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ICE publishes civil engineering insights paper on the 2050 net-zero emissions target

02 December 2019

ICE's insights paper examines the implications of the UK’s 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target for the infrastructure sector.

ICE publishes civil engineering insights paper on the 2050 net-zero emissions target
Image credit: Foto Rabe/Pixabay

The net-zero emissions target was entered into law this summer with many councils, academic, charitable and business organisations declaring climate emergencies since then. Public attention has continued to gather momentum in recent weeks, and it's therefore of little surprise that it's become a core theme of the general election.

ICE’s insights paper – and the work that we've planned for 2020 – seeks to make sense of the discourse, to work out what policy interventions and practical steps are required as the infrastructure sector faces up to working towards the net-zero target.

International comparators on net-zero

The UK is not the only nation to have legislated for a net-zero GHG target.

There are 15 others that have adopted similar targets, with some in Scandinavia having set more ambitious goals to get to net-zero much quicker e.g. Norway (2030), Finland (2035) and Sweden (2045). Bhutan’s economy is already operating at net-zero!

Of course, it's necessary to bear in mind the historical and structural differences that exist in these economies, which perhaps make earlier targets more practically achievable. This is a marked point, in so far as that any national target needs to be realistically achievable in relation to the political, economic and social characteristics of a given nation.

Options for change

Clearly seismic change is required across the UK’s infrastructure sector if the UK’s target is to be achieved. After all, this is a sector that through transport, electricity generation and the supply of gas for heating contributed 69% of all CO₂ emissions in 2018.

The Committee on Climate Change has developed a range of change scenarios for electricity, road transport, buildings and infrastructure in order that these parts of our economy can effectively contribute to the net-zero target.

They include the decarbonisation of the electricity system, the rollout and proliferation of electric vehicles, moving from gas to hydrogen networks for heating and developing commercial carbon capture and storage.

These are all eminently sensible solutions and pathways. However, they will each require substantial policy development and action to come to be realised, alongside the will and determination of industry.

ICE’s State of the Nation report on the net-zero target

The ICE has made a commitment that its annual State of the Nation report for 2020 will put forward policy recommendations to ensure that the infrastructure sector is doing its bit to make the 2050 target a reality.

A research programme of focus groups, workshops and interviews with experts in the field will be initiated early next year in order to achieve this. If you'd like to participate in this work, please get in touch.

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE