FIDIC president: “Engineers need to step up and take a lead role”

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We interview Tony Barry, president of international engineering body, FIDIC, as they launch a global Climate Change Charter for engineers, companies and projects.  

With a pressing need to speed up the world’s response to climate change, FIDIC president Tony Barry (TB) sets out the crucial leadership role that the engineering sector must take. 

IG: How does the role of engineers translate for climate change, and how do we harness that role to get to the outcomes the world needs to see?

TB: That’s a very good question. I think we have the context at the moment that the IPCC report has dramatically changed the outlook for everybody. And that brings on an urgency and a need to mobilise the engineering world.

Consulting engineers have been working very diligently and successfully for the last 20 years to improve the sustainability of our infrastructure and our built environment, and have done so quite successfully. But now we are facing a situation where we need to address decarbonisation quite quickly. We really do not have a lot of time.

So we are in situation where engineers need to step up and take a lead role to understand climate science, to understand how to decarbonise projects throughout the whole of their lifecycle, and to communicate the implications of climate change to our leaders, scientists, politicians, communities, businesses, and professional institutions.

To be able to do that, engineers have a huge amount of work that they can do, and will no doubt do, to redefine standards and to target if you like, the sorts of carbon emission reductions that we’re looking for. So that is a number one a huge opportunity.

The second element for me is that everybody is looking to electricity generation to replace fossil fuels. And on the one hand, that’s a fantastic objective and we can move towards clean green energy without question. However, by doing things like moving to electric vehicles, the demand for electrical power will increase quite dramatically. And that that demand is going to apply significant pressure on our generation assets and our transmission assets.

So we also have a task. At the same time as dealing with infrastructure more generally, we have to really beef up the capacity and the sustainability of our energy assets.

IG:  So, what are the kind of the key strategic actions we have to take to ensure that this happens?

TB: There are quite a number and I would say it has to be a tremendous collaboration between our universities, our engineering institutions and the practitioners. That collaboration is going to be vital to enable us to research, understand and use new materials and to produce materials in a different way with lower emissions. Hat will then help us design for zero emissions or lower emission alternatives. So that that challenge is quite significant.

Consulting engineers also need to address and take on board nature based solutions, which are going to enable absorption of greenhouse gases within their projects so that we’re looking at a holistic approach to our projects.

And lastly, I guess, we need to look at the whole of the lifecycle of an asset of any sort and reduce, manage and recycle waste so that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions more generally. But it is going to require a fundamental collaboration between our universities, professional institutions and the practitioners and that’s where FIDIC can take a lead role from a global perspective in assisting consulting engineers to move forward with these initiatives.

IG: So, with an international trade body like FIDIC, which represents 40,000 companies worldwide, what is its role in supporting those companies and facilitating the right decision making to get the results the world wants to see.

TB: FIDIC has been involved in the sustainability space for many, many years, and it’s actually one of our fundamental objectives. We have a sustainability development committee that has great expertise, great talent, and has a far-reaching approach to sustainability.

That committee has been tasked with developing the climate change charter in the first instance, and that is just the start of our new journey. The committee will develop guidelines for industry, it will go down a path of collaborating and providing a forum in which the best ideas can be shared right across the globe. It will also make resources available as best it can for consulting firms right across the world, through our member associations, through whom we will also be pushing out as much as we possibly can to assist them in their own countries to support the industry locally with the sustainability agenda. And of course, through our FIDIC training affiliate Academy, we will provide training opportunities for engineers.

Now, all of these things are important and we will need to work with our contracts committee to look at embedding sustainability requirements into our contracts. They’re already there included in one form but we are now of the view that needs further development. And we will also focus on developing project metrics, which will ensure that projects are sustainable throughout the whole of their life, and hopefully come up with a system which assists people to measure the performance of the project in terms of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions.

So there is a significant body of work to be done. And FIDIC collaborate right across the industry to enable that to happen.

IG: So for companies and individuals who want to get involved in the climate charter and sign up to its commitments, what does it represent, and how can they go about it?

TB: Well, FIDIC have set up a specific website to enable member associations, companies, projects and individuals to sign up to the chatter and to join us in the commitment that we’re asking for from the industry. They can do that by going to our new website on this particular subject, www.ClimateChangeCharter.world. And they’ll be able to sign up on that website.