Sam Friggens, Senior consultant on energy strategy and innovation
Achieving net zero emissions in the UK by 2050 will require a profound transformation of the infrastructure systems that underpin society. And to deliver this we must now mobilise the best of the UK’s expertise in collaboration across government and industry.
When Parliament put our new net zero target into law this summer, it did so with the backing of the UK Government’s independent climate change advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The UK became the world’s first major economy to legislate for such ambitious climate change plans. The CCC considers this target to be consistent with the level of global effort needed to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement.
The CCC’s analysis provides a roadmap for how net zero can be achieved. And whilst in practice there will be several possible pathways to eliminating emissions from virtually every sector of our economy, the CCC shows us just how enormous the scale of the challenge is likely to be.
By 2050 we need to have at least doubled (perhaps quadrupled) the size of our electricity system, built large-scale district heat-networks in most of our major cities, developed a hydrogen economy from scratch with production capacity equal to today’s fleet of gas fired power stations, and build several ‘net zero’ industrial clusters with carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure.
Delivering this within 30 years requires urgent action. New infrastructure assets have long lead-in times and lifecycles that frequently span decades or even centuries. As a result, infrastructure development is one of the main factors limiting the rate of decarbonisation achievable. The longer action is delayed, the more expensive and difficult net zero will become.
It is to meet this challenge that Mott MacDonald has recently convened a new infrastructure industry coalition on net zero. Our initial members include Skanska, Anglian Water, Transport for London and the UK Green Buildings Council – and this group is now growing by the day. Our aim is to harness our collective expertise in delivering and operating infrastructure at scale to work with the government on how to build the infrastructure needed to achieve net zero. Our belief is that net zero must become an industry-wide mission that transcends traditional business relationships to become a fundamental part of the way we all work, much like health and safety has over recent decades.
Over the next six months we will be undertaking work on several pressing topics: infrastructure pathways for heat decarbonisation, how to reduce costs and maximise benefits from net zero infrastructure and how to reduce the embodied emissions from a net zero infrastructure pipeline. We will be undertaking these in partnership with key government bodies, helping to shape decisions planned for 2020.
The UK political system has shown genuine global leadership on climate change, but to turn ambition into reality demands equal levels of leadership from UK businesses, and from the UK infrastructure industry in particular. Our coalition brings together expertise and insights that are underpinned by a deep understanding of technical and commercial realities, as well as the challenges inherent in delivering infrastructure at scale and pace. By working collaboratively across industry and with government, we can bring the best of the UK’s talent to bear to tackle the most urgent challenge of our time.