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Briefing sheet

Infrastructure in 2023: a horizon scan of the year ahead for civil engineering

12 December 2022

A new report showcases the crucial challenges and opportunities for civil engineers in the next year and beyond. 

Infrastructure in 2023: a horizon scan of the year ahead for civil engineering
Efficiency, resilience and carbon reduction will need to be addressed hand-in hand if engineers are to meet society’s needs.

Civil engineers know the hugely important role that the assets they develop and operate play every day, and the reliance of society on these.

The profession is also acutely aware that in a world that is working towards net-zero carbon, there are some significant challenges posed by infrastructure.

Not least the amount of energy needed to power it, the emissions from its use, and the fact that the main construction products currently used are generally ‘carbon heavy’.

We are also having to come to terms with acute inflationary pressures, growing urbanisation, an ageing population and the emergence of disruptive technologies.

Last year, the ICE invited a vibrant and diverse group of members to join its new Community Advisory Boards (CABs).

It asked them to scan the horizon to identify the main issues facing infrastructure and their impacts on society.

This work informed last year’s Infrastructure in 2022 report and a range of associated knowledge events and CPD content.

Infrastructure in 2023 builds on that work, using case studies from around the globe to showcase some of the great achievements happening in the sector.

It also highlights some areas where more action is needed if we are to help society prosper in this changing world.

What does the report identify?

  • Data and digital: If we are to address the impacts of a changing climate on the global economy, rapid improvements are urgently needed in how we work, which will only be achieved by the outcome-focused, joined-up, systems-level digitalisation of our industry.
  • Decarbonisation: For the UK to hit national carbon targets, huge strides will need to be made over the next five years. Engineers will need the right rules, tools and skills to embrace this.
  • Driving productivity: A closer relationship between client and contractor and a willingness to change embedded ways of working are crucial to delivering better productivity.
  • Engineering fundamentals: The ICE's newest CAB has a broad and vital remit – from ensuring members have the competencies they need, to addressing climate adaptation and hazard avoidance.
  • Flooding: Not only do we have to reduce the carbon footprint of our flood management interventions to contribute to net-zero targets, we must also build in capability to cope with more extreme weather events.
  • Low-carbon energy: Amid the energy crisis, the challenge for civil engineers is to maintain focus on low-carbon solutions and outcomes.
  • Structures and geotechnical: New materials and processes will be key to improving the efficiency and sustainability of infrastructure assets. To this end, civil engineers will need to be proactive in shaping codes and legislation and in broadening their skills base.
  • Sustainable, resilient infrastructure: Infrastructure faces multiple threats – and not just from climate-related events. Infrastructure sustainability and resilience is therefore a societal issue, and must be addressed as such.
  • Transport and mobility: The challenge facing engineers is delivering infrastructure that encourages more active travel to help meet local and national net-zero targets – and they need to do it at a time when budgets are shrinking and costs are rising.
  • Water and sanitation: The water industry's challenges – among them climate change, ageing infrastructure and image problems – were brought into sharp focus in 2022. The coming year presents a significant opportunity to tackle them.

The topics identified show not only how last year’s report correctly anticipated forthcoming developments but also how civil and infrastructure engineers can meet these challenges and embrace opportunities head on.

Infrastructure in 2023: a horizon scan of the year ahead for civil engineering

Content type: Report

Last updated: 09/12/2022

Author: ICE

  • David Porter, vice president at Institution of Civil Engineers