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Achieving a net zero economy – State of the Nation 2020

02 July 2020

Needed policy changes and the role of the UK’s infrastructure sector in achieving the net-zero target, are the focus of this year’s State of the Nation report. We will be providing updates throughout the report’s evidence gathering, drafting and publication process. Check back regularly for updates!

Achieving a net zero economy – State of the Nation 2020
net zero economy

What policy changes are required for the UK’s infrastructure sector to play its role in achieving net zero emissions by 2050?

This is the question that this year’s ICE State of the Nation report will seek to answer.

Over the coming months, ICE’s Policy team will work closely with the Steering Group, led by ICE Vice President Keith Howells and made up of experts from across the built environment industry.

Together they will produce a report that offers clear, actionable policy recommendations.

What is State of the Nation?

ICE produces a State of the Nation each year which sets out a range of policy interventions. These interventions are aimed at ensuring the UK has high-performing infrastructure networks that facilitate economic growth and improve quality of life for those living across the nations.

Each year, the report focuses on a relevant and pertinent topic. In previous years it’s focused on housing, infrastructure investment, digital transformation and devolution.

Latest news

State of the Nation 2020 published – 1 July

“The pandemic provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy and create systemic and wholesale change to the infrastructure ecosystem,” says Keith Howells, State of the Nation Steering Group Chair.

After months of work, State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target is published today. It outlines how, through collaboration and change, we can plan, build and operate infrastructure that meets the needs of the future.

Hear from Keith Howells about the report’s key findings and recommendations.

Read more about the report and get the industry reaction.

Join the State of the Nation launch on 1 July 2020 – 10 June

Registrations are now open for the launch of this year’s State of the Nation report, Infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target.

Join us online on Wednesday 1 July, to hear about the report’s findings and recommendations.

ICE President, Paul Sheffield, will chair a panel of industry experts including Keith Howells, Steering Group Chair, Professor Keith Bell, Committee on Climate Change, and Andy Mitchell, Construction Leadership Council who will give their views of the deliverability of the report.

Sign up for the online event now.

The Need for Carbon Capture and Storage - 19 May

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is the subject of the latest ICE insights paper, which examines the CCS story so far, what obstacles exist for take-up and how it can support the UK’s net-zero transition.

Long earmarked as a technology that can drive the UK’s net-zero transition, the paper examines views from around the industry, including recent analysis by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), and calls for long-term infrastructure planning to fully maximise its net-zero potential.

You can find the paper, which will contribute to the development of ICE’s forthcoming State of the Nation 2020 report, or for a summary of the current CCS landscape, read the latest Infrastructure blog from ICE Policy Manager and paper author, Alex Hardy.

Climate Change and the Covid-19 Recovery - 12 May

It has been encouraging to see the climate conversation continue despite the global pandemic we are facing. As our work on this year’s State of the Nation continues, there have been a series of important and interesting reports and announcements coming from different quarters.

From the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) laying out six key principles to rebuilding the nation in the aftermath of Covid-19, to research by the National Infrastructure Commission, it is clear that achieving the 2050 net-zero target remains at the forefront of people’s minds.

In this latest Infrastructure blog, ICE Policy Manager, Alex Hardy, takes a closer look at these reports and their implications.

A question of funding and financing - 6 April

A recent roundtable discussion brought together industry leaders to discuss their views on ensuring the flow of investment into cleaner infrastructure and technology.

In this Infrastructure blog post, President’s Future Leader Holly Smith reviews some of the key points raised in the discussion about how to fund and finance a net-zero economy.

Read more about Holly Smith and her role as a Future Leader.

A Future Leader's View - 1 April

As a President’s Future Leader, Chris Landsbrugh has had the opportunity to attend roundtable discussions, and join the State of the Nation Steering Group, helping to produce this year’s report.

In his Infrastructure Blog, he discusses why this year’s report is important – and gives some insight into how the evidence gathering process.

Read more about Chris' and his role as a Future Leader.

Regional workshops - 27 March

ICE held a series of workshops in UK regions as part of the evidence gathering process.Find out more about how these went below:

East and West Midlands: a review

Two workshops were held across the East and West Midlands, in Leicester and Birmingham. Both sessions drew in a range of experts, from members to local authority representatives and regional stakeholders. They discussed a range of topics, including procurement, retrofit, refurbishment, carbon credits and carbon capture.

In the East Midlands, the conversation covered a lot of ground. There was a heavy focus on what needs to be done at a national level to support regional initiatives. Attendees outlined the need for a consistent long-term government approach, which would allow industry to respond in a timely manner and create their own plan of actions and targets. To achieve this, holistic thinking and a level industry playing field were identified as being vital.

In the West Midlands, attendees agreed that collaboration across all sectors, not just civil engineering, is going to be essential in order to be able to deliver the net-zero target. A joint and cross-sector approach was identified as being required, as was an open mind to how the outcomes and actions are achieved in the region to ensure the target is met at a national level. For this to happen, a consistency around the measures and a common language was considered vital to aid understanding and innovation across all sectors.

Northern Ireland: a review

The Northern Ireland workshop was well attended, with local representatives from a range of sectors including utilities, public transport and aviation, as well as academic institutions and industry bodies. The session prompted discussions on a broad range of topics, linked to driving Northern Ireland to the net-zero target and highlighting key activity already underway.

The group discussed that Northern Ireland is doing well in renewable energy deployment, having already exceeded the 2020 target to generate 40% of power from renewable sources. It noted proactive initiatives such as the development of AI to maximise existing water supplies without increasing carbon emissions the commissioning of hydrogen buses, quarries able to generate power from wind and changes already bearing fruit within airport grounds.

There was also recognition that there are still many challenges ahead, such as changes to decision-making processes and future funding streams, and the impact of fuel poverty in a society still heavily reliant on oil-fired boilers for heating.

Also discussed was the importance of maintaining existing infrastructure to bring it in line with the net-zero target. There was a consensus across the room that these issues are the problem of everyone in society that as a sector, and a profession we have the opportunity to identify solutions, take ownership and drive the change.

East of England: a review

In the East of England, a mix of academics, civil engineers, sustainability specialists and council officers discussed a range of ideas and challenges that need to be met.

Participants noted a major challenge to civil engineering was the short timeframe in which to reach the net-zero target. They discussed how unlikely it was that new technologies could be developed quickly and that it was possible the industry would rely on and have to adapt existing solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

The group discussed the idea that carbon is currently undervalued within the procurement process with cost and – to a lesser extent – quality remaining the key markers of success. There was concern about how to affect a fundamental shift in priorities across the sector.

They also spoke about how the industry best uses its limited resources by reducing over-design and over-specification on projects. Recognising that we have limited resources means the industry should think about smarter solutions.

South West England: a review

Across the South West, more than 120 civil engineers, infrastructure professionals and stakeholders offered a wide range of perspectives on net-zero and infrastructure de-carbonisation.

In Bristol, delegates called for a vision of what a net-zero infrastructure system might actually look like in 2050. There was a recognition that the infrastructure sector would need to think and act together to achieve the target, putting aside competing priorities to achieve a common net-zero vision.

On the question of government support, delegates raised questions about how to prioritise long-term carbon reduction over short-term financial returns when assessing infrastructure projects. They also discussed the potential for government investment through seed funding, but concluded that in the long-term, a combination of public and private investment will be necessary to deliver net-zero.

In Truro, attendees raised issues around localising the supply chain for the infrastructure sector and ways to give local authorities greater freedom to pursue net-zero schemes. As part of the discussion about how to pay for the changes needed to deliver net-zero, delegates raised the possibility of a new carbon levy to fund infrastructure improvements.

Meanwhile, there was an acknowledgement that people’s behaviour was a key area that could not be ignored, with questions raised about how society as a whole could re-think attitudes and expectations around transport and travel.

Setting the scene - 10 March

The report process is robust and requires many stages, from evidence gathering to drafting and review.

At the first stage, ICE will engage with a range of experts across different sectors to learn and gather the right evidence to inform future recommendations.

As a President’s Future Leader, Chris Landsburgh has had the opportunity to attend roundtable discussions, and join the State of the Nation Steering Group, helping to produce this year’s report.

Head over to the Infrastructure Blog where Keith Howells, Steering Group Chair, gives an overview of the project, and our early thoughts on the topic.

  • Adam Kirkup, engineering communities manager at ICE