ICE calls for ‘unprecedented’ infrastructure transformation to achieve net-zero target

Out-Law News | 07 Jul 2020 | 10:44 am | 2 min. read

The UK’s Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) has issued a call for regulatory and policy change to meet the government target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In its State of the Nation 2020 report (35 page / 3.9MB PDF) the ICE said achieving the target would require an “unprecedented transformation” of the UK’s infrastructure.

The ICE said much of the infrastructure currently under development would take decades to deliver and be operational well beyond 2050, meaning action needed to be taken now to make sure future infrastructure was consistent with the net-zero target.

Infrastructure planning expert Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the report was both welcome and timely.

“It particularly highlights the need for net zero considerations to be clearly and expeditiously set out across the full range of national infrastructure policies - both the suite of national policy statements relating to investment in major new transport, energy and water infrastructure, and policies relating to retrofitting existing infrastructure,” Owen said.

"It will be important for the government to consider this report carefully in the run up to the expected publication in the autumn of the National Infrastructure Strategy, responding to the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment," said Owen. "This is particularly in the light of the Committee on Climate Change’s recent annual report and given that the 2018 Assessment predated our Net Zero obligations."

The report makes 10 recommendations which the ICE said could help overcome the policy obstacles to achieving net zero set out by the Committee on Climate Change last month.

The ICE said the government should deliver a ‘Net-Zero Infrastructure Plan’ for transitioning economic infrastructure networks to a net-zero footing. Alongside this, the report recommends the delivery of an infrastructure skills plan to make sure the UK has the capability within the built environment sector for the transition to net zero.

The central government guidance for project appraisals and assessments, the ‘Green Book’, should be reformed to better reflect the net-zero target, said the ICE. It also recommended that investors and asset managers should prioritise and elevate the value of emissions reduction impacts in procurement criteria, so it is at the same level as value for money, and health and safety outcomes.

The ICE said through procurement policy, infrastructure clients should require better collection, sharing and use of data on assets to enable improved decision-making in the context of the net-zero target.

Regulatory models should be updated to promote the achievement of net zero, and enable owners and managers of regulated assets to take longer-term and more flexible strategic planning and investment decisions, the report suggested.

The ICE said the power and responsibility for infrastructure policy and service delivery should continue to be devolved, in order to distribute the economic benefits of net zero around the UK.

In order to fund the shift to net zero, ICE recommended establishing a UK Investment Bank with a sustainability mandate to invest in infrastructure aligned to the target.

The report said the recommendations were not intended to be exhaustive, but could be “important next steps” to help the infrastructure sector reduce emissions in line with the net-zero target.

The UK government set its target for carbon neutrality in 2019, on the back of the 2018 Paris Agreement on climate change. Last year the government amended the Climate Change Act 2008 to introduce a statutory target for at least a 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – compared to 1990 levels – in the UK by 2050.