Last edited 10 Sep 2021

State of the Nation 2020



[edit] Introduction

On 1 July 2020, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) presented its State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 Net-Zero Target. The official release of the report came only 24 hours after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a government initiative to include infrastructure redevelopment as one of the key facets of its post COVID-19 economic growth strategy.

The 2020 report offers recommendations to help the construction sector - and the country as a whole - move closer to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emission (GHG) benchmarks set for 2050.

[edit] Commentary on the findings

In conjunction with the release of the report, an online discussion provided an overview and offered further insight from industry experts; Keith Howells (Steering Group Chair), Professor Keith Bell (Committee on Climate Change) and Andy Mitchell (Construction Leadership Council). ICE President Paul Sheffield chaired the discussion, which also included recorded messages from Kemi Badenoch (Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury) and Wes Streeting (Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury).

After a brief introduction from President Sheffield, Professor Bell opened the session. He mentioned the 6 May 2020 letter from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) signalling the importance of infrastructure investments in the post COVID-19 recovery and discussed the goal of working towards a circular economy. He also proposed the possible need for new targets along with enforceable zero carbon regulations for the housing and building sectors. Bell stressed the need for investment in the initiative both from government and business.

Keith Howells shared findings of the report which revealed that 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions currently created come from infrastructure. He felt that decarbonising the electricity supply should be a priority and that policy making needed to be stronger. He suggested strategic direction for the built environment could come from the ICE's Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan.

Howells recommended stressing greenhouse gas emission reduction as a key component in procurement, by tracking the carbon footprint of assets and better benchmarking and data collection.

The subject of human behaviour was also raised by Howells, who pointed to a lack of awareness amongst members of the public. He suggested a public information campaign to education people about net-zero targets.

In recognising that achieving the net-zero target is everyone’s responsibility, the ICE surveyed the public about who, and where, changes should be made. Around two thirds of British adults surveyed thought the UK Government (69%) and business (65%) were mainly responsible for reaching the target. Only one third (31%) said they thought the government had a plan to achieve this.

[edit] Official statements

After brief congratulatory messages from Kemi Badenoch, Wes Streeting mentioned that the UK investment bank will have sustainability at its heart. He also released prepared comments stating: “This report should serve as a wake-up call to Government that we will fail to meet our net-zero target unless the Government makes the big decisions now on the long-term infrastructure investment we will need to get us there. The Government’s National Infrastructure Strategy with a green recovery at the heart of it is now long overdue. It’s time for the Chancellor to come forward with a plan to deliver the net-zero infrastructure plan our country needs.”

[edit] A bold approach

Andy Mitchell opened his remarks by suggesting the report can support infrastructure’s reinvention, which must include existing infrastructure. Mitchell suggested looking at the net-zero 2050 target and then working backwards.

While 30 years may seem like a long time, all of the speakers agreed that it’s not all that long for infrastructure. Only 15% of projects will be new and 85% will be retrofits.

Unfortunately, the UK is already failing to meet the less ambitious target of 80% reduction by 2050, so action to make significant changes in infrastructure delivery must happen now.

Bell reiterated this sense of urgency. He said the industry must influence policy and press for coordination amongst all aspects of government - transport, economy, communications and so on.

Howells agreed, suggesting that actions can be small scale and local, but stressed that something needs to be done. He stated that this is “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recalibrate the economy and create systemic and wholesale change to the infrastructure ecosystem.”

Mitchell suggested this would be the ideal time to change design standards that are wasteful and obsolete because they are based on outdated technology. He also felt it was time to change attitudes towards risk and for engineers to adopt a “we can do this” mindset. It is time for members of the profession to be bold.

[edit] Accessing the full report

A copy of the full report can be found here.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

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