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Press release

State of the Nation: Institution of Civil Engineers encourages infrastructure professionals to renew focus on sustainability goals

25 January 2024

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has today published its annual State of the Nation report: Infrastructure in 2024. 

Harnessing the expertise of the ICE’s global membership, the report presents clear recommendations on how civil and infrastructure engineers, and other built environment professionals, can better support delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). 

The report outlines the institution’s position statement on decarbonisation, with a focus on three key areas: low carbon energy, water and flooding, and transport. 

We must pick up the pace to make progress 

Damning findings from the 2023 UN report showed that not enough progress was being made on the UN SDGs. 

In response, the institution is using the State of the Nation report as an opportunity to renew members’ and the wider industry’s focus on the areas where civil engineers and infrastructure professionals can have the greatest impact on the SDGs. 

The report also echoes recommendations made by the NIC in its Second National Infrastructure Assessment, published in October 2023. 

While it is clear there is more work to be done, the report also includes analysis from University College London that indicates civil engineers are positively contributing to meeting the SDGs. 

David Porter, ICE vice president and chair of the State of the Nation report steering committee, said,  

"Civil engineers are unquestionably able to help deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our own experience and research proves that. However, the task is complex, and it can be difficult to know where to focus. In this report, we have identified key things that civil engineers and other infrastructure professionals can do now to make more positive progress in the areas we know they can have the most impact – carbon management, low carbon energy, and in the water and transport sectors."

Whole-life carbon management must become the norm 

The report states that carbon management must become ‘mainstream practice’ for ICE members and encourages the uptake of PAS 2028:2023 Carbon management in buildings and infrastructure as the global standard for whole-life carbon reduction. 

While the report acknowledges that civil engineers do not have direct control over the whole life cycle of the economic infrastructure they help build, they have ‘enormous influence’ over the decision-making and technical work that ensures emissions are understood, actively managed, and minimised. 

PAS 20280:2023 can be applied to the entire supply chain, from asset managers to product suppliers. 

Low carbon energy sector must improve circularity of assets  

For those working in the low-carbon energy space, improving the circularity of wind and solar assets, whether onshore or offshore, should be a key focus. 

Designing modular parts to prolong assets’ lifespan will improve circularity, as will thinking about how assets can be recycled or refurbished at design stage. 

The report states, ‘Waste from all sectors needs to be reduced if climate ambitions are to be met, and renewable energy is no exception.’ 

Manage water with the help of nature 

Prioritising nature-based solutions and managing existing infrastructure in a nature-positive way is the key recommendation for civil and infrastructure engineers in the water sector. 

Climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events mean that constructing ever-higher flood defences and treating the amount of water that enters sewage systems are both becoming unrealistically costly.  

Engineers and other professionals must change their approach.  

Instead of creating new hard infrastructure solutions, exploring how to keep water flowing through the land to avoid flood damage and overwhelming existing infrastructure must be an integral part of water management. 

Embrace new techniques to improve trust in the transport sector  

The report is upfront about the challenges faced by the transport sector and acknowledges that the cancellation of the HS2 project negatively impacted public confidence. 

It calls on civil engineers and other transport professionals to ‘take control’ of the areas they can influence, including maintenance and upgrades, and encourages them to modernise delivery of all transport projects to help rebuild confidence in the sector. 

Central to boosting productivity will be the widespread adoption of new and emerging technologies and learning from industrialised projects in other sectors. 

Modern methods of construction (MMC) are highlighted as an area for growth in the transport sector. 

Learning and collaboration also key to delivery 

Each section of the report includes detailed case studies of projects that are already applying the principles identified, highlighting important progress being made and lessons that can be applied to others. 

ICE President, Professor Anusha Shah, said,

"It’s hugely encouraging to see the positive impact civil engineers are already having in addressing the climate emergency, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We must continue doing more and step up the action at pace to meet the carbon, resilience, nature and people positive goals we have set for ourselves. We need to continue to learn across sectors, geographies and generations. Only by driving a shared commitment to addressing the climate and nature crisis and changing our mindset to one that prioritises reducing carbon, building resilience and utilising nature-based solutions, can we be successful." 

 Notes to editors

Please contact press office [email protected] for more information. 

  • Phoebe Woollard, media relations executive at ICE