Cooperation key to climate leadership.


What does climate collaboration really mean? We asked industry leaders at the Global Leadership Forum Summit for their views.

There are two things that much of the infrastructure industry can agree on. One is that climate change needs tackling – and tackling fast. The other is that collaboration will be needed to achieve that. But collaboration can take many forms and it has to generate outcomes. So what might that look like? 

AECOM’s global lead on ESG advisory, Robert Spencer, is very clear that the scale of the challenge has to inform that collaboration. With around 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by infrastructure and the built environment, he told us that industry has to collectively set the level of ambition. 

In particular, he wants industry to take a lead and agree baseline metrics everyone can work from to address gaps in decarbonisation collectively – such as reducing embodied carbon through different materials, approaches and design principles.

Arriving at practical measures like that will take significant work and leadership at the very top of the industry. It will also require a lot of different kinds of companies to set aside their differences and work together.

To help foster that, industry leaders have formed the Global Leadership Forum, bringing together every part of the infrastructure ecosystem – spanning clients and investors, technology and service providers, designers and builders of assets.  

That group, initiated by international engineering association FIDIC, convened its first summit this spring to dig down into what needed to be done and the FIDIC CEO, Dr Nelson Ogunshakin OBE was clear about the importance of so many leaders agreeing to work together this way. 

Ogunshakin told us that while global problems need global solutions, the major success in bringing so many leaders together was the level of commitment it demonstrated to the collective outcomes debated at the summit to be taken forward.

Those outcomes and the research behind them will to be published in September at the Global Infrastructure Conference in Singapore, and there is little doubt that they matter. 

World Business Council for Sustainable Development executive VP, Diane Holdorf, told us just how important this is. She said that although every business has its own strategy and knows how to operationalise action into its work with clients and projects, things simply won’t change fast enough without collaborative efforts. 

Holdorf explained that if industry doesn’t align on what it means to set the material aspects, define KPIs for measurement, engage capital markets on what great performance looks like and deliver transparent reporting, industry won’t move fast enough.

Such practical steps are vital and they must lead to granular outcomes – with new technologies being adopted, new practices deployed and, ultimately, greater levels of carbon removed from all parts of infrastructure. 

While the Global Leadership Summit opened up conversations and has helped to drive forward collective research outcomes, Professor Peter Guthrie of the University of Cambridge told us that the real impact of such a summit comes after it has finished.  

Guthrie said that discussions had to be carried into action plans, with reviews of progress made over several years to ensure impact. The need for such urgent change in direction is clear and he felt there was now commitment from industry to make it happen.

Of course, while more than 100 leaders from across the infrastructure ecosystem have joined the Global Leadership Forum, there are many others who still need to collaborate on climate change. The same is true for policy-makers who need to create the right conditions for climate solutions, net zero infrastructure and collaborative efforts.

In this regard, leaders have a particular role to play that goes beyond implementing recommendations through their own organisations.  

Catherine Karakatsanis, president-elect of FIDIC, stressed that while visionary leaders can help identify and implement solutions, they must also influence others to adopt those solutions and eventually provide a unified, aligned approach for industry.