BLOG: No net zero without collaboration

As spring returns, we turn our backs on a difficult start to the year for many communities, where the impact of our changing climate has been all too real.

In February 2022, the UK was hit by three named storms in a week for the first time since the current storm naming system was introduced seven years ago. Storms Franklin, Eunice and Dudley caused devastating damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure, as high winds and heavy rain lashed the nation. If we are truly going to respond to the climate emergency, we must redouble our efforts, not just on mitigation but also on adaptation and resilience.

As the civil engineers of today, this means upskilling ourselves, our teams and our stakeholders to put whole life carbon reduction and the 17 United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UNSDGs) at the heart of everything we do. Through improved carbon literacy, we can raise awareness, assess the data, actively report on progress and share best practice. This is exactly what the ICE Carbon Champions initiative is aimed at doing, enabling us to be more creative, innovative and courageous on carbon reduction.

Can we do this alone? No! As the world’s problem solvers, civil engineers know the solution requires collaboration between professions and across sectors. The South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP) is a good example of this in action. In 2021, the partnership developed an integrating net zero route map for infrastructure across South West England. In doing so, three prerequisites for decarbonisation were identified: mindset and leadership, carbon literacy and collaboration. ICE is at the forefront of supporting members to develop all three.

But what about the civil engineers of tomorrow? Look beyond ‘traditional’ backgrounds, routes into the profession and skills because we are being challenged with thinking and doing differently. For example, we will need to harness the power of nature through nature-based solutions, maximise the efficiencies that data and digital infrastructure provide and improve our ability to influence and engage through storytelling. As the ICE Engineering Rebellion report highlights, the future civil engineer must thrive as part of a multi-disciplinary infrastructure team. The way you work, how you work, and who you work with, will change radically in years to come.

Finally, civil engineers need to leverage the younger generation’s concern about the climate emergency. Every conversation with schools, colleges and universities needs to make the case that civil engineers have influence. Later this year, ICE will be unveiling an exciting new exhibition, Time is running out – Help us engineer a net zero world, which will tour high profile locations in throughout the UK. The aim is to highlight the pivotal role of civil engineers in tackling climate change and inspire a diverse new generation to join us.

Wherever you are on your net zero journey, one thing is certain, you cannot walk alone. 

Stuart Allen is the chair of the ICE South West Regional Committee Chair, a member of the South West Infrastructure Partnership steering group and Programme Delivery Deputy Director at the Environment Agency.

This article was first published in NCE magazine in March 2022: