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Mark McKenna

Global Sustainability Director

Policymakers, businesses and community groups are convening in Dubai for COP28 against the backdrop of peak skepticism on our ability to steer our planet toward a more sustainable future.

For the skeptics, there’s an embarrassment of opportunities to entrench their position. In many cases, it’s tough to argue with the examples that highlight the perilous position our world is in:

  • The updated Planetary Boundary framework shows that human activities are pushing Earth conditions to the brink, with six of nine boundaries under extreme stress [1].
  • Global emissions from buildings and construction continue to rise year on year, with sector emissions increasing 5% between 2020 and 2022. The sector is considered to have the greatest potential to reach net zero by 2050 yet is currently not on track [2].
  • The loss of nature is accelerating at a rapid rate, and species populations have now declined by an average of 69% over a span of 50 years [3].
  • The energy transition remains underfunded, requiring a massive $35 trillion investment by 2030 to have a chance of reaching the 2050 net zero goals [4].
  • Many of the world’s poorest nations are already unable to cope with the effects of climate change on their societies and communities.

Conversely, there’s equal opportunity for those committed to taking on the world’s issues, to rally behind and keep pushing forward. Putting aside doubts surrounding COP28, its incumbent on businesses to look at the real issues and focus is likely to land, and most importantly – how the business community can join forces to take collective action. COP28 President-Designate, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, echoes this in his mandate, calling on participants to bring a ‘business mindset’ to negotiations.

As a build on the agenda set by the COP28 presidency, key themes have emerged: tripling renewables investment as part of an accelerated, equitable, just transition; aligning and decarbonizing agriculture and food systems; valuing and directing investment in nature to tackle climate change; and, pushing for faster decarbonization of the built environment, infrastructure and associated heavy industries.

In partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and trusted partners including the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), Arcadis has been working tirelessly with other WBCSD members to shape our collective messaging, commitments and actions on key issues. Here are some of the actions, championed by our business leaders:

  • Collaborating to decarbonize the built environment. Arcadis, led by our CEO, Alan Brookes, has hosted and participated in the cross-sector Global Action Agenda for Built Environment Market Transformation sessions during New York Climate Week. These sessions serve as a platform to bring together stakeholders from the private sector across the entire value chain, as well as policymakers and shapers [5].
  • Supporting the green industrialization and energy transition. We are partnering with heavy industry sector clients to develop more efficient, alternative technologies that contribute to the clean energy transition toward achieving net zero. Our work is underpinned by our industry leadership in this area, most recently highlighted through our collaboration with WBCSD to publish a guide titled ‘How to align hydrogen investments with a 1.5°C pathway’ [6].
  • Leading the path to decarbonizing the infrastructure sector. Under the guidance of our Global President for Mobility, Greg Steele, and in collaboration with FIDIC and our peers at Ramboll, Arcadis has led the decarbonization of global infrastructure projects. This effort is highlighted in the newly released ‘Decarbonisation of the infrastructure sector’ report [7]. It provides best practices for consulting engineers and contractors throughout the whole life cycle stages of global infrastructure projects.
  • Leading our sector in the valuation and integration of nature-positive outcomes into our projects. Arcadis has been involved in various partnerships to advance nature-positive approaches. We have collaborated with fellow WBCSD members to develop a comprehensive roadmap titled ‘Roadmap to Nature Positive: Foundations for the built environment system’ [8]. Additionally, we have participated in the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) early mover pilot program.
  • Tackling inequality as a fundamental consideration in the transition to net zero. In collaboration with our WBCSD members, Arcadis has been part of an expert committee tasked with outlining key actions to tackle inequality in business. This effort is championed by our CEO, Alan Brookes, who serves as one of the committee commissioners. The launch of the world's first Business Case for Tackling Inequality (BCTI) report set in motion a movement within our membership to take tangible action to reduce inequality through business ventures [9].

COP28 has the potential to be a watershed moment for our planet, and businesses can play a central role in providing the support, collaboration, investment and solutions needed to re-chart our world toward a more sustainable future. Arcadis, alongside our like-minded clients and peers, is committed to leading the charge from the business sector.

[1] Six of nine planetary boundaries now exceeded (Globe Institute, 2023)

[2] Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction (UNEP, 2022)

[3] Living Planet Report (WWF, 2022)

[4] Investment Needs of USD 35 trillion by 2030 for Successful Energy Transition (IRENA, 2023)

[5] Building a global action agenda for built environment market transformation (WBCSD, 2023)

[6] How to align hydrogen investments with a 1.5°C pathway (WBCSD, 2023)

[7] Decarbonisation of the infrastructure sector (FIDIC, 2023)

[8] Roadmap to Nature Positive: Foundations for the built environment system (WBCSD, 2023)

[9] Tackling inequality: Arcadis’ mission to put human rights at the core of business (Arcadis, 2023)