Chairman of the China International Contractors Association details the vital collective path being taken towards sustainable and resilient global infrastructure.
The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, the first world conference to make the environment a major issue, declared 26 principles, placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries on the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water, and oceans and the well-being of people around the world.
Over the last 20 years, countries have been acting locally and collectively as an international community to ensure that the conservation and sustainable use of the environment leads to sustainable growth. Many countries have laid out a clear agenda to support green, clean and resilient infrastructure as they pursue economy development.
China has made it clear that the Belt and Road Initiative will be built into a green road, integrating China’s vision and successful experience of green development, sharing the opportunities of green development, and encouraging countries around the world to form a community with a shared future for mankind linked by green development.
Infrastructure and environment
We live in this globalising world where countries are increasingly integrated across various dimensions – economic, political, cultural, and environmental. We recognise that all economies, particularly developing and under-developed ones, still need infrastructure for income-producing and employment-solving opportunities in a sustainable way. While infrastructure is often credited with increases in economic growth, globalisation and livelihood improvement, it’s not without its discontents.
“The World Environment Day is the voice of environment, calling us, the infrastructure industry, to act as catalyst, advocator, educator and facilitator” Fang Qiuchen
Some organisations, governments and communities have been expressing that there has been notable progress of infrastructure in levelling up development and people’s livelihood, less progress has been seen in managing the environment sustainably. Concerns and criticism arise. Notably, infrastructure require huge amounts of energy to run, which contributes to GHG emissions. Other blames are construction dust, light pollution, construction noise, sewage discharge, construction waste reuse, water resources consumption, land saving and construction land protection, etc.
Infrastructure does not necessitate environmental degradation. Some infrastructures related industrialisation, urbanisation, and inadequate waste management, shoulder the responsibility to improve livelihood and reduce poverty. In most cases, infrastructure are designed and built to be a friend and protector of the environment. Whereas we must admit that some infrastructure projects have imposed intensified environmental health risks and pollution.
Movement towards sustainability has been seen in infrastructure sectors. Many countries are calling for green infrastructure to play a bigger role in traditional infrastructure planning. Green projects aim to reduce the environmental impact over their lifespan by targeting water-saving and energy-efficient initiatives such as smart meters and LED lighting in green building, and low-carbon transport solutions.
“Through effective social inclusion policies, countries and communities are better prepared to protect the vulnerable environment. With more resilient infrastructure, relief efforts can be executed more swiftly” FANG Qiuchen
Green infrastructure can be cheaper and more resilient than the grey equivalents. It can produce substantial benefits beyond what the balance sheets measure, help meet the infrastructure investment gap in a cost-effective manner, while lifting up local communities with benefits in their backyards. And, in doing so, they can bring communities and economies together to find common strategies to tackle climate change.
And as more financing is made available via Paris Agreement-aligned initiatives, we can expect further developments for green infrastructure as efforts intensify to mitigate the effects of climate change.
In addition to mitigation measures, there is also a growing need to address the consequences of climate change. Natural hazards-earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms-continue to cause significant loss of life and economic damage. Cities and Small Island Developing States are also particularly vulnerable. Due to the risk of extreme weather, and the reality of longer-term shifts and variability in weather patterns caused by global warming, adaptation projects aim to strengthen the resilience of buildings, critical infrastructure (such as transportation), and, principally, communities.
Thus climate resilience is now integrated into urban planning and infrastructure development. Through effective social inclusion policies, countries and communities are better prepared to protect the vulnerable environment. With more resilient infrastructure, relief efforts can be executed more swiftly and huge economic expenditure at the cost of the community can hopefully be avoided.
Generating renewable energy creates far lower emissions than burning fossil fuels. Transitioning from fossil fuels, which currently account for a big share of emissions, to renewable energy, is the key to addressing the climate crisis.
“From the very beginning, environmental due diligence, risk assessment and environmental monitoring, location background and its surrounding area should all be paid attention to” Fang Qiuchen
Renewables are now cheaper in most countries. With more climate-friendly technologies under development, renewable energy investment is expected to hug opportunities. Meanwhile, it is necessary to build adjustable and flexible power sources such as pumped storage power stations, and steadily push forward the developing of hydrogen energy.
In order to manage the environmental protection in the implementation of international projects, companies in the development process of international engineering projects, shall adhered to the concept of sustainable development.
From the very beginning, environmental due diligence, risk assessment and environmental monitoring, location background and its surrounding area should all be paid attention to. Local environmental protection laws and regulations, special requirements of local residents for environmental resources, natural and social environment of the project location, especially historical and cultural heritage, scenic spots, folk customs and natural environment protection areas, etc., are details to be looked into.
Process management is essential. Based on the actual situation, environmental factor identification and evaluation according to different operating areas (including office area, living area, construction site area, etc.) should be carried out regularly.
“a green future needs collective efforts from every player involved in the infrastructure industry, investors, engineering companies, contractors, equipment manufacturers, telecommunication solution suppliers and operators” Fang qiuchen
The green development of global infrastructure depends also on the application of new technologies such as big data, cloud computing and the internet. Technological innovation will drive the construction of new green infrastructure, facilitate energy conservation, emission reduction and green development of the whole industrial chain.
Climate change and environmental degradation are an existential threat to the world. The need for transition to green and low carbon economies has put forward tremendous challenges and opportunities for infrastructure investment that underpins economic development. To achieve sustainable growth, better natural resource management, environmentally-friendly fiscal policies, greener financial markets, and effective waste management programmes are needed globally.
And a green future needs collective efforts from every player involved in the infrastructure industry, investors, engineering companies, contractors, equipment manufacturers, telecommunication solution suppliers and operators. It is every party’s responsibility to help their customers carry on construction projects with lower carbon emissions, higher fuel efficiency and energy flexibility.
Green transition of infrastructure will nurture new industries and markets. MDBs and other financial institutions have regarded them as potential investor sources for crowding in private sector financing and explored new modalities of engagement that can support green transition of infrastructure.
At the 12th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum (IIICF), the annual infrastructure gala held by CHINCA in Macao China, Sir Danny Alexander, Vice President & Corporate Secretary, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) called for joint efforts in financing the green projects to help revive the economy. He advocated that financing partnership is crucial for infrastructure projects that support green transition. Not only investors are shifting to green infrastructure and energy projects, there are also increasing change of policies by MDBs, ECAs and commercial banks to adopt green finance principles. Also, there has been an increasing trend for Chinese and other large EPC contractors to also seek investor stakeholder opportunities in project financing, which may generate a significant impact on the development of a project financing business models. A community with a shared future for mankind linked by green development is to be formed.
The World Environment Day is the voice of environment, calling us, the infrastructure industry, to act as catalyst, advocator, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment.
You can read a little about some of the practical guidance that CHINCA has put in place, here.