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Why all civil engineers need to sign up to this pledge

25 July 2019

Cities across the world are declaring climate emergencies - we need to act now.

Why all civil engineers need to sign up to this pledge
Image credit: BuroHappold

On 27 June, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming, when parliament passed legislation committing the UK to a legally binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Cities across the world are declaring climate emergencies and people are taking to the streets to demand action in the face of extinction. Action is being demanded and this requires an urgent change across all sectors of the economy.

At this time, civil engineers across the UK have declared a climate and bio-diversity crisis, setting a commitment to strengthen our working practices and creating complete engineering outcomes that have more positive impacts on the world around us.

The Sustainability Route Map

ICE’s work in this area has already begun with our Sustainability Route Map, which uses the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to set a pathway for changing the way engineers engage with sustainability, including SDG 13 which aims to take urgent action against climate change and its impacts.

We also participate at global events such as the IPCCC’s Conference of Parties through our chairmanship of WFEO's Committee on Engineering and the Environment. as well as engage at a local level though our regional specialist interest groups.

The civil engineers' declaration sits alongside declarations from structural engineers and buildings services engineers. This brings together the community of engineers that are responsible for the conception, design and efficient use of our primary built infrastructure – the infrastructure that underpins our economic prosperity and social wellbeing.

The declaration recognises that engineers have a pivotal role in driving the net-zero target set by the UK government.

UK civil engineers declare climate and biodiversity emergency

The crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are two of the most serious issues of our time.

Our major infrastructure systems of transport, energy, water, waste, telecommunications and flood defences play a major part, accounting for approximately half of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions while also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

Our primary purpose has always been, and remains, enhancing society and well-being.

While we've seen major improvements to practice over the last 20 years, for everyone working in the construction and infrastructure industries, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift.

Together with our clients, we will all need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructure systems as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system in balance with wider society and the natural world.

The research and technology exists for us to accelerate that transformation now, but what has been lacking is collective will in government and industry.

We urgently need current best practice to become normal practice. Recognising this, we are committing to strengthen our working practices and committing to create complete engineering outcomes that have more positive impacts on the world around us.

Our pledge

We will strive to:

  • Continue to raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the urgent need for action among our clients, collaborators and supply chains
  • Advocate for faster change in our industry towards regenerative design practices and a higher governmental funding priority to support this
  • Apply, and further develop, climate and biodiversity mitigation principles as key measures of our industry’s success, demonstrated through rating systems, awards, prizes and listings
  • Extend the sharing of knowledge and research to these ends on an open source basis
  • Evaluate all new projects against the need to contribute positively to society and enhanced well-being, while simultaneously averting climate breakdown – and encourage our clients to adopt this approach – using the holistic approach of PAS2080 to reinforce sound decision-making
  • Upgrade existing built infrastructure systems for extended use as a more-carbon-efficient alternative to demolition and new build when that is the most efficient solution for whole life carbon
  • Include – as part of the basic scope of all our work – life cycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post-construction evaluation, to optimise and reduce embodied, operational and user carbon and other resource uses
  • Adopt more regenerative design principles in practice with the aim of providing civil engineering design that produces complete infrastructure systems that enable society to make the necessary changes to match the goals of the UK becoming a net-zero economy by 2050
  • Extend, now, the consideration of whole-life carbon targets for all long-duration projects taking into account wider social, economic and environmental effects, to ensure delivery of the longer-term goals of this declaration
  • Apply a common cross-sector sustainability rating scheme, adopting the principles of CEEQUAL to all new projects whether or not they are formally assessed
  • Increase current levels of collaboration between clients, engineers, contractors and other professionals involved in the design and provision of complete infrastructure systems to further reduce waste during construction and operation of the assets
  • Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work
  • Minimise wasteful use of resources in our civil engineering design, both in quantum and in detail

We hope that every civil engineering practice operating in the UK will join us in making this commitment.

Sign up to make a change

  • David Balmforth, Chair of the Sustainability Route Map Steering Group & Past President 2014-2015, ICE