Skip to content
ICE Community blog

Influencing the debate around climate change and CO2?

16 March 2020

In his latest blog, ICE President Paul Sheffield discusses what action the ICE is taking to tackle the climate change issue and highlights why the position of civil engineers, globally, is so important in leading the debate.

Influencing the debate around climate change and CO2?
The ICE has been at the forefront of the debate for more than a decade

As the world’s population wakes up to the significant risks and challenges created by climate change I am rightly challenged over what actions ICE has taken to tackle the issue and lead the debate.

I promised last time I wrote that I would focus this installment on that very issue. However, I think it is important to highlight why ICE’s position and more broadly the position of civil engineers around the world is so important.

Our profession is ideally placed to answer the many challenges the world faces. We have a long history of identifying problems and solving them in elegant and enduring ways. You do not need me to reiterate the huge life-saving impact that Bazelgette’s sewer system had in London. Also I spoke during my presidential address about the enormous efforts made in building trans-Atlantic cables that paved the way for our connected world.

Civil engineers transform lives and safeguard the future for populations around the world. We deserve to be challenged on what we are doing to tackle arguably the largest planet-wide threat to face our species.

I am proud to say that the ICE has been tackling this issue for decades. The ICE established the Environment and Sustainability Board, chaired by Peter Braithwaite in 1996, which began a series of interventions through the 90s and early 2000s from lecture series, journals, and participation in Government reviews.

One of my predecessor's, Peter Hansford, initiated the low carbon infrastructure strategy in 2011. This argued that whole-life carbon assessment must become standard practice for projects in the same way that cost analyses are. This was followed by Carbon Reduction in Infrastructure led by Tim Chapman, which focused on the 'why', 'how' and 'what' we should be measuring to ensure we are best-placed to properly assess the carbon impacts of economic infrastructure.

Organisations that have adopted this whole life approach to carbon management, such as Anglian Water, have demonstrated that setting ambitious carbon reduction targets can drive innovative solutions. A reduction in carbon is often found though more efficient and sustainable solutions which are inherently more cost effective, leading to their mantra of ‘Low Carbon = Low Cost.’

The Paris agreement in 2016 was a significant global step towards addressing the issue and marked a turning point in awareness.

Taking the lead the ICE Knowledge team established the Energy, Resilience and Climate Change campaign in 2016. This provided a series of learning programmes and events to provide access to the latest thinking and advances for the profession.

During our bicentenary year the ICE, working with the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, hosted the Global Engineering Congress which brought together the world’s civil engineering organisations for the first time in a generation. The Congress convened the most able engineers from over 150 countries to determine how the global engineering profession can make the delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Of course, under- pinning this activity was the clarity of focus on reducing carbon emissions and ensuring that our planet remains habitable for generations to come.

This led to our current phase of work around the sustainability route map. A program of activity to transform how engineers engage with the SDGs. This plans to harness the capability and capacity of the global engineering community to accelerate the delivery of the sustainable development goals for the benefit of society. To Bring about a transformation in the delivery of infrastructure through leadership, advocacy, nurturing collaboration and building knowledge and skills.

By the end of 2018, the ICE signed up to Civil Engineers Declare; an initiative led by Mike Cook at the Happold Foundation. The plan is to use the signatories to mobilise a group of committed stakeholders in the run up to COP26.

As you can see the ICE has been at the forefront of the debate on this issue and will continue to be so. This year our annual State of the Nation report will be focused on the Government's carbon net-zero target. We are currently in the evidence gathering stage but will publish in full this summer.

This will form the basis of our intervention at COP26, the climate conference which will this year be held in the UK.

What I have outlined here is a whistle-stop tour of the activity ICE has been undertaking for decades to bring solutions and leadership to the debates around sustainability, climate change and carbon reduction, but we must not pause. As I have said it is incumbent on civil engineers to provide sustainable solutions upon which the world can rely on for decades to come.

I know for a fact that my successor, Rachel Skinner, has this issue at the forefront of her mind and will continue to drive ICE’s engagement in this debate. The Trustee Board and Council have had a number of productive sessions in recent months developing a long term strategy for the institution that has sustainability at its very heart.

I hope, that this alleviates any concerns that you may have had about what ICE has done and will be doing in tackling the United Nations Sustainability Goals, carbon reduction and thereby the climate crisis.

However, as with all these things, leadership is only part of the issue. As I said at the start of this piece I am regularly and rightly challenged on what activities we are undertaking to address these issues, but now it is my turn. The scale of this challenge is unprecedented and every individual will need to do their part. And so, I ask you… What are you doing to reduce carbon and increase sustainability?

This question should be at the heart of everything you do whether it is in designing, delivering or maintaining infrastructure assets. You are in a position to change the world with your day to day decisions and should take ownership of that.

I will meet thousands of members throughout my presidential year and look forward to hearing what innovative and inspirational actions they are undertaking. We can only achieve genuine and significant change if we all take individual responsibility for reducing carbon, increasing sustainability and ensuring that the future is secure for future generations.

Read Paul's previous blog on carbon, productivity and retro-fitting digital into an existing infrastructure.

  • Paul Sheffield, President 2019-2020 at ICE