A net zero future is possible: Here’s how
As the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 conference on climate change, we’ll be discussing some of the changes our industry needs to make and reflecting on the COP debate on the AECOM Blog. Join the discussion on social media by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Find more information in our special COP26 edition of our “Future of Infrastructure” report: https://infrastructure.aecom.com
As world leaders gather at COP26, those responsible for delivering solutions in the battle against climate change know that we’re out of second chances. As well as strengthening our resilience to the impacts of climate change, we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach a position of zero harms. The ambition is to achieve a net zero future where the amount of greenhouse gas produced equals the amount absorbed by the atmosphere. Our sector has the skills and opportunities to make this change.
The COP26 Futures We Want project, commissioned in 2021 by the UK in their role as COP26 President, aims to explore what the future could look like in a climate-resilient, net-zero world. The project was delivered by a consortium led by Deloitte, and including AECOM, the University of Cambridge, One Young World and Radley Yeldar.
The project developed six visions of what a net zero, climate resilient future looks like. These visions will be showcased at COP26, with each coming from a different region – Brazil, India, Jamaica, Kenya, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
The project looked at what’s feasible to achieve, with academic experts identifying key climate risks and opportunities in each region and showcasing the best academia, science and innovations to address climate change.
AECOM and Deloitte designed and delivered interactive online workshops with stakeholders across the regions to gather their personal perspectives on the science, and to create local visions for what a feasible and desirable net zero and climate resilient 2050 might look like. AECOM’s global networks of climate, sustainability and stakeholder engagement experts have enabled the successful delivery of these workshops. Our work included taking specific country profiles for each region, based on scientific research and developed by consortium members, academia and in-country experts for each region, and developing these into engaging and thought-provoking workshop materials. Key to our approach was creating a safe space for people to share their personal hopes, fears, and priorities for the next 30 years.
Four key themes emerged across all regions: water, energy, built environment, and food & land. However, the impacts and solutions vary significantly across the globe.
For example, under the energy theme, there was synergy in the importance of harnessing renewable energy. However, the visions developed also enable solutions to play to individual country characteristics and reveal strengths and opportunities in building a net zero future, from solar power in Kenya and the Arabian Peninsula to hydro-electric and wind in Jamaica.
The need for a just transition is also central to this theme, with ideas such as decentralising renewable energy to provide poorer or more rural areas in India with access to low carbon energy.
Beyond these visions, an important lesson emerged about the need for context and collaboration. Engineers and consultants have a proud history of delivering schemes which have made a positive impact on our world, but we also know that some projects don’t deliver benefits to their full potential. This project highlighted the importance of listening to different perspectives when designing and delivering schemes. New technologies and innovations won’t work in all contexts in the same way, they need to be paired with the knowledge and experiences that people have about their communities and natural environment in which they live.
A version of this article first appeared in New Civil Engineer.