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The development of new technology and innovation in policy, finance and governance has enabled the deployment at scale of solutions that are supporting large scale decarbonisation of some of the highest emitting sectors. This is enabling governments around the world to seriously commit to Net Zero goals. The UK Government will adopt the 78% reduction in carbon emissions target by 2035 on the advice of the Climate Change Committee, while the US vowed to cut its emissions by at least 50% by 2030.
The Climate Change Committee has set out the challenge to take advantage of the reduction in the costs of key technologies. We need practical implementation and delivery at scale of existing technologies, but there is still plenty for climate innovators to target as we seek to drive out emissions across the economy. The inclusion of aviation and shipping in the UK targets provides an opportunity to build on strengths in this sector and showcase the development and deployment of new technology and capability that can be used globally.
As policy objectives for Net Zero becomes increasingly certain and countries around the world commit to stronger targets, the market for new innovations becomes larger and stronger. It will not just be those that can offer a low carbon alternative that will gain advantage, but it is those that provide solutions that are cheaper and more competitive than any alternative. We are already reaping the benefits of offshore wind, for instance, which has attracted significant, long-term investment that is driving systemic change, and importantly poses a cheaper solution than its carbon intensive alternative.
In 2009 I was involved with a project with DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs), looking at innovation within transport – particularly the barriers to low carbon passenger vehicles. We engaged industry with a series of workshops looking at possible adoption of electric and hydrogen vehicles. The expectation then was that it would be a decade before we would be able to see electric vehicles adopted in any serious way and that limitations in charging and capacity would mean their use would be limited. Some of the challenges remain but we have also seen significant disruption in that time. Last year, in a historic step, the Government brought forward the commitment to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030. We are seeing new models, decreased purchasing costs and new driving experiences being included – as well as a huge acceleration in the roll out of electric charging infrastructure. So clearly governments want to go further in policy and legislation where they can and those leading the way take advantage.
Of course, getting to Net Zero means identifying and tackling emissions across the economy. As we decarbonise the grid and electrify the transport network it is perhaps in the production of products and materials, particularly in industries that are harder to abate, where some of the biggest opportunities lie. Whilst delivering the low carbon infrastructure of the future the construction industry is also key to taking on these challenges. With 8% of global emission attributed to the production of cement and 7% in the production of steel it is easy to see why. These materials and others are vital for the industry, but their emissions cannot be ignored.
Many will point to the advances we have made through improved material resource efficiency and the technology that has been developed to substitute materials, for example, but this will only get us so far. The question is how to take advantage of the strategy set out by Government and strategically innovate, taking complementary actions across the value chain. Our industry is used to adapting to a changing policy landscape, to adopting new models of funding & finance and working in complex and collaborative structures that also enables and encourages competition. If set the right challenge on these topics, we will respond, finding the practical solutions. We need teams that can identify these opportunities, make every penny count, manage costs, and deliver at the scale and speed needed to meet this challenge.
So how do we bring low-carbon principles into all projects? The role of consultants is important here in construction and infrastructure, and they need to be brought in early enough and given the opportunity to identify how to incorporate Net Zero solutions within a project’s very core. Consultants need to consider how procurement could provide opportunities to take risks and explore options to drive down carbon emissions in the sector and engage the supply chain. Larger consultants with a global presence can also bring in global knowledge. After all, countries across the world are facing similar challenges so this is an opportunity to share and engage.
COP26, which is set to take place in Glasgow this year, will present an opportunity for parties to showcase what is possible and for governments to be bold in their ambition, double down on the need to accelerate the practical implementation of what is working whilst inspiring and supporting the innovation that will get us to Net Zero.
There needs to be an environment that enables organisations to foster new ideas and run with them. Arcadis is proud to be supporting the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre in Scotland and to be working with leading clients who are seeking to take every opportunity to reduce emissions. And recently, Arcadis was appointed by Leicester City Council to deliver what is thought to be the UK’s first carbon-neutral bus station. More than ever before, organisations need to think about how to reinvent the way we do things and build the infrastructure to support that.
It is crucial that there is public engagement in its widest sense, including customers, stakeholders and citizens engaging with the topic and wanting it to be a priority. There will also be an evolving skillset required as these innovations continue to emerge. Data will be at the heart of this to get better insights and determine solutions quicker than ever before, particularly around areas like optimising decision making and understanding carbon emission profiles. The skills required to deliver new innovations will indeed evolve but it is about continuing to have an inquisitive mindset and willingness to share, learn, engage and connect with peers – because no one wins unless we all do when it comes to climate change.
Ultimately, we need climate innovators and those that can implement change at scale. We need to be able to set long-term objectives and take risks and continue to innovate in the way we deliver to capitalise on the successful technology innovations. Above all, we need to take practical steps to implement what works at scale and target the hard to abate sectors and products.