Delivering net zero will require collaboration, leadership and ambition in equal measure, but is a key facet for future prosperity, says WSP’s UK chief executive officer Mark Naysmith.
To say that decarbonisation has climbed up the societal, political and business agenda over the last year would be an understatement. In my view, similarly to the current global pandemic, how we respond will define how we are perceived as an industry and as a country for a generation.
It is for this reason that the delivery of the net zero economy by 2050 is where I am looking to focus the minds of WSP’s 8,200 UK employees. But while our sector is a critical player in the planning and delivery of net zero, we will not be able to do it alone.
To this effect, WSP has partnered with thinktank Bright Blue to produce a collaborative manifesto for net zero delivery in the UK as a timely and necessary endeavour.
Collaboration between government, local authorities, infrastructure and building owners and operators, manufacturers and the public is going to be key. Indeed, collaboration between different generations will also be essential, as today’s students, graduates and apprentices will be tomorrow’s project directors and chief executives.
The good news is that the UK has reduced its CO2 emissions by around 20% since 2010 and has met the Committee on Climate Change’s carbon budgets. This is not a reason to be complacent, however. As the UK starts the “decade of renewal”, we currently aren’t on target for the next carbon budget and are now having to address aspects of our economy that are harder to decarbonise.
Net zero delivery must become embedded in everything we plan, design and deliver, primarily tackling energy efficiency in homes and buildings, heat and transport decarbonisation, including maritime and aviation, and embedded emissions.
This starts with ensuring the organisations leading this transition put their own house in order. WSP, along with many of our clients and peers, are committed to being carbon neutral by 2025 and this target is led by our executive leadership team.
The UK already has an exciting projects pipeline and a clear understanding of what needs to be delivered to achieve our goal. On the generation front, we anticipate a future where energy bills reduce rather than increase, which will help to keep the public on board in this transition and increase their acceptance of the huge residential retrofit challenge we face.
For transport, we have no choice but to quickly move away from combustion. The progress of the new mobility agenda combined with the successful delivery of landmark projects which take freight and regional commuting away from roads and onto rail will be crucial.
In the heating sector there are two pathways; electrification or hydrogen. As an active player in this area, we believe that new building regulations are likely to drive electrification through heat pumps first, but that hydrogen will pick up following successful trials in several cities.
In the end, all decarbonisation plans require sustained and secure investment and, more importantly, that money spent is viewed as such. As HM Treasury prepares to review the expected costs of the transition to net zero, I hope that it is framed as an investment rather than a cost, and a key facet of the regional prosperity agenda. Indeed, the net zero transition is not only a matter for urban centres, but a real opportunity to level up the country.
Mark Naysmith is UK chief executive officer of WSP.