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ICE steps up work on carbon reduction as UN report issues ‘code red for humanity’

26 August 2021

A landmark UN scientific report has upped the ante on the engineering response to climate change. ICE Director of Engineering Knowledge Mark Hansford highlights two key ways the institution is taking immediate action.

ICE steps up work on carbon reduction as UN report issues ‘code red for humanity’
A recent report highlighted the critical nature of the climate crisis. Image credit: Shutterstock

Human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways, a major UN scientific report told us this summer.

The landmark study warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit potentially being broken in just over a decade’s time.

The sober assessment of our planet’s future was delivered by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists whose findings are endorsed by the world’s governments.

Their report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, was published in early August and is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013. It says, in no uncertain terms, that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”.

Chillingly, they have concluded that the target of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°C will now be breached by 2040 in all scenarios. If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t slashed in the next few years, this will happen even sooner. This was predicted in the IPCC’s special report on 1.5°C in 2018 and this new study now confirms it.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the IPCC’s report as a “code red for humanity”, urging government leaders and “all stakeholders” to take immediate action.

ICE and its members are one of these stakeholders. Research conducted for ICE’s The Carbon Project has proven that infrastructure is responsible for 54% of carbon emissions, of which about a quarter is under our direct control through the carbon used to build and operate our infrastructure.

ICE is working with others to rapidly improve the tools and techniques at our disposal to help reduce that capital and operational carbon. Right now, there are many, many examples of outstanding people and teams who are already exploiting current knowledge to deliver fantastic low carbon solutions.

Championing success

ICE is therefore delighted to be taking a leading position in recognising these engineers through our Carbon Champions programme – and is even more delighted to be showcasing the work of some of our first champions at an inspiring launch event on 16 September.

Our first tranche of champions will discuss how they saved carbon on their projects, with a view to inspiring others to do the same. This event will be hosted by ICE President Rachel Skinner, for whom action on carbon reduction is a driving passion. We will also hear from Lara Young, chair of the ICE Carbon Champions review panel, who, in equally passionate terms, will explain how carbon reduction is within the gift of all civil engineers.

State of the Nation

It is clear that ICE and its members can, and must, take responsibility for reducing the carbon embodied in the infrastructure that we design, deliver and maintain.

Still, that is not enough. The Carbon Project’s research shows us that of those emissions associated with infrastructure, 75% are not emissions we control directly, but we can control them by influencing how others interact with the infrastructure that we create.

The importance of this cannot be overstated and, to that end, this year’s State of the Nation – ICE’s most significant annual report – is focusing specifically on how civil engineers, by better understanding the needs of end users of our infrastructure, can tackle that 75% by “engaging the public to act”.

And because the purpose of the report is to engage with our members on how they need to see their role differently, the views of members have been crucial in its production. Throughout this summer we have worked with ICE’s regions and knowledge communities to get the input of more than 150 members via regional workshops and ICE community advisory boards. Enormous thanks to all who contributed to what we hope will be a thought-provoking and inspiring report.

State of the Nation will be unveiled at an open Strategy Session in October and ICE Council will then debate how its conclusions and recommendations should be developed and embedded in the working practice of civil engineers.

These two pieces of work alone will clearly not stop the world warming by more than 1.5°C. But they are positive, exciting steps, and we look forward to sharing them with our members around the world.

Related links

  • Mark Hansford, director of engineering knowledge at Institution of Civil Engineers