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Infrastructure blog

State of the Nation – Reducing carbon emissions

01 April 2020

President’s Future Leader and State of the Nation 2020 steering group member, Chris Landsburgh, discusses the opportunities for the industry to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

State of the Nation – Reducing carbon emissions
Blacklaw Windfarm: Photo courtesy of Wills Bros Civil Engineering Ltd

As both a civil engineer and chartered environmentalist, it pleases me to see the UK Government begin to embrace their legal obligations under The Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions, mitigate climate change; accelerate actions and decision making - vital for the delivery of a sustainable low carbon future.

I recognise that recent decisions have made a significant impact on the industry, and some projects have not been commissioned as a result. However, with adversity comes opportunity. Opportunity for the engineering industry to evolve; to react positively and build on the strengths of our challenged and innovative engineering forebearers.

Innovative opportunities were presented earlier this month as the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced: "There can be no lasting prosperity for people if we do not protect our planet”. His Spring Budget was the first since the UK committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, and this target was re-confirmed as a major government priority.

The Budget provided the Chancellor to present the first package of measures that will help push the UK towards the target, with an array of ambitious opportunities announced. These included carbon capture, flood resilience spending, low carbon transport, biodiversity conservation and renewable energy, amongst others.

Feeding into the Report

As a President’s Future Leader, I got the opportunity, along with fellow Leader Holly Smith of Skanska, to join the report’s Steering Group. It’s been a privilege to have the opportunity to attend both thought-provoking roundtable discussions, and inputting into intriguing steering group conversations.

The recommendations to government will be formed as a result of several evidence gathering stages including Steering Group meetings, roundtable discussions held throughout the UK, public polling and subject matter expert interviews.

As a participant of the roundtable in Scotland, led by Hannah Smith, ICE Scotland Director, I was exposed to an array of exciting issues which were discussed. These included the role of carbon taxation; how government could best support the transition to a net-zero infrastructure sector; and who should pay for the changes needed to deliver net-zero - a subject which is now being explored by the government.

It is these discussions, and those had at roundtables in the South East, Northern Ireland, the Midlands and more, that we take back to the steering group meetings. From there, we look at the common themes, and start to identify the areas in which we think we add the most value and benefit.

Blacklaw Wind Farm aerial view: Photo courtesy of Wills Bros Civil Engineering Ltd
Blacklaw Wind Farm aerial view: Photo courtesy of Wills Bros Civil Engineering Ltd

What next?

Let there be no mistake, the transition to a net-zero emissions infrastructure sector by 2050 will require innovation and radical changes in every sector. But while this might seem daunting, ICE President Paul Sheffield made a good point in his inaugural address last year:

Creating a sustainable future is our biggest challenge and should lie at the heart of everything we do. We must embrace this new world and drive with pace

Paul Sheffield

It is clear that climate change, net-zero and sustainability are going to become more critical themes in the ICE community; and as engineers I ask you to become enablers, acting on the opportunities presented - laying the foundations to address these challenges and creating a sustainable future for our children.

Now fast approaching the halfway mark of the Year of Climate Action. I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions as we pursue the net-zero target.

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  • Chris Landsburgh GMICE, associate climate consultant at AECOM