COP26 and the Glasgow Climate Pact: what does it mean for ICE’s members?

How ICE can rise to meet the climate agreements set at COP26, including how members can access research funding to help achieve these goals.

Infrastructure professionals must now act upon the agreements made at COP26
Infrastructure professionals must now act upon the agreements made at COP26
  • Updated: 01 December, 2021
  • Author: Professor Jim Hall, ICE Trustee for Carbon & Climate and chair of the Research & Development Enabling Fund

As the dust settles on the Glasgow Climate Pact, which was agreed at COP26, we are beginning to understand what it means for civil engineers.

Overall, the feeling is that Glasgow represented a step in the right direction, but there is still much more work to do and the clock is ticking. The ambition of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial average temperatures is still alive… just.

The commitment to phase out coal was watered down at the last minute to “phase down coal”, but for the first time, the fossil fuel was named in the pact which was signed by 197 countries. Everyone recognises the direction of travel for fossil fuels.

Going up against Barack Obama

My personal COP26 highlight actually took place at the same time as I was presenting our research on infrastructure resilience in the UK Pavilion on Adaptation Day. Meanwhile, Barack Obama was speaking in one of the main auditoriums. It’s a tough gig to be up against one of the greatest living orators, but fortunately the UK Pavilion was not very large, so we still managed to fill it with a captive audience.

The most inspiring part of Obama’s speech came after about 40 minutes, when he addressed the rest of the speech to young people, urging them not to detach themselves in frustration from the democratic process, but to “vote like your life depends on it, because it does".

More specifically for engineers, world leaders committed to work together to turbo-charge the uptake of clean technologies by imposing worldwide standards and policies. Among the high-carbon sectors that will be targeted first was the engineer’s old friend steel, and another the perennial bugbear of emissions reduction: road transport.

The announcement aimed to encourage global private investment in low-carbon technologies. The message is finally getting through that these and other sectors, including our other old friend concrete, need to get to net zero emission, like the rest of the economy.

Financing adaptation

There was growing recognition in Glasgow of the importance of finance for adapting to the impacts of climate change, alongside mitigation of carbon emission.

Next year’s COP27 in Egypt it set to push adaptation even further up the agenda. Already major donors like USAID and the World Bank are committing to a 50:50 split between adaptation and mitigation finance. The challenge is going to be planning well justified programmes that deliver the climate risk reduction that is so urgently needed in vulnerable nations.

Let’s face it, it is very easy to waste money, increase carbon emissions and lock in vulnerability for the future, through poorly planned adaptation projects. Civil engineers need to be stepping up, alongside other professionally qualified engineers (who I hope we will soon be able to welcome to our institution as Chartered Infrastructure Engineers), to plan, analyse and design efficient adaptation schemes that work for people and for nature.

Civil engineers against climate change

None of the agenda at COP26 will come as a surprise to members of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In her presidential year which concluded in November 2021, Rachel Skinner could not have made it clearer that engineers are now centre stage in the fight against climate change and have a responsibility to step up with solutions.

Our new president, Ed McCann, is addressing the same question in very practical terms, by emphasising the connection between productivity and emissions reduction – avoiding waste and doing more with less, which is so central to the art of civil engineering.

As world leaders at COP26 recognised, this is going to require a tremendous amount of innovation – inventing new ways of working, using new materials, measuring, monitoring, reporting and doggedly eliminating carbon emissions from the construction and operation of infrastructure.

ICE is looking for R&D projects to fund

The ICE’s Research and Development Enabling Fund, to which most of us contribute with our annual subscriptions to the ICE, exists to enable practicing engineers to invest some of their time and ingenuity in devising and disseminating solutions for the benefit of our profession as a whole.

The fund’s panel, which I currently chair, is determined that it should support the strategic goals of the ICE, which are now firmly focussed on engineering solutions to the climate emergency. Though the size of grants that the fund offers is fairly modest, it can provide significant leverage, particularly when companies are also able to commit some of their own innovation budget.

We would like to fund more ambitious and innovative proposals which will help to tackle the many challenges that the climate emergency poses for civil engineers. ICE’s knowledge communities are ready and willing to suggest, advise and help shape proposals that would achieve that goal.

  • To find out more about the types of Research & Development Enabling Fund project that ICE would like to take forward, please contact Hannah Besford at [email protected].

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