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Engineers can deliver on net-zero

That the UK infrastructure sector’s rate of carbon reduction is falling short of the government’s net-zero target rate is perhaps not a major shock. But it was nonetheless a clear call to action for the civil engineering profession as the findings were revealed at this month’s Unwin Lecture.

In a first update of infrastructure carbon data since the Government’s Infrastructure Carbon Review of 2013, ICE’s research has shown that the rate of reduction needs to grow from the current speed of 3% to 4.1% per year.

This is despite a 23% reduction in total infrastructure carbon between 2010 and 2018 and a 44% reduction of carbon under ‘control’ of the infrastructure industry between 2010 and 2018.

Are we consistent with the net-zero vision?
As ICE Carbon Project member and research fellow in industrial climate policy at the School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds, Jannik Giesekam put it: “Every engineer needs to ask themselves if the project they are working on now is consistent with that net-zero vision.

“We now need even faster transformations in transport, water and communications. With rising capital carbon emissions and increased stimulus spending on the horizon, our focus must be on ‘building back better’ not just ‘build, build, build’.”

Incoming ICE President Rachel Skinner will send out exactly this message and stress the need for urgent action in her inaugural address on 3 November. But she will also stress the scale, and excitement, of the opportunity.

Civil engineers are in a privileged, almost uniquely privileged, position of being at the heart of the drive to net-zero; whether it is accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources through design and construction of mega offshore wind arrays – as backed by prime minister Boris Johnson this month – or delivering smaller scale local interventions that get people out of petrol-powered cars and off diesel-fuelled buses and walking and cycling instead.

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