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IPW: digital to fast-track climate solutions, and South Africa’s infrastructure delays

07 December 2023

In this week’s Infrastructure Policy Watch, the World Bank advocates for digital, while project delays in South Africa affect taxpayers.

IPW: digital to fast-track climate solutions, and South Africa’s infrastructure delays
The World Bank has highlighted that digital technologies can play an important role in fast-tracking solutions to climate change. Image credit: Shutterstock

World Bank focuses on digital technologies to fast-track climate solutions

Digital technologies are transforming the way the world works and how communities can temper the impacts of the climate crisis.

This includes cutting emissions across industries, facilitating greener transport networks and mitigating impacts with early warning systems.

As governments are looking for solutions that match the urgency and scale of the climate crisis, digital technologies are a key tool that can be employed.

The World Bank has highlighted that digital technologies can play an important role to speed up solutions to climate change.

In the World Bank’s report, "Green Digital Transformation: Achieving Sustainable Digital Inclusion and Leveraging Digital Tools for Climate Action", there’s a clear emphasis on the potential of digital tools to enhance sustainability in various sectors.

The World Bank’s estimates suggest that digital technologies could cut emissions by up to 20% by 2050 in the three highest emitting sectors: energy, materials, and mobility.

Current estimates indicate that the market for digital twins in Europe alone will be around €7 billion (£6 billion) by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 30 to 45%.

The report also highlights that two-thirds of countries include technology as part of their national climate plans to help adapt to or mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The ICE’s view

Technologies such as digital twins have an important role to play in helping countries to provide more sustainable infrastructure.

They have great potential to deliver benefits to communities.

In the ICE’s policy paper on climate resilience and adaptation, we highlighted that data-driven technologies provide a huge opportunity to strengthen the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure.

The ICE recommended that digital twin technology should be implemented to help understand how critical infrastructure assets work together as part of a wider system.

Digital twins can be used by decision-makers and stakeholders to visualise climate risks and explore adaptation measures under different scenarios.

This would help prioritise investments and build resilience efficiently.

A recent ICE journal article on procurement and contracting for climate change data and digital solutions summarises some of the practical structural and legal considerations that need to be overcome.

The article particularly explores how building information modelling (BIM) and digital twins can be successfully implemented to support climate change targets within infrastructure.

Infrastructure project delays in South Africa negatively impacting on the public

Delays to infrastructure projects in South Africa are directly impacting the delivery of key government programmes intended to improve the lives of South Africans.

These projects should reduce inequalities resulting from tough economic conditions and poverty.

Instead, the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) Tsakani Maluleke has stressed that wasted money and resources stemming from delays mean reduced funding for service delivery programmes and, eventually, a greater burden on taxpayers.

Maluleke highlighted the impact of infrastructure delays on the public while tabling the 2022-23 general report for national and provincial departments.

Infrastructure delivery projects which have been delayed are costing more than what was initially planned.

Some projects’ quality is also poor, such as maintenance interventions to restore government properties.

In the 2022-23 financial year, AGSA audited 137 infrastructure projects.

It focused on critical infrastructure, including health facilities, schools, housing, roads and railways, water infrastructure, and government buildings such as police stations.

It highlighted four key issues:

  • Inadequate coordination and collaboration between government departments.
  • Failure to conduct proper needs assessments and feasibility studies; or conducting them but not using them as a base to implement the infrastructure projects.
  • Lack of accountability among contractors and professional service providers.
  • Inadequate monitoring and enforcement by infrastructure-related regulatory bodies, such as the Construction Industry Development Board and the National Home Builders Registration Council. This particularly related to repeat offenders that cause delayed projects across sectors.

AGSA has called for improved and more responsible service delivery to ensure the public gets the infrastructure they need.

The ICE’s view

Learning from other countries facing similar challenges can help to boost the impact of future action taken by the South African government to reduce delays.

For example, the Australian government has cut 50 projects from its Infrastructure Investment Programme (IIP) to improve efficiency and flexibility in project deliverability.

The ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure programme supports these and other learnings to assist the strategic planning and prioritisation of infrastructure.

This can ensure the public gets the infrastructure that they need, in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In case you missed it

  • Respond to the ICE’s green paper consultation on public behaviour and net zero.
  • The ICE is also seeking views on what measures can be taken to make Australia’s infrastructure delivery more efficient.
  • The Energy Networks Association joined the ICE and MPs to discuss the steps necessary to decarbonise the UK’s power grid.

Check back in a fortnight for the next edition of the ICE's Infrastructure Policy Watch.

You can also sign up to ICE Informs to get a monthly digest of the latest policy activities from ICE, including calls for evidence to support our ongoing advice to policymakers.

  • Laura Cunliffe-Hall, interim lead policy manager at ICE