Bolder steps are needed if Scotland's infrastructure is to be decarbonised - David Cole

Decarbonisation of Scottish infrastructure must be accelerated – and it must be resilient.

David Cole, Chair, ICE Scotland
David Cole, Chair, ICE Scotland

Around 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from infrastructure.

Civil engineers are, therefore, well aware the decarbonisation of our infrastructure, both new and existing, will be critical if we are to successfully meet Scotland’s 2045 Net-Zero target.

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Organisations across Scotland are already working to develop solutions to the climate emergency, but with so much to do, and a fast-moving operational landscape, it can be difficult for decision-makers to know where to start.

There are many options available, with innovation and good practice abundant, which is why we wanted to collate learnings and observations from practitioners to assess which interventions offer highest value, and what merits prioritisation.

To that end, and to help accelerate the pace of change, we commissioned Mott MacDonald to carry out an extensive review of publications and speak to over 50 stakeholders including the Scottish Government, infrastructure providers, local authorities, academia and the business sector.

Drawing from this expertise we sought to understand what helps projects succeed, what barriers are faced and what policy, legislative, regulatory and industry interventions need to be put in place.

In March we published the results of that research, and it did make bleak reading. The report concluded that bolder steps are needed, more leadership and funding required and an improved planning and regulatory system.

There were five key recommendations:

A Scottish Infrastructure Coalition should be created where key national infrastructure providers and stakeholders can convene to demonstrate leadership, share learnings and plan for an integrated economy-wide transition to Net Zero aligned infrastructure. Public sector procurement should include a consistent focus on carbon reduction. The planning process requires more investment to enable the pace and scale of change required to deliver Net Zero infrastructure. Greater use of systems thinking along with digital tools should be used to identify interactions and efficiencies between traditionally separate sectors. Develop a Scottish Government good practice note on why and how place-based approaches bring advantages to Net Zero delivery

This report was never envisaged to be a panacea, but rather an aid for future discussions and progress is already being made. The first step must be the creation of a forum – similar to the Scottish Infrastructure Commission – to utilise the expertise across infrastructure providers and ensure all those involved remain focused on ensuring decarbonisation becomes a reality.

Crucially this forum would also drive forward a piece of work we highlighted in our 2020 ‘State of the Nation’ report, namely that our infrastructure must be adapted so it can withstand the extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change.

Just a couple of weeks after we published our report in March, the Climate Change Committee said that progress in delivering adaption had stalled and the Scottish Government must take ownership of the issue with clear, time-bound and quantitative targets.

The CCC also said Scotland lacks effective monitoring and evaluation systems meaning that changes in aspects of many climate-related risks are largely unknown.

This very much mirrors our own thoughts, and we will continue to lobby for urgent action; this is not something that can wait.

Adaptation will not only ensure our infrastructure is fit for purpose, but when done the right way it can make places better to live in, work in and visit.

However, without it we risk a series of infrastructure failures that would have potentially devastating consequences for the infrastructure which underpins every aspect of our economy and society.

David Cole, Chair, ICE Scotland

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