A new report will showcase the immediate challenges and opportunities for civil engineers.
As civil and infrastructure engineers, we all know the hugely important role that the assets we develop, operate and manage play every day, and the absolute reliance of society on these.
We’re also acutely aware that in a world that is working towards net-zero carbon, there are some very significant challenges posed by infrastructure.
Not least because of the amount of energy needed to power our infrastructure, the harmful emissions from its use, and the fact that the main construction products generally contain steel, cement or bituminous materials which are all currently ‘carbon heavy’.
We are also having to come to terms with significant inflationary pressures, growing urbanisation, an ageing population and the emergence of disruptive technologies.
Scanning the horizon
Last year, the institution established a vibrant and diverse group of members with particular skills and expertise into 10 community advisory boards (CABs).
It asked them to scan the horizon to identify the main issues facing infrastructure and to articulate their impact on society.
This work led to the release of the Infrastructure in 2022 report and a whole range of associated knowledge events and CPD content.
Infrastructure in 2023 builds on that work.
It uses case studies from around the globe to showcase some of the great achievements being made by our projects.
It also highlights some areas where more action is needed if we are to genuinely help society prosper in this changing world.
What do the CABs think are the top opportunities and challenges?
Digital and data
The digital and data CAB questions the ability of civil engineers to help address the impact of a changing climate on the global economy.
It concludes that rapid improvements are needed in how we work, particularly by getting the most from technology.
This is a significant challenge to our profession and will only be achieved by outcome-focused, joined-up, systems-level digitalisation of our industry.
Sustainable, resilient infrastructure
The wider challenges are also highlighted by the ICE sustainable, resilient Infrastructure CAB.
This CAB encourages us to see infrastructure sustainability as a societal issue, given how quickly communities break down if people are without water, power or cannot move around.
The ICE flooding CAB has similar thoughts.
It identifies that climate resilience will be a huge topic for the rest of this decade.
Not only do we clearly have to reduce the carbon footprint of our flood management interventions to contribute to net zero targets, but we must build in capability to cope with more extreme weather events.
Structures and geotechnical
On a positive note, the structures and geotechnical CAB draws attention to the fact that almost 150 civil engineering organisations have now signed the climate emergency declaration.
In doing so, these industry leaders have recognised that infrastructure systems account for half of energy-related carbon emissions, while also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.
They have pledged to evaluate all future projects against the need to ‘contribute positively to society … while averting climate breakdown’.
We need to change
To address the challenges and embrace the opportunities identified in Infrastructure in 2023, it is clear that we will need to shift engineering practices.
We will need to:
- Be carbon-conscious while still retaining our focus on meeting societies’ needs;
- Be open to new technologies and in particular harnessing the power of data; and
- Proactively seek out opportunities across the infrastructure sector to work collaboratively and smarter on the big issues facing our world for the benefit of society.