No more ‘business as usual’ if world is to meet net zero targets

28 Oct 2021

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FIDIC launched its fifth State of the World report, Net zero – what next?, at a webinar on 28 October 2021, which asked what is next after net zero and discussed the kind of ambitions the engineering sector and society should be looking to achieve going forward.

The webinar, attended by around 200+ global construction and infrastructure professionals, was chaired by FIDIC chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin and was introduced by FIDIC president Tony Barry. Speakers at the event included Denise Bower, executive director, external engagement at Mott MacDonald, Peter Guthrie, professor of engineering for sustainable development at the University of Cambridge, Idriss Kathrada, associate director at Novasirhe – CINOV Federation and a member of the FIDIC sustainable development committee, Collins Kibira, a civil engineer at Queensland and Leeds Consulting Engineers, Graham Pontin, head of economic and strategic policy at FIDIC and José Aparicio, president and managing director at Siemens Energy Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Opening the event, FIDIC chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin said that the launch of its latest State of the World on net zero was well timed given the forthcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow in November and the growing urgency of the issue of climate change on a global scale.

Setting the scene for the webinar, FIDIC president Tony Barry said that the latest State of the World report was a very important piece of work. The urgency of the task to address climate change was still not totally grasped by all global leaders, said Barry, who said there needed to be a step-change in the global response. “Engineers have the skills and expertise to influence and advise politicians on the best strategies to adopt to address climate change and make the changes we need to see. Those who can act fast, must,” said Barry.

Introducing the State of the World net zero report, FIDIC’s head of economic and strategic policy Graham Pontin said: “The climate challenge we face is global and significant in its potential impacts and that is why FIDIC is not only producing a Climate Change Charter but also ensuring that FIDIC’s core value of sustainability is built into all FIDIC’s activity including our ongoing State of the World report series.” Pontin said that although 2020 and 2021 will be remembered for the Covid pandemic, another significant trend has also been occurring. “This is the general improvement in the recognition, perception and importance of addressing the climate emergency,” he said.

Against this background, FIDIC has taken action to produce its latest State of the World report and also a new Climate Change Charter which be launched very soon. Pontin strongly urged the industry and FIDIC member associations to sign up to the charter to strengthen the global response to climate change.

Pontin also highlighted the State of the World report’s key recommendations which were that net zero needs to me more ambitious, that those that can move faster including companies and developed nations need to, that the world needs to get behind a new ambitious target that works with net zero but is not solely about carbon and that the industry needs to stand up to be counted and lead the way, supporting initiatives like the new FIDIC Climate Change Charter.

Speaking first, Denise Bower, executive director, external engagement at Mott MacDonald, welcomed the new FIDIC report and said that the need to accelerate progress on net zero had never been greater. “We to adopt more innovative digital solutions and build in resilience to meet the challenges we face,” she said. Bower agreed that many companies were currently moving faster with net zero commitments than governments and indeed her own company had pledged to meet net zero by 2040. It was right that companies in the construction and infrastructure sector were leading the way and Bower believed that there was real scope to speed up progress on the adoption of net zero targets. She also highlighted how public opinion was having an effect on the decisions of clients and the industry more broadly because they could not afford to be out of step with demands for a more radical approach to the climate change issue.

José Aparicio, president and managing director at Siemens Energy Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, highlighted the importance of digital and technological innovation in achieving net zero and also the need to engage with politicians on the key issues. Aparicio also made the point that engaging the supply chain was absolutely crucial in meeting net zero targets. “We have pledges that Siemens will be carbon neutral by 2030 which is an ambitious target but we can only achieve this by working closely and in partnership with the organisations and people that we work with,” he said.

Idriss Kathrada, associate director at Novasirhe – CINOV Federation and a member of the FIDIC sustainable development committee, reflected on whether current methods of measurement, benchmarking and reporting were sufficient to meet the ambitious net zero targets that were being pursued globally. “A company that works on renewable energy will be working differently from a company that is engaged in the area of energy efficiency and we need to recognise this when we align targets and benchmarks,” he said. Different clients and organisations in the industry were committing to different targets and this would make benchmarking and charting progress more challenging, said Kathrada.

Peter Guthrie, professor of engineering for sustainable development at the University of Cambridge, highlighted the urgency of the task facing the world. “Are we doing enough to tackle climate change? No, we are not doing enough,” he said. Given that universities, academics and current students will be key to meeting the challenges of net zero, courses and approaches would need to change, Guthrie said and some of that change might be painful and difficult to achieve. “We cannot do what we have always done to get to net zero, we have to build less and change business models,” he said. It was time for ‘developed’ countries to take more responsibility for historic actions and behaviours, said Guthrie. “We also need to have a different conversation about what it is we want from young engineers – that would drive real change,” Guthrie claimed. “Shifting to something other than business as usual is vital and we need to engender a more radicalised view from professionals about what is needed,” he said.

Collins Kibira, civil engineer at Queensland and Leeds Consulting Engineers, said that it was obvious that the future leaders of the industry would be crucial in achieving net zero as they had an even greater personal stake in achieving success. Behavioural change would be necessary at every level to meet the ambitious targets around net zero, he said, and alongside this, education needed to adapt to ensure that future engineers were equipped with the skills and knowledge to adapt to new and developing challenges. Kibira said that COP 26would be a really important event in raising greater awareness around net zero but that the sector needed to improve its influence and presence at such events in order to ensure that its voice was heard.

At the end of the webinar, FIDIC chief executive Dr Nelson Ogunshakin asked all the speakers whether the industry should be more vocal on client change with politicians to get the industry’s message across. All the participants gave a resounding “yes” to the question, but the need to engage wider stakeholders like the financial sector and clients on a global scale as they were also massively influential.

Click here to download the latest FIDIC State of the World report, Net zero – what next?

The next FIDIC online event is a webinar, Sustainable infrastructure investment needs and challenges: ‘Partnership with purpose’ - working with the international financial institutions, which takes place on Tuesday 16 November at 12 noon CET. Please register your place as soon as possible to secure your place at this free event.

Click here to book your free place at “Partnership with purpose - working with the international financial institutions”.

Watch the launch webinar recording on the link below.

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