The UN Climate Change Summit took place in New York yesterday, where global leaders came together to determine realistic plans on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.
It’s not news that the transport and infrastructure sectors are under the spotlight when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
In 2018 transport accounted for a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the UK*, and around 10% of the CO2 emissions are directly associated with construction activity**.
And if we consider that back in June the UK government became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050 (a target which requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050) then we can see that our sectors need to up their game.
Operating sustainably is no longer a pipe dream, and we have already seen transport and infrastructure making some real strides in their efforts to go green.
So what is going on in the market?
The big thing for rail, is looking at changing the way trains are powered and eliminating diesel only trains.
In February 2018, then-Rail Minister Jo Johnson MP called for the rail network to remove all diesel-only rolling stock from the network by 2040.
In order to reach these ambitious targets, there are three main areas the industry are focusing on:
- Additional electrification of more intensively used routes – At present only 42% of the UK rail network is electrified and according to Network Rail data this will only increase to 48% by 2039 – in part because of the overspend on the Great Western Electrification programme. To rectify this, the industry will need to convince government that new electrification schemes can be delivered more efficiently.
- Alternative zero or low carbon solutions; primarily battery power or hydrogen.
- Switching to bi-mode diesel-electric trains.
The goal for aviation is to reduce net CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, meanwhile demand is expected to double in this period.
Progress is already underway; between 2010 and 2016, passenger numbers in the UK grew by 27%, while total emissions only grew by around 0.2%.
The areas under evaluation for aviation are:
- New, cleaner aircraft – 360 new aircraft are currently on order from airlines, which will mean fleets are 22% more energy efficient.
- Next generation – Aerospace manufacturers are investing in the next generation of engines and aircraft, with research in to hybrid-electric and fully-electric planes. The government recently announced the Future of Flight Industrial Challenge to accelerate this, for which we are recruiting the Challenge Director.
- Efficient airspace – Researching innovative ways to manage airspace and air traffic. This includes looking into efficient operational procedures, flight paths, and climb and descent operations. NATS have developed their SPACE innovation hub which is already proving valuable in this area.
- Sustainable fuels are now backed by the government and industry are starting to look at commercialisation options. This alone could reduce emissions by up to 24%.
As it stands, around a fifth of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions comes from road transport, and emissions rose by a further 6% last year.
Despite this increase, road traffic actually increased by 29% miles travelled, so in comparison the figures are showing that the sector is making headway.
In order to tackle emissions, the industry and government are looking at several key solutions:
- Electric cars – at the end of 2018, only 0.5% of all vehicles licensed in the UK were ultra-low emission vehicles. The Treasury last week launched a £400 million fund to bolster Britain’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with the first £70 million allocated for 3000 charge points. There will need to be extensive continued investment in charging infrastructure to deliver major shift to electric vehicles.
- Charging zones – modal shift and adoption of electric vehicles will also get accelerated in urban areas through introducing or expanding charging zones. Examples include the London Mayor’s expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and the proposed Heathrow charging zones as part of the Expansion programme.
- Modal shift – making cleaner options more readily available such as bicycles (including increasing use of bicycle lanes and urban bike sharing companies), buses and trains to get car off the road. Other strategies include the development of flying urban taxis and freight-carrying drones (also covered by the government’s Future of Flight Industrial Challenge).
- New business models – car sharing clubs and MaaS (Mobility as a Service) companies also have a role to play in reducing traffic. With a number of new entrants in this market, time will tell which ones have a successful commercial model. Generation Z have a very different view about car ownership to their predecessors, with mobility business models being shaped to meet their needs accordingly.
- Further research into the use of low carbon fuels for automotive.
With 10% of CO2 emissions being directly related to construction activity, there is no doubt that huge changes need to be made in this area.
London has committed to all new buildings to being carbon neutral by 2030, which is a promising figure, but doesn’t include the emissions created during construction – embodied emissions.
Many contractors are seriously putting sustainability at the forefront, supported by initiatives such as Supply Chain Sustainability School and Action Sustainability. Clearly there is still a long way to go in cutting embodied emissions.
One of the key areas for reduction is looking into the type of materials, and the amount used. Both concrete and steel have staggeringly high carbon footprints, so finding alternatives and ways of minimising their usage is one way companies are addressing this issue.
For example when designing the Mexico City Airport project, Arup conducted extensive research into the concrete mixes as well as the efficiency of the unique structural steel design and managed to cut the total embodied carbon of the planned building by 10%***.
Clearly the case for renewable, sustainable energy across the UK is going to have massive implications for the power sector. For targets to be met, the country will need to invest heavily in the infrastructure required for clean energy.
We have already seen a boost in renewable and emerging energy sources, particularly within offshore wind. Currently the UK has installed as much capacity as the rest of the world combined****, and continues to develop this area, with the Crown Estate announcing extensions to seven offshore wind farms.
Other renewable sources being explored are; bioenergy, tidal and hydroelectricity, and solar PV.
But this is a longer term vision, in the short and medium terms, the sector also needs to explore how it can bolster renewable energy production with non- renewable options, while increasing efficiency.
The most obvious option here is developing nuclear power. At present the only nuclear new build project underway is Hinkley Point C and so it seems likely that the government would favour further investment in this area rather as opposed to new gas powered power stations.
Which sustainability topics are you causing the biggest changes in your business?
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