Net zero: “If the rules don’t work, then they need to change”

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Sustainability is the only way to go and everything needs to support meeting the global net zero targets.

The engineering and construction sector is at the centre of what needs to change to deliver a sustainable agenda for the world, said Dr Uwe Krueger, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Temasek International, but it needed to improve and raise its game to keep up with the pace of change and the urgent need to combat climate change.

Krueger was speaking at a Clients’ perspectives on net zero session at the FIDIC Global Infrastructure Conference in Geneva today which addressed the key role played by clients in the drive towards achieving the UN sustainable development goals, net zero and delivering the climate change agenda.

The session, which was adroitly chaired by Linda Darr, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, also included Abimbola Akinajo, managing director of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, André Schneider, CEO of Geneva Airport, Seong Nyeoh Lee, vice president and head of ESG strategy and management at SK Ecoplant and Kaj Möller, president of Sweco International.

Highlighting the challenged position of an industry that has historically been slow to embrace change, especially in the technology field, Krueger said there was a real need to embrace systems thinking across the industry to avoid it being left behind.

André Schneider, CEO of Geneva Airport, underlined his organisation’s sustainability commitment, telling delegates that all the airport’s buildings built since 2015 produce more energy than they consume.

Schneider said that the aviation sector had a particular responsibility to deliver a net zero future and also made the point that engineers needed to educate and advise clients that being fully committed to sustainability was the only way to go. He also advised the industry and its clients not to get bogged down with rules and regulations. “If the rules don’t work and are not helping then we need to change the rules,” Schneider said.

Abimbola Akinajo, managing director of Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, said that Lagos, a city of 27 million people, was moving towards a mass transportation system for the first time in its history, with a major light rail and railway network construction going on apace.

“The issue for us is integrating our transport systems so that it becomes easier for people to use them. If the transport system works, then the economy works and we build prosperity,” she said. “We are working assiduously in a positive direction and expect it to pay off in terms of sustainability and developing the economy,” Akinajo said.

Seong Nyeoh Lee, vice president and head of ESG strategy and management at SK Ecoplant, said that with the construction sector being one of the most resource intensive industries, it needed to take a lead on sustainability issues. Her company had made sustainability central to its business approach and the very name ‘Ecoplant’ signaled the direction in which they wanted to move.

Kaj Möller, president of Sweco International, highlighted the close collaboration between architects and engineers within Sweco, which he said was a big benefit in delivering sustainable projects. Möller also made the point that, in his view, public sector clients in particular were looking to collaborate more with engineers and other construction professionals on net zero and this was a real opportunity for the industry to lead the way on climate change.

Chairing the session, Linda Darr, president and CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies, expressed a real hope and a degree of confidence that the consulting engineering profession would be well positioned in future to act as a trusted advisor to clients to deliver net zero and a sustainable infrastructure asset base.