Only immediate and sustained action across every sector of the global economy will bring rising temperatures under control and help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change, says Sam Friggens.
2021 has already been a momentous year for extreme weather and damage to our natural world. July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded. Catastrophic flooding in central China, Belgium, Germany and Turkey, wildfires in the USA, Greece, Italy, Algeria and Tunisia, and record summer temperatures in Canada and Russia are just some of this year’s climate-related events.
The profound changes to the Earth’s climate that are now underway were laid bare once again in the sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ‘Code red for humanity’ was its stark message.
The climate conference in Glasgow in November (COP26) is an opportunity for world leaders to heed the IPCC warning and agree immediate, practical steps to halve global emissions over the next decade. Stronger action to build resilience to the physical impacts of climate change is also required, and richer nations need to make good on their commitment to provide $100bn a year in climate finance to poorer countries – those that emit the least and lack the means to adapt.
There is simply no more time to lose.
A role for everyone
Those involved in managing and delivering infrastructure also need to step up to the climate change challenge. Infrastructure will play a critical role in the transition to a net-zero world. Well-designed energy, transport and water networks, buildings and public spaces have always supported economic development and delivered better social outcomes.
Now infrastructure must also become climate resilient and be consistent with ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement to hold global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – we have already reached 1.1°C. This means everything we do must support global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Mobilising the power of digital tools and solutions can help us to design and deliver interconnected infrastructure systems that are more efficient, lower carbon, more dependable, more able to withstand extreme weather events, and achieve better overall outcomes for society and the environment.
The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated, but neither should the opportunities. Enormous economic, social, and environmental benefits will result from new industries and jobs, improvements to health and wellbeing and the enhancement of natural ecosystems. Realising these benefits must be central to the outcomes of COP26.
Achieving our purpose
Addressing the causes and effects of climate change is key to our purpose and essential for building the world we want to thrive in. We exist to improve social outcomes in everything that we do, and in the coming decades this simply won’t be possible without a stable climate and flourishing natural environment.
That is why we are committed to working with our clients to help them plan, build and operate infrastructure that is consistent with net-zero emissions and resilient to climate change; why we are harnessing the huge enthusiasm among colleagues from across our business to help tackle one of the biggest challenges of our time; why we are mobilising to support a successful outcome at COP26.
In 2020, we became the first company of our kind to be certified as carbon neutral and we have pledged to become a net-zero organisation by 2040 or earlier. We have joined the UN Race To Zero campaign, are a partner to the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (leading the development of a methodology for assessing physical climate risk) and support the Powering Past Coal Alliance to advance the transition to clean energy. Collaboration is fundamental to who we are and the work we do.
Collaborating to deliver action
In the run-up to COP26, we are supporting clients and countries in building momentum for greater ambition. Our activities include:
- Convening the UK-Bangladesh Climate Partnership Forum to bring together experts and advance the climate agenda in the journey towards COP26
- Working with governments in Asia, Africa and South America to develop 2050 Carbon Calculators and accelerate the drive for net-zero emissions
- Supporting the delivery of some of the world’s largest clean infrastructure projects, such as North Sea hydrogen hubs, renewable energy in Indonesia and concentrated solar power in South Africa
- Supporting COP26 principal partner National Grid to deliver the Global Youth Engineering Climate Conference on 7-8 September
- Hosting our annual Carbon Crunch conference on 4-7 October, bringing together partners to focus on key infrastructure topics ahead of COP26
Our plans for November during COP26 itself are still a work in progress (this is a fast-moving space!) but key activities include:
- Participating in the Resilience Hub, a virtual and physical space in the official Blue Zone that will serve as a focal point for climate adaptation at the conference. Our focus will be on water resilience, climate resilient infrastructure and health and well-being
- Partnering with the Sustainable Innovation Forum, bringing a global infrastructure perspective to one of the largest business focused COP26 side events for the public and private sectors
- Supporting the UK Green Building Council’s COP26 Built Environment Virtual Pavilion and the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero campaign
There will be no let-up in our activities after COP26, and we aim to build on the momentum generated by the conference to make our largest contribution yet to the creation of a resilient, net-zero world. As we integrate climate change into all our work, we will work with our clients to navigate the risks that climate change present and realise the huge opportunities that ambitious action offers.
We want to use our knowledge, inventiveness and influence to help the world to successfully transition to a climate resilient, net-zero future.
COP26 has been described as ‘the last best chance’ to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We’re committed to doing everything we can to make sure this opportunity is not squandered, and to deliver the solutions that will be so urgently needed in the years ahead.
Sam Friggens is Mott MacDonald’s global practice leader for climate change and is leading the company’s COP26 programme.