Webinar highlights need for nature-positive approach to infrastructure development

21 Nov 2023

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The latest event in FIDIC’s 2023 webinar series took place on 21 November 2023 with a very topical and timely event on nature-positive infrastructure, writes FIDIC communications adviser Andy Walker.

The webinar, Why nature-positive infrastructure needs to become the industry standard, organised by FIDIC’s sustainable development committee and sponsored by infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, FIDIC’s 2023 webinar strategic partner, heard from a number of leading experts from around the world who highlighted why delivering nature-based solutions is a crucial issue for the industry to get a handle on and why nature positive infrastructure needs to become the standard deliverable going forward.

Speakers at the webinar, which was chaired by Tracey Ryan, managing director of Aurecon New Zealand and chair of the FIDIC sustainable development committee, included Evan Freund, senior director for sustainable infrastructure and finance at the WWF (United States), Emily Le Cornu, associate, climate change, sustainability and resilience at AECOM (United Kingdom), Graham Pontin, director of policy, external affairs and communications at FIDIC (United Kingdom) and Robert Spencer, global lead - ESG advisory at AECOM (United Kingdom).

Introducing the webinar, Alfredo Ingletti, FIDIC vice president and chairman and technical director of 3TI Progetti, said: “The issue of nature-positive infrastructure is an important one, particularly as in Europe and elsewhere, new policies and regulations that require disclosures on climate and biodiversity impacts are expected to drive a more robust approach to protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems during infrastructure development.” He said that, working in partnership with the WWF, FIDIC had made an important intervention in this area by developing a playbook for ‘nature-positive’ infrastructure development to help drive change in the sector.

Speaking first, Evan Freund, senior director for sustainable infrastructure and finance at the WWF, said he was happy to be working with FIDIC in an important partnership that is redefining how infrastructure is being thought about and implemented. “Our partnership has probably gone further than either of us first envisaged, which is great to see and shows the power of partnership. The playbook is the initial result of our work and the foundation of a platform that will enable us to advance on the key issues of nature-positive infrastructure,” he said.

Emily Le Cornu, associate for climate change, sustainability and resilience at AECOM, gave an overview of the FIDIC/WWF playbook and highlighted how it came about and how users could find the information they need. “It’s a go-to guide to see what alternative solutions are available rather than the old ‘grey infrastructure’ solutions of the past,” she said. Le Cornu said that the playbook highlighted a number of solutions and benefits from nature-positive infrastructure development in the areas of biodiversity, carbon reduction and resilience. “Our main aim was to present information in multiple ways to make it easier for users to find the information that they need and we will develop and improve this in future iterations of the document,” she said.

Graham Pontin, director of policy, external affairs and communications at FIDIC, said that the playbook had been downloaded extensively and the evidence suggests that it has been widely received by the industry. “The scale of the net zero challenge is a significant one and that is why FIDIC has produced a number of publications to help support the industry. The playbook is a key part of that and it will evolve as we move forward to become a ‘living’ document to help support the industry on its sustainability journey,” said Pontin.

Robert Spencer, global lead for ESG advisory at AECOM, gave a summary of the key findings from the playbook’s literature review and review of projects and also outlined the next steps for the initiative. “Nature’s time has come and it’s only right that we are taking the initiative and incorporating it into our day-to-day engineering work,” he said. He said that the key message of the playbook was that nature-positive infrastructure was high on the industry’s agenda, but more needed to be done to highlight good examples of where natural systems had been embedded throughout the lifecycle of projects. “We are at the start of a journey,” said Spencer, where there would be challenges raised but also opportunities to be grasped.

Spencer said there was a lot of interest in nature-based solutions and he hoped that the playbook would act as a practical guide for practitioners and the wider industry to find out more about the solutions which were out there and which had been successful. The playbook would be augmented and expanded in the future with the inclusion of practical solutions which were successful, making a difference and which had been evidenced in the real world.

During the Q&A session and panel discussion, the webinar explored a number of issues, including the key challenge of how nature-based solution concepts can be applied in emerging economies, where the main need is the provision of infrastructure, not necessarily concerned on the environmental impact. Addressing this important question, panellists said that it was encouraging to see that the international development banks were now stipulating a nature-positive approach on the projects that they fund but this also needed to be backed up by adequate training and capacity building for those that work on such projects.

With the funding banks, clients and governments now taking a closer look at how infrastructure can be more in tune with nature and the environment, there was also a key opportunity for the industry to bring its expertise to bear, especially as more private finance was leveraged into projects as a result of investments being taken by the funding institutions.

Another issue highlighted in the discussion was the importance of the use of data and developing a common approach to its use. This was a significant challenge and one that could only be addressed by the whole industry working together in partnership with other stakeholders. Given the partnership approach highlighted during the webinar, the industry should be confident that it can overcome this challenge and others as it makes further progress towards nature-positive infrastructure development in the future.

Full webinar recording below

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