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Infrastructure blog

The need for a plan to transition infrastructure to net-zero

02 September 2020

A plan to transition infrastructure to net-zero must form part of the upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy argues ICE Policy Manager, Alex Hardy who in this blog, examines what a net-zero infrastructure plan should consider.

The need for a plan to transition infrastructure to net-zero
How do we achieve the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050? Image credit: Shutterstock

Achieving the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050 will require an unprecedented transformation of the UK’s infrastructure systems. While 2050 may seem distant, in many cases the infrastructure currently under development will take years to deliver and will be operational well beyond 2050. So to achieve net zero, action must be taken now.

ICE’s recent State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target shed light on the policy challenges for putting infrastructure on a net-zero footing. The report’s central recommendation was for government to deliver an integrated plan for transitioning the UK’s economic infrastructure networks to net-zero.

At present, there is a policy gap between the UK’s legally binding goal for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and government action to achieve this. This is well documented by the Committee on Climate Change. While the UK has an ambitious target, it does not have a comprehensive plan for how it will be achieved – especially in relation to infrastructure.

To address this, ICE has recently published a policy paper that examines what a plan for transitioning infrastructure to net-zero should consider. It explores the key policy choices that need to be made. These choices focus on action required in four areas:

  • The future energy mix, including the role of the hydrogen, nuclear, bioenergy and other emerging energy technologies.
  • Pathways to decarbonising transport, including the electrification of transport networks and shifting to cleaner transport modes.
  • Pathways for decarbonising heat, including the retrofit of buildings for hydrogen, electrification, energy efficiency and insulation.
  • Reducing emissions from harder-to-abate sectors, including the deployment of carbon capture and storage and negative emissions technologies.

The need for coherent and joined-up policy to be in place for each of these areas is not new and is something that has been well explored by experts in the infrastructure sector and those allied to it. But in many cases, government is yet to articulate a strategic direction – inhibiting action by industry to get on and deliver net zero.

To provide long term policy stability and credibility, government should organise its thinking into a single net-zero infrastructure plan when the National Infrastructure Strategy is published in the Autumn. This is especially important as infrastructure investment is likely to play a major role in the economic recovery from Covid-19.

If these issues are of interest to you, we encourage you to read our report on A plan for transitioning infrastructure to net-zero and keep up to date with the Carbon Project; which is seeking to harness the capability and capacity of the global civil engineering community to ensure that the net-zero target is met.

Read the report

  • Alex Hardy, policy manager at ICE