The current climate

Private citizens, the indirect funders and end-users of the infrastructure projects we work on, are increasingly demanding climate action. This can be seen in polling, the activities of youth climate protestors, and the direct action of Extinction Rebellion. Against a background of a changing climate that brought record temperatures to Europe this June and  July, this is changing the political landscape and the context for the planning of infrastructure projects. This may have significant ramifications for how projects gain consent, and more broadly their social licence to operate.

How does this affect planning policy?

UK planning law now requires infrastructure projects that are likely to result in a significant effect on the climate, to consider the effects of GHG emissions as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Meanwhile the Climate Change Act (2008) now commits the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and sets carbon budgets at the scale of the whole UK. This policy direction is welcome, but lacks clarity at the scale of individual Projects.

 Providing More Certainty in Infrastructure Planning

There is a clear need to provide more certainty for all Project stakeholders – this is addressed below.

  1. More clarity is needed in the National Policy Statements on how projects should be appraised against carbon budgets and balanced against need.
  2. There is a need for more guidance on the assessment of significance of carbon emissions from individual projects, so that a consistent and agreed approach can be taken by practitioners.
  3. Although already key to the planning process, carbon assessments in particular, should take a robust approach with clear and transparent communication, to mitigate risks regarding consent and program generated by a lack of policy clarity.

It’s important to highlight that the infrastructure sector is responsible for over half of the UK carbon emissions. To reduce this contribution to climate change a proactive stance should be adopted. Organisations such as Anglian Water and HS2 have taken a lead on this by implementing ambitious targets and best practice carbon management techniques. Whilst we may not have all the answers to the challenges of assessing and appraising projects, there is clear scope for improvement through additional clarity and carbon management best practice.

This blog as written by James Peet, Principal Consultant in Environment and Sustainability at WSP

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