Day three at GEC
UNOPS calls on the infrastructure sector to break out of ‘silo’ thinking
Infrastructure workers need to stop thinking about development in terms of silos, a report by UNOPS, the United Nations Office for Project Services, has said.
Instead, the sector needs to realise that infrastructure is a cross-sector, integrated system of systems, that can have an effect across generations.
Launching the report, Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development, in a keynote address at GEC, Nick O’Regan, UNOPS Director of Infrastructure and Project Management, said:
“Infrastructure has long-term impact by virtue of the fact that it’s built to last.
“It can lock in development patterns for decades. The choices made now will affect the lives of our children, and theirs.”
UNOPS: infrastructure sector needs to break out of ‘silo mentality’
Sustainability requires looking beyond the building
In another session, Steve Crosskey, another UNOPS representative, said that infrastructure was about more than the visible aspects.
“Infrastructure is not just about the assets. As a civil engineer, the focus on building something is prevalent in our industry.
However, in moving towards a more sustainable future, the governance aspect is also very crucial in the long-term,” he told delegates.
He reiterated the need to see infrastructure as a system, made up of assets, knowledge and institutions.
“The decisions we make now are incredibly important over the long-term, if we don’t factor in aspects, like maintenance, governance etc, we won’t hit our development targets.”
Sustainable cities need community involvement
Another keynote speech by Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy at the Greater London Authority (GLA), revealed how London was becoming a more resilient and sustainable city.
“Cities are increasingly where the world will be working, playing, and living, and we need to move towards being a more sustainable city,” she said.
With the London population projected to grow to over 11 million by 2050, Rodrigues spoke of how this increase has the potential to exacerbate many of the existing environmental issues the city is facing.
She gave the example of the thousands of Londoners who die prematurely each year because of the dangerously polluted air.
“Mayor Sadiq Khan understands that if we are to be successful in cleaning up our environment, we need to set very clear directions and targets. An integrated approach, with engineering solutions is absolutely critical for finding the right solutions,” she said.
She also highlighted initiatives including London’s Greener City Fund, which has set aside £12 million to improve the lives of residents – “for each pound spent on public green space, residents experience £27 of value”.
“We want to make London cleaner and greener, and we know we need to involve our communities – we cannot forget the people. They know the problems where they live and often have really good ideas about possible solutions,” she said.
‘We can’t continue to build infrastructure with non-renewable resources’
Michèle Blom, Director General of Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands, also spoke about integrating climate resilience into infrastructure decisions.
"Our engineers – our superheroes– are responsible for sustaining the main infrastructure in the country.
“We all have challenges to cope with, including developments in health, IT, energy and use of resources – these challenge us in how to keep our country running.
“We cannot continue to build infrastructure with non-renewable resources – we need to rethink how we do this,” she said.
Climate change is making the Netherlands rethink their use of dykes and dams for flood protection.
“We cannot continue to protect our country by building bigger and higher dykes. We need to talk, debate and design with engineers and others to ensure the sustainable future of our country,” she said.
Our livelihood is at stake. We have to act now, before it’s too late
From flooding to hurricanes, Zita Jesus-Leito, Minister of Traffic, Transportation and Urban Planning for the Government of Curacao, talked about the very real way in which climate change was affecting her country.
“Climate change impacts on all of us – rising sea levels, coastal erosion, extreme weather conditions, hurricanes drought floods and more.
“For me, the livelihood of my island, my people, my family and myself is at stake. We have to act now, before it’s too late,” she said.
She spoke of the journey of sustainability and resilient infrastructure planning that the Dutch Caribbean island is on with UNOPS, and how it had deepened the UN organisation’s understanding of opportunities and challenges facing the young nation.
She said: “Government and politicians need to be able to translate our policies into actions. And we, as delegates, need to bring this understanding with you when, as an engineer, you work with countries to build our better futures.”
‘Engineers will be the first people to solve global warming problems’
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, described climate change as the “biggest political, economic, and environmental challenge of our time”, in her keynote speech to GEC delegates.
“As engineers, you will be among the first people to find solutions to problems brought by global warming.”
The government’s efforts to address the challenges of global warming include its 25-Year Environment Plan.
Benefits of natural flood management
Howard Boyd talked about natural flood management being an important theme of the plan.
Natural flood management can be, she said, a cost-effective and sustainable way to manage flood risk alongside traditional engineering.
At the same time, it creates habitats for wildlife, and helps to regenerate rural and urban areas through tourism.
Rising waters is a problem for everyone
She put to engineers that they needed to make flood resilience the norm in all development - not just in areas most obviously at risk.
“Everyone needs to consider their flood risk more systematically,” she said.
“Right now, 5.2 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding, but the reality is that nowhere is 100% flood-proof.”
ICE’s important role in water infrastructure policy
The Environment Agency chair also highlighted the crucial role ICE is playing in water resource management in a climate change world.
In the State of the Nation 2018: Infrastructure Investment report, ICE recommended that Water Asset Management Periods should be flexible enough to enable the planning and delivery of long-term programmes – to incorporate future changes in demand caused by demographic or climate changes.
Though changes in demand and supply are not necessarily that far away.
May to July this year saw the lowest three-month rainfall total for England since 1921. The average temperature over the summer was the highest since records began in 1910.
A lack of water resources is “not a futuristic concern”, Howard Boyd said.
“We are working with the water companies to make sure the plans increase resilience through collaboration within the sector, as well as with other sectors, government, and regulatory bodies.”
The Environment Agency is also supporting the development of a national policy statement for water.
This aims to streamline the planning system, to make it easier for water companies to build new schemes, such as transfers or reservoirs.
“We look forward to working with ICE on this,” Howard Boyd said.
Engineers need to support the NIA recommendations, says Sir John Armitt
Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission and ICE Past President, called on the engineering community to back the recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA), during his keynote address.
The NIA, published in July 2018, made a wide range of recommendations about infrastructure to the UK government.
“I would urge all of you in this room to support us to make it happen, making the case clearly and regularly for our recommendations, including on supporting the rollout of electric vehicles, tackling waste and improving the energy efficiency of our homes,” he said.
“That could be to the media, ministers or MPs from across the political spectrum.”
Infrastructure as an enabler
The recommendations included the rollout of a national charging network for electric vehicles.
Emphasising the crucial role of infrastructure as an enabler, he said: “The last thing we want is for the state of our infrastructure to slow down that progress and threaten the interest and excitement in these new vehicles.”
Sir John Armitt calls for engineers to back the NIA recommendations
Civil engineering is a ‘key element’ of the international economy
Wlodzimierz Szymczak, Acting President of the European Council of Civil Engineers (ECCE), devoted his keynote address to the European Year of Civil Engineers.
ECCE designated 2018 as the European Year of Civil Engineers, coinciding with ICE’s bicentenary.
In his speech, Szymczak highlighted that activities and initiatives have taken place across Europe throughout 2018 to encourage interest and involvement in civil engineering.
He reiterated the importance of civil engineering in supporting social and economic progress, emphasising that it’s a “key element of the national and international economy”.
“Civil engineering’s history is as long as that of civilization. The standard of human life has been so dependent on [civil engineering’s] products … We can be confident that the role of civil engineering will continue to grow into the future,” he said.
He closed with a quote from the philosopher John Ruskin: “When we build, let it not be for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.”
Szymczak urged civil engineers “to honour this responsibility of ours, not only in our projects but in our everyday life.”