“This is easy. Let’s get on with it,” was the rallying cry to industry and government from one of the UK’s highest profile renewable energy companies at the latest Infrastructure Intelligence Live event on Friday 9 October 2020.
Bold ambitions, confident optimism, social value, clear public and political engagement and a “moral imperative” to build back better and greener at a time when net zero has never been higher on the political agenda all emerged as key themes at the “Delivering a green recovery” webinar.
The latest Infrastructure Intelligence Live event, held in association with strategic partner BECG, assembled a top industry panel of Kim Yates, Mott MacDonald's UK head of sustainability and climate change, Jacobs senior vice-president Donald Morrison, Greater London Authority executive director Phil Graham, Stuart Cairns, partner with environmental lawyers Bird & Bird, Jamie Gordon from specialist communications consultancy BECG and Clementine Cowton, director of external affairs at Octopus Energy, all of whom brought their own sharp analysis to the debate.
With the government’s key priority of jumpstarting of the UK economy, some environmentalists fear that politicians will approve and possibly subsidise any economic activity, regardless of how many tonnes of CO2 are pumped into the atmosphere. But is this fear justified?
A green stimulus programme that creates more sustainable cities, investing in active transport and building the infrastructure for a better world is certainly within our grasp and a green recovery is possible, but it will take political will. This webinar looked at how to keep the key issue of sustainability at the forefront of politicians’ minds to ensure a green recovery.
Kim Yates said the industry could make a real difference in any post-Covid green recovery, especially when net zero had never been higher on the political agenda but balancing social and economic outcomes was key. “Despite everything, climate change is front and centre of politicians and decision-makers minds,” she said: “They have to have been living under a rock, quite frankly, if they haven’t noticed. But we have to get the balance right between socially and economically sustainable outcomes,” said Yates.
Donald Morrison said that building back better and greener was exciting for the industry and described the “moral imperative” to act now to protect the planet while resisting the temptation to cut corners. “Rather than ‘build, build, build’, we have a critical opportunity to step back and ‘think, think, think’, with a new focus on social value and net zero, “ he said.
“We need a new level of ambition. There’s a temptation to build, build, build and cut corners, but we need integrated infrastructure solutions and a holistic longer-term approach. We should look at net zero commitments as a moral imperative, and a new opportunity to assess social value and infrastructure,” Morrison said.
Asked if a green recovery would hinder the economy, Phil Graham confidently replied that it would be just the opposite and described current political and public opinion on net zero as a great opportunity to drive positive change. “A green recovery provides the best opportunity to bounce back faster from the pandemic,” he said, outlining a range of energy efficiency measures including retrofitting of public buildings and offshore wind to name just a few key examples.
“We have a great opportunity for change,” Graham added. “There’s a much greater public and political alignment than I’ve ever seen. A green recovery should be at the heart of all our thinking, but it’s going to require focus and joined-up thinking across government and the industry,” he said.
Stuart Cairns said that environmental sustainability and digital technology go hand-in-hand, but he claimed that some decision-makers needed to work harder to meet the challenges of net zero. “Unfortunately, environmental sustainability is only a soundbite for some people – or people don’t know how to achieve it,” said Cairns. “It’s important for government and clients to have the environment at the heart of projects, with early public engagement to get people on board. The environment should be a key aspect of the industry’s ideals, contracts and day-to-day engagement,” he said.
While agreeing with the previous speakers, Jamie Gordon said that it was also crucial for government to play a positive role. “We need government policies to incentivise a green recovery and the government needs to help the industry deliver positive change,” he said. “The UK has to lead by example, but we need a global solution. The UK can’t do this alone. We need to think of climate change in the same way as Covid-19. We need to work together on a global scale to meet the challenge of net zero,” said Gordon.
Clementine Cowton confidently emphasised the Octopus Energy theme of a green recovery being “good for your planet, good for your wallet and good for your soul”. “We need to be bold around these issues, be optimistic and have dialogue with government,” she said. And, asked what would be her key message to world leaders and the industry at COP26 next year, she couldn’t have been more bold: “This is easy, let’s get on with it!”
Andy Walker, Infrastructure Intelligence editor, said: “It was great to hear all the panellists at this webinar have confidence about achieving a net zero future. The issue of a green recovery cannot be allowed to be the preserve of politicians’ speechifying when they are looking for a headline, it has to be totally embedded in how the UK comes out of the Covid crisis. The infrastructure industry will need to play a key role in ensuring that government does right by the environment and by future generations.”
The Infrastructure Intelligence LIVE series of events is organised in association with our strategic partner, BECG.