of building services engineering. Mr Kelly outlined his own experience of combatting not just overt discrimination but unconscious bias and stated his commitment to using his presidential term to support positive change.

As a university professor who started his career as an apprentice electrician there could perhaps be no-one better suited to encouraging diverse routes to qualification and entry into a chartered profession. Mr Kelly warned that challenging the status quo will require a willingness “to have the awkward and difficult conversations ahead and lean into them in order to change our industry for the better by making it more inclusive and welcoming to all'.

Mr Kelly succeeds Stuart McPherson as CIBSE President and will be in turn succeeded by Kevin Mitchell, global practice leader - building services engineering - Mott Macdonald. The presidential address was delivered on 6 May via video-link and is available to watch at https://www.cibse.org/president

10 May 2021

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