Businesses team up to launch net-zero infrastructure taskforce

Industry bodies representing hundreds of firms across the engineering and environmental technologies sectors have partnered to analyse how the UK's infrastructure should be redesigned to meet net-zero by 2050.

The taskforce will publish its first two analyses to coincide with COP26

The taskforce will publish its first two analyses to coincide with COP26

Under the partnership between the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), representatives from member businesses will form a “net-zero taskforce”.

Over the next 10 months, the taskforce will research how ACE and EIC member firms will need to change their policies, processes, research, and so on, in order to play their role in bringing about a net-zero nation. ACE member firms include the likes of BuroHappold and Bentley Systems, while EUC represents organisations including Cundall, Mott MacDonald and Schneider Electric UK.

The taskforce will also assess how SMEs across the engineering and environmental technologies sectors, and other related industries, will need to adapt, and where support for this transition should come from.

The results of both of these analyses will be published during COP26 in Glasgow this winter.

BuroHappold’s UK managing director Sarah Prichard will act as chair of the taskforce – a group which she believes will “harness the extensive expertise, experience and knowledge” of the sectors represented by ACE and EIC.

“Our industries are renowned for their approach to problem-solving and this will be crucial in deconstructing the complex processes that guide infrastructure delivery, and rebuilding them carbon free,” Pricard said.

“How we work in a net-zero future will be at the forefront of all industry leaders’ minds, but with ACE members’ day-to-day focus and the huge expectations on carbon-free infrastructure, buildings and construction, we will have to work collaboratively,” ACE chair Paul Reilly added.

“It will only be by pooling talent, resources and ideas that we will be able to solve the biggest challenge that society has faced in recent times.”

The launch of the taskforce comes shortly after consultancies WSP and AECOM teamed up to launch ‘pledge to net-zero’, a campaign urging companies from across the environmental services sector to set net-zero targets and report annually on decarbonisation progress.

Infrastructure in the spotlight

With the built environment and transport sectors accounting for sizeable proportions of the UK’s annual emissions footprint (32% and 17% respectively in 2017), considerable changes in these spaces will need to be made to reach net-zero.

The Government has repeatedly been warned that its environmental policies across the infrastructure sphere are not ambitious enough, from measures on housebuilding and retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, to public transport systems and electric vehicle (EV) charging.

Since the net-zero target was enshrined in law, Ministers have made several commitments to overcome these policy gaps. The Government claims that it spent £2bn on infrastructure decarbonisation projects between May and October 2019 and is expected to allocate further pots at the Budget this spring.

On buildings, a consultation around whether all rented commercial buildings should be required to operate at a minimum energy efficiency standard of EPC band B by 2030 is ongoing. The motion is expected to pass. A consultation on the introduction of mandatory “in-use” energy performance ratings for all business buildings will also take place in 2020– as will the publication of a review by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) on climate adaptation in the built environment sector.

As for transport, the Department for Transport (DfT) is expected to publish plans this year about decarbonising “every single mode of transport”, including international aviation and shipping, which the Government has opted to exclude from its net-zero accounting.

But aside from the sector deal on aviation and the Road to Zero strategy for passenger cars, joined-up action remains scant, with dispersed funding pots for projects such as on-street EV charging and aviation innovations for logistics having been announced recently and little news on wider policies forthcoming.

This could all change at the Budget, given that chancellor Sajid Javid has promised to deliver an “infrastructure revolution” during his tenure as Chancellor. The NIC has urged Javid to deliver on this ambition with the support of the Treasury, which is completing its review into financing the net-zero transition.

Sarah George



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