Infrastructure is central to addressing the climate crisis, with around 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions the result of infrastructure construction and use.1 Happily, organizations in the industry are beginning to shoulder responsibility and move from words to deeds.
Even if politicians had achieved consensus at COP26 (which they didn’t) and agreed on practical goals (which they didn’t), people have lost patience with talk; they are hankering for action. The annual COP negotiations are not without value. COP26 brought renewed global attention and a slew of new commitments. It forced politicians and nations a little bit closer to consensus. It reinforced the direction of travel for policy makers. But it also illustrated the limitations of global consensus-based decision making. What is needed, and what we are beginning to see, is leadership.
In 2021, the infrastructure sector began to convene around the actions that need to be taken to decarbonize the industry. We saw numerous initiatives in the industry attract huge support, like the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Carbon Project. Many infrastructure owners published net zero strategies, and growing numbers of start-ups are nurturing technology solutions on everything from direct air capture to the decarbonization of cement.
This year, the industry’s focus on net zero will grow exponentially. It will become unacceptable for any company in the sector to fail to engage. Suppliers will find themselves frozen-out of tenders if they cannot evidence their net zero efforts. Huge amounts of private capital is likely to flow into the most promising technology solutions, and businesses will compete aggressively for the best climate talent.
Hand-in-hand with the path to net zero will be the quest for infrastructure resilience. 2021 provided a catalogue of unhappy evidence (most notably ferocious wildfires in multiple regions around the world) that the effects of climate change will be severe regardless of the actions belatedly being taking today. Infrastructure is not only the most responsible for climate change and most accountable for its mitigation, but also most exposed to its effects. The costs of strengthening, protecting, relocating, and rebuilding infrastructure are likely to rise inexorably through 2022 and beyond, as governments and communities struggle to safeguard their essential services.
Happily, there is evidence that making new assets more sustainable or old assets more resilient does not need to cost more and in many cases, can improve bottom line results. But it does need to be done differently. A collective shift in mindset is needed and, thankfully, this is beginning to happen.
In 2022, expect to see the private sector redouble its investment and activity on the climate agenda. Infrastructure players with a clear path to net zero will thrive and the climate laggards will fail.