Atkins CEO: Climate action must now be at break-neck speed


As COP27 targets outcomes, Atkins UK and Europe CEO Richard Robinson (RR) says focus must be on proven solutions that can be deployed at scale.  

IG: As COP 27 focuses attention on practical climate actions and outcomes, are we making sufficient progress on meeting global and local ambitions for decarbonisation?

RR: “Globally, there remains a significant gap between net zero goals and progress against them. This decade is critical if we are to meet our net zero goals, but we need to accelerate at break-neck speed to make sufficient progress across buildings, energy, transportation and industry in the next seven years.

“Few countries are on track to meet interim targets. For example, by 2030, Canada aims to reduce its emission levels by 40-45% but is yet to make significant progress against them in most industries. Our recent report into the UK’s 2035 power decarbonisation target found that the rate of generation capacity being built each year must increase five-fold.

“The scale of the engineering challenge to deliver on our climate goals can’t be over-stated, from the decarbonisation of power systems to significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the 80% of our existing built environment that will still be standing in 2050.

“From both a global and regional perspective, we need to move at pace if we are to meet net zero targets and build the resiliency required for a changing climate. That means an immediate focus on proven solutions that can be deployed at scale, a rapid increase in the development of new technologies, and a coordinated approach to decarbonisation if we are to limit the very worst effects of climate change.”

IG: Who or what are the key barriers or ‘blockers’ to faster climate action?

RR: “Faster climate action can only be achieved through credible policies and long-term certainty. The direction of travel has been set: we now need the frameworks that will deliver investment and allow industry to develop the engineering solutions to achieve climate goals.

“This is a global transition; alongside a concerted international effort is an international demand for skills, materials and resources to engineer net zero. Long term certainty will provide the right signals to investors but also ensure global supply chains and production rates ramp up and mobilise to meet unprecedented levels of demand.”

IG: How important is it that we establish comprehensive and trusted carbon calculation across every part of the infrastructure industry?

RR: “Decarbonisation must be underpinned by data. Data – and the insight it provides us – enables us to make sound decisions throughout the entire lifecycle of assets.

“Traditionally, our industry has struggled to see carbon as clearly as cost: making it visible during the design and construction process is vital to ensure the carbon impact of every decision is understood.

“The technology to do this already exists – BIM models and Digital Twins are increasingly commonplace – but ensuring carbon is front and centre in decision-making at every project-level is vital: using data and projected scenarios to calculate the carbon footprint throughout the whole lifecycle of assets and create scenarios to optimise how we design, build and repurpose infrastructure to manage embedded carbon and reduce emissions.”

IG: What is the single most significant action available to industry to achieve climate ambitions?

RR: “Greater collaboration is a cornerstone of the way our industry can best contribute to engineering a better planet and is something we must collectively and individually strive towards.

“Collaboration across sectors and industry can make significant gains in productivity, cost reduction and delivery: the scale of the engineering challenge required to deliver net zero means delivering projects and time and on budget will be vital to maintain momentum. A commitment to greater data standardisation and sharing with other parties through common standards and open sources can reduce risk, improve compliance and deliver greater efficiency.

“No one organisation can deliver such a widescale infrastructure programme, but collectively we can create seamless supply chains, single sources of truth and sector-wide commitments to work together to tackle climate ambitions in the most productive, efficient and cost-effective way.”