Carbon in Infrastructure – where and how much?

ICE's Sustainability Knowledge Manager Rob Curd assesses the progress of ICE's collaborative effort to deliver progress towards net-zero. 

The Carbon Project
The Carbon Project
  • Updated: 02 November, 2020
  • Author: Rob Curd, ICE Sustainability Knowledge Manager
The Carbon Project is ICE’s collaborative effort to deliver rapid progress towards net zero carbon across all infrastructure systems, programmes, and projects. Initiated in early 2020, the project aims to focus on specific areas of technical practice where the civil engineering community has the greatest potential to support carbon reduction: 
  • Meaningful Measurement: Mature the standards and approach for carbon data capture, measurement and usage in decision making, to enable a consistent approach across projects and organisations
  • Building New Capabilities: Provide resource to ICE members to enable them to understand their role in net-zero and influence the development of standards and regulations.
  • Transforming the System: To map out the big picture strategic changes that need to be made across infrastructure in order to achieve net-zero.

'Transforming the system'

One of the earliest tasks carried out by the third workstream ‘Transforming the System,’ was to get a better understanding about where and how the biggest emissions of carbon were occurring within infrastructure. This activity was last carried out at scale in 2013’s Infrastructure Carbon Review (ICR) which was well received by industry and set out a common language and narrative of where the carbon was within infrastructure, we therefore decided to update the data used in this report, not only to provide a like for like comparison using the same sources and methodologies, but also to update the figures to give a more complete picture that is available to us using improved data and methodologies that have become available since 2013.

This work was supported by funding from ICEs  ICEs Research and Development enabling fund and was carried out by Dr Jannik Giesekam and Maria Manidaki, who was heavily involved in the original ICR. Further support was provided by Tim Chapman, Holly Smith and Chris Landsburgh.

Some of the key findings of this update include: 

  • A 23% reduction in total infrastructure carbon between 2010 and 2018 
  • A 44% reduction of carbon under ‘control’ of the infrastructure industry between 2010 and 2018 
  • Total infrastructure carbon accounts for 54% (419 MtCO2e) of the UK’s consumption-based carbon footprint (773 MtCO2e) 
  • Reductions were largely driven by the energy and waste sectors, which contributed total reductions of 37% and 33% respectively. 
  • Declines in operational carbon and user carbon, but a 60% increase in capital carbon. 

This data was presented at the Unwin Lecture, where we discussed how the industry has progressed since the original ICR as well as what more needs to be done to reach our net-zero target.

Watch the Unwin Lecture again below.

Unwin Lecture 08102020 Zero Carbon and Infrastructure FINAL from ICE Group on Vimeo.

We also repackaged the findings as an infographic to give people easier access to the key information.

Data now available for all 

To mark the inauguration of ICE’s new president Rachel Skinner – who is also Chair of The Carbon Project steering group - we have now made this dataset available for all to use. These documents are intended to provide the most accurate estimate on carbon in infrastructure to date and provide a robust baseline for future progress updates. 

Download the data here

This data will be hosted on the ICE website and will be freely available for all to download and use as they wish. ICE has also made a pledge to maintain and update the data and will use it to monitor the industries progress at regular intervals. Work has already begun on future iterations incorporating additional improvements and data sources and we encourage members to share any relevant data that they may have by sending it to: [email protected]

Be sure to join incoming ICE President Rachel Skinner's inaugural address on Tuesday 3 November where she will be discussing the importance of carbon emission reduction and the need for urgent actions. Book the event here.

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