Baroness Brown: Scale of climate change challenge poses tough questions for industry


Baroness Brown of Cambridge, member of the UK’s House of Lords, has warned that tackling climate change is not just a big agenda that needs rapid change, but that it raises big challenges for the resilience of infrastructure and those that deliver it.  

Baroness Brown has told global infrastructure leaders that wide-spread electrification, changing weather and the large scale of investment raises questions that the infrastructure leaders need to tackle now.

Speaking at the launch of the new Global Leadership Forum for the infrastructure sector, The Baroness said: “In the UK the parliament has decided to increase the 2050 target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 80% to 100%. That may sound a small change but it has significantly increased the rate at which emissions must reduce and that is true for the whole world under Paris climate change commitments.”

“To reach an 80% reduction in emissions, we needed electrification, with a decarbonised power system, a change in construction materials including more use of wood, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and reforestation. That left us with some emissions remaining, mainly in industry, building heating, heavy transport, aviation, shipping and agriculture. That was something we could tolerate with an 80% reduction in emissions but we can’t for 100% emissions reduction.”

With a significant focus on the energy sector, the Baroness then issued something of a warning for the world.

“Today, in the UK, only 15% of energy-use is electric. But 2050, we will have electrified much more of our energy use, with around 70% of all energy-use being electricity. So the resilience of our electricity system is critical. With our homes and businesses, our communications and our transport becoming dependent on electricity, life would come to a standstill if the infrastructure is not sufficiently reliable.”

Scale of rapid change
In the UK alone, the Baroness said offshore wind needs to rise from 10GW to 100GW, green hydrogen production needs to grow “from almost zero” to the scale of today’s electricity production and that there are almost 30million buildings that need to transition to low-carbon heating. Then she added that electric vehicles will need to rise from around 100,000 to over 30million.

This will lead to a major challenge for the infrastructure industry, which must accommodate a unique scale of change across the world, not just the UK.

“There is going to be growth in infrastructure projects,” she said. “But the design, build and operation will need to be zero-carbon. There will be a really strong focus on how we decarbonise or replace concrete and steel and we need to plan for how we design infrastructure for far greater levels of resilience.”

Failing to achieve this would have dire consequences, and Baroness Brown noted the impact already being felt.

“The last ten years have been the hottest ten years on record and, even if we achieve Net Zero ambitions for the world, the next three decades will each be the hottest decade on record as climate change continues for that period.”

“Worse still, if we do not achieve our Net Zero ambitions, the trend will continue and by the end of this century we could see a 4°C rise in average global temperature.”

This was a dangerous prospect given the tangible impacts being felt from climate change already.

“Wildfires in the USA are now burning more than twice the area they did in the 1970s and changing weather patterns means we are seeing significant variations to crop yields from year to year around the world.”

“We are seeing more flooding and more drought and even in the best circumstances, consequences of climate change will continue to grow until 2050. So we need to adapt existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure that reflects that.”

“The whole world faces this challenge and we need to achieve this in just thirty years. So the scale is unprecedented and represents a new challenge for industry.”

Baroness Brown was speaking at the launch of the new Global Leadership Forum, created by international engineering body FIDIC in partnership with Infrastructure Global. The Forum brings global leaders together as a new source of insight for industry and government around the world.