“Climate outcomes will require funding for learning and skills adaptation” Mark Naysmith, WSP

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WSP’s chief executive officer for UK & EMEA tells Infrastructure Global that industry must work with government, implement sustainable solutions for the future, and help address the rapid skills transition needed to address climate change.

Few industries will be able to turn the commitments made at COP26 into action quite like engineers working in the built environment and infrastructure sectors. We’ve spoken with Mark Naysmith (MN), chief executive officer, UK & EMEA, at WSP about what needs to happen next.

IG: At COP26, the UN asked countries to move forward with ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. What needs to happen now, to ensure industry can turn those targets into actions?

MN: “Governments must set ambitious targets with a clear roadmap and incentives for implementation which industry can deliver on as part of the national Net Zero journey.”

“The UK Government has now published its Net Zero Strategy which provides a structured plan to support the landmark 2019 net zero legislation. It gives clarity to industry about what is required in the coming years to cut carbon emissions, and the scale of what is needed can only be achieved through a partnership between Government, industry and the public. Usefully, as part of that strategy a sector-by-sector breakdown with associated emissions reduction targets was provided which will support industry efforts to decarbonise.”

“Specific actions which would support industry to deliver upon emissions reductions targets include regulation and mandatory requirements for whole life carbon across industry, as well as greater financial support for sectors facing competition risks, particularly heavy industries such as cement and chemicals.”

“climate finance should be prioritised on supporting the basic needs of society and in building the capacity for a sustainable and resilient recovery.” Mark Naysmith

IG: The UN has also warned that our climate is already changing and will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with potentially devastating effects. What needs to be done to better ensure adaptation and resilience is achieved – especially for some of the poorest communities most effected?

MN: “Whilst urgent action is required to achieve net zero emissions, adaptation and resilience are just as vital as mitigation action in tackling climate change – they are two halves of the same coin.”

“A greater focus on achieving resilience is essential in order to support and nurture communities to recover quickly and adapt to changing circumstances through designing, building and integrating new future-proofed solutions.”

“A greater acknowledgement of the need to manage significant people movements, displacement and migration, and support for community integration, especially in cities, is vital.”

IG: The UN has emphasised that to deliver on the first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year. How can industry help to ensure international financial institutions and governments feel confident that this money will secure the most effective outcomes?

MN: “To ensure that 1.5-degree trajectory is maintained, climate finance should be prioritised on supporting the basic needs of society and in building the capacity for a sustainable and resilient recovery. For example, investment in water infrastructure reduces water shortage from poorly maintained systems and leads to better community resilience to droughts.”

“Significant work is required on project preparation and pipeline development, which means the requisite skills must be developed and deployed quickly across global regions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.”

“transformational change is needed within industry and businesses for them to play their full part in reaching the 2050 net zero target.” Mark Naysmith

IG: And the UN has stressed that we can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together. What can be done to better demonstrate that a culture of collaboration is productive for governments, clients, contractors and supply chains?

MN: “Collaboration between Government, industry, businesses and communities and an appreciation of their relative roles is vital in tackling the urgent climate crisis.”

“Whilst national policy and regulatory frameworks will set the stage for change, industry must apply expertise and innovation to design, engineer and implement sustainable solutions for the future.”

“In the UK, it is increasingly understood that transformational change is needed within industry and businesses for them to play their full part in reaching the 2050 net zero target. There has to be a determined focus on removing the embodied and operational carbon from all projects, and ensuring confidence in integrating sustainable solutions in the supply chain as the default modus operandi.”

“The quickest win will be to reduce the demand and waste associated with energy consumption” Mark Naysmith

IG: Finally, as an industry, we need to offer tangible solutions and point the way to achieving better outcomes. Climate change risks exacerbating gender economic and social inequality, so what can our industry do to demonstrate that gender-balanced outcomes can be achieved with the right projects, approaches and thinking?

MN: “The energy transition must be fair and Governments must provide clarity on support for the transition to affordable green energy. A clear and honest conversation with the public on the cost and benefit of solutions, such as heat pumps, is essential. This must also be accompanied by meaningful investment in appropriate green skills and jobs. Without rapid and enhanced funding for learning and skills adaptation, achievement of positive outcomes will be greatly impaired.”

“As an example, the UK Government recently set out clearly in its Heat & Buildings Strategy the huge importance of decarbonising heat in buildings and the role this will play in delivering net zero by 2050. Decarbonising heat in both residential and commercial properties will be a cornerstone of the national transition to net zero given its current contribution of over one-fifth of the UK’s total annual emissions.”

“The quickest win will be to reduce the demand and waste associated with energy consumption, as less demand is required where a property is adequately insulated.”