Key focus on practical climate action at global leaders’ meeting 

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The latest gathering of FIDIC’s Global Leadership Forum saw infrastructure leaders addressing how the sector can drive faster climate action. 

More than 60 of the infrastructure industry’s global leaders came together today to discuss how the whole sector can set a strategic global direction to decarbonise infrastructure and the built environment.

With COP27 as a backdrop, FIDIC’s Global Leadership Forum discussions around the issue of climate action had a strong focus. The infrastructure industry has often warned that global action has been too slow and there was some concern that geo-political and national governance remain blockers to meeting climate ambitions.

However, the group also suggested that by acting strategically and collaboratively, the infrastructure industry that spans finance, owners, designers and builders of infrastructure assets, can help influence governments on what is possible, while also putting a better focus on shorter term impact to prove action can achieve quick results over the next few years.

Decarbonomics
The industry leaders who gathered online heard from Stuart McLaren, director of net zero infrastructure at SNC-Lavalin, who talked about the development of their Decarbonomics solution which uses machine learning to help provide optimisable decarbonisation pathways for assets.

One of the key aspects to this approach is to take real data to project the impact of different actions via a three-stage ‘deliver, roadmap and benchmark’ process that continues to update and inform decision-makers over time.

Data-driven decarbonisation is one that the industry has highlighted as an important step forward. It will be crucial for making the case for action throughout the whole supply chain, both in new build and existing structures. It also has the potential to help asset owners make strategic decisions on when to demolish and replace old assets, or when modernisation has sufficient potential for improvement.

Balancing climate action and ESG
Industry leaders then heard from Fuat Savas, managing director and co-head of infrastructure finance and advisory at JP Morgan, about the need to rethink ESG and make some tough decisions about what it means to companies.

There was a long-term reason to bring ESG together in a risk management context – helping to avoid environmental, social or governance risks were not too significant to hold back investment. However, this does not necessarily make them compatible with each other as a measure of general positive impact, Savas said.

One example of this quoted by Savas was Tesla’s safety problems with driverless cars, which saw them removed from top ESG tables despite being a global leader in promoting electric vehicles. Indeed, there are often no right answers. The deployment of solar panels to replace coal-powered electricity, can in some places cause some degree of habitat loss. So, decision-makers have to decide what the ‘E’ in ESG means to them as they decide what to prioritise, and what goals to set.

White paper on global low carbon infrastructure
Peter Oosterveer, group CEO of Arcadis and member of the GLF advisory board told the assembled industry leaders that the Global Leadership Forum had begun a piece of work through one of its think tanks to draw up a white paper to consider design guidelines when applying scope 3 carbon emissions, with a focus on downstream activities. This would cover the entire value chain of the infrastructure sector.

A key aim for this work will be to help companies to not only decarbonise themselves but to decarbonise the assets they design, build and manage – noting that the carbon emitted by infrastructure over its lifetime far outweighs the carbon involved in designing and building it.

While there are some competing initiatives on the subject of infrastructure decarbonisation, this work by the GLF may be the first such paper to be drawn up by a group spanning every part of the industry – designers, contractors, owners, advisors and investors. It therefore aims to provide relevant materials, case studies and best practices relevant to the whole industry acting together.

The GLF has been clear, however, that this white paper will not produce another new set of standards. Instead, it will look at how standards are best achieved and how successful outcomes are measured.

The feedback received from attendees at the meeting today will be built upon by other industry consultation to develop a document that the whole industry can embrace and use in a practical way going forward.