COP26 in Glasgow: Tools for creating a just transition in UK cities
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
COP26 has begun and world leaders are gathering to agree on new carbon reduction targets. For resilience and net zero strategies to succeed in the long term, however, new infrastructure needs to be designed specifically to have a positive impact on the communities it serves.
In the UK, climate change and the levelling up agenda are forcing a rethink on infrastructure investment. That is certainly the case in Scotland, where legislative framework for emissions reduction is underpinned by a legal commitment to deliver a ‘just transition’ defined as ‘both the outcome – a fairer, greener future for all – and the process that must be undertaken in partnership with those impacted by the transition to net zero.’
As infrastructure and built environment consultants, we take different approaches to creating the equitable infrastructure needed to meet wider levelling up and net zero ambitions, from integrating the use of nature-based solutions, to placing a higher weighting on socio-economic factors in transport planning to make sure that areas of low long-term investment are brought to the forefront.
In Glasgow, several schemes of strategic importance that manage excess surface water have been initiated in the city region under the Glasgow City Region City Deal and through the collaborative Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (MGSDP). One of these projects is in Drumchapel, an area of deprivation identified as needing further support to tackle complicated socio-economic issues. As well as protecting areas downstream from flooding, the project needed to deliver additional social value for local people and work in the longer-term.
Looking at the flood management scheme through an environmental lens helped achieve these aims. We embedded the landscape team, which included our in-house ecologists and arborists, with the planning and engineering team from the outset. This gave us a multidisciplinary capability, meaning that we were able to use natural restorative processes to cost-effectively enhance traditional engineering solutions. For example, we knew that local people had difficultly traversing the site, so we installed robust bridges to make accessible crossing points over the Garscadden Burn, ensuring that the footpath gradients were suitable for wheelchair users.
In addition, we chose native species to replicate the natural habitat and planted an understory of native ground cover, a wetland meadow mix and trees that will need minimal intervention over the five-year implementation period. To be successful, however, this approach requires hard evidence and a very firm understanding of existing soil, hydrology, weather and climate conditions.
To achieve a just transition to a low carbon urban economy, new infrastructure must have a positive impact on the communities it serves. Within the public and political environment of delivering transformational net-zero strategies, decisions regarding new infrastructure must be transparent, robust and backed by well-researched hard evidence, of which local knowledge and community feedback must be a huge part.
The importance of continuous monitoring and evaluation of schemes, and listening to those affected, will only improve how projects are delivered in the future by building confidence and strengthening the case for change.
Click here to read the full version of this article, which explores further approaches to creating equitable infrastructure. In it, we draw on strategically-important transport planning and active travel projects across other major UK cities including Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham.