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"Once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy," says ICE

Press release

The UK has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy” and build a net-zero future, says the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented chance to reset the way we design, build and operate infrastructure in the future. To achieve the ambitious 2050 target, and with infrastructure making up around 60% of total UK emissions, a systemic and wholesale change to the procurement and delivery of infrastructure across the UK is needed.

The UK was already failing to meet the less ambitious target of 80% reduction by 2050, so action to make significant changes in infrastructure delivery must happen now, the ICE sets out in its State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 Net-Zero Target.

The report outlines actions and policy interventions that should be considered to encourage the sector, and the UK economy more widely, to move in this direction. These include a Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan, to set a strategic direction for the built environment sector; reform of the government’s Green Book, to better reflect the net-zero target in project appraisals and assessment; and updating models of regulation to further promote the achievement of net zero emissions.

Keith Howells, ICE Vice President and State of the Nation Steering Group Chair, said:

“The climate emergency and net zero transition present an unprecedented challenge for engineers to solve. We have a critical role and responsibility to do all we can to aid society in this important transformation, but we need a supportive environment that empowers us, and influences users’ behaviours.

“The pandemic provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy and create systemic and wholesale change to the infrastructure ecosystem. Our report outlines how, through collaboration and change, we can plan, build and operate infrastructure that meets the needs of the future.”

In recognising that achieving the net-zero target is everyone’s responsibility, the Institution surveyed the public about who, and where, changes should be made.

Around two-thirds of British adults surveyed thought the UK Government (69%) and business (65%) were mainly responsible for reaching the target. However, only one third (31%) said they thought the government had a plan to achieve this.

The report makes recommendations about how the move to net-zero should be financed, again calling for the establishment of a UK Investment Bank. It also suggests that an Infrastructure Skills Plan be delivered, to ensure the UK has the capability within the built environment sector for the transition to net-zero.

The report concludes by setting out actions being undertaken by the Institution for it to continue supporting the built environment sector in the transition to net-zero. Through a long-term programme of collaborative work, ICE will seek to share knowledge and best practice on delivering low-carbon solutions across the industry.

Notes to Editors

Download the report (.pdf, 4MB)

About State of the Nation
Each year, the Institution of Civil Engineers produces a State of the Nation report, which sets out a range of policy interventions. These interventions are aimed at ensuring the UK has high-performing infrastructure networks that facilitate economic growth and improve quality of life for those living across the nations.

State of the Nation 2020 is the Institution’s first in-depth look at how the built environment sector can respond to the net zero challenge. This report is a starting point to look further at important issues and in coming months, the Institution will produce a series of papers that take forward recommendations in the report.

YouGov Polling

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,670 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th - 28th May 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

In the following question, by net-zero we mean balancing carbon emissions produced and taken out of the atmosphere. Which of the following, if any, do you think has responsibility to ensure the UK reaches its net-zero emissions target by 2050? Please select all that apply.  
The UK government 69%
Business and industry 65%
Individuals 56%
Local authorities 48%
Devolved governments (the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government) 47%
Regulators 42%
Other 1%
Don’t know 15%
None of these 5%
In the following question, by net-zero we mean balancing carbon emissions produced and taken out of the atmosphere. Do you think the government does or does not have a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050?  
The government does have a plan 31%
The government does not have a plan 38%
Don’t know 31%