Tony Barry: We must ask fundamental questions of ourselves

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FIDIC president challenges industry to rethink the resilience and sustainability of communities as time runs out to limit climate change.

Tony Barry, the new president of international engineering body FIDIC, has told industry that Covid and climate change make the case for a rethink in the infrastructure and engineering sectors.

Speaking at the launch of a new report into sustainable communities and the new ways of thinking needed to achieve them, Tony Barry said: “If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it has shown us that our social engagement has changed. It has taught us that we need to think about and understand our communities, their needs and aspirations – from the youngest to the oldest – and ask some fundamental questions.”

“Global trends until now have been towards greater urbanisation but will that continue? Smart cities have been talked about a lot but will they really be in place in ten years time? This report challenges industry to ask whether we need to change – is the pre-Covid model still applicable? Do future generations see what we do now as sustainable?”

That issue of sustainability is central to the report and Tony Barry made clear the scale of the challenge ahead.

“What we build today will lock in emissions for years to come and the IPCC has made clear that we don’t have time on our side. Governments took the action they needed to tackle the Covid crisis. Sustainability and climate change is no less a crisis and in many ways is a larger one.”

He then suggested that while the hub and spoke model has been valuable until now – especially in sectors like aviation – it may not be good enough in future, asking: “Can we move beyond that? Multicommunal approaches have often shown themselves to be more resilient during Covid.”

Mr Barry was speaking from Melbourne in Australia just one day after the city was hit by an earthquake. Given the resilience needed in such cases, he suggested that the city was coping well.

“Melbourne was shaken not stirred. It was the largest earthquake since European settlement but we are well and, along with our efforts to overcome Covid, we look forward to bouncing back.”

Tony Barry was speaking at the launch of the new report, State of the World: Building sustainable communities in a post-Covid world. The report examines the diverse influences cities exert on sustainability.