Kate Attwood, Associate Director and Group Director Highways at WSP
The way we approach transport needs to change – and we don’t need to do it a bit better, we need to do it completely differently. It’s a fact that 70% of global carbon emissions can be traced back to transport. Most of what we design now will exist long past this bridging point in our carbon journey and into the non-fossil fuel world that is quickly approaching. So it makes perfect sense to adapt what currently exists to suit that new context.
Over the last 15 years, the amount of carbon emissions from manufacturing construction materials have halved – but overall output of carbon from construction has barely changed over the same period of time. We need to unpack all the elements of this transportation puzzle to find ways of working in a net zero world. By reusing and repurposing materials, we have an opportunity to reduce virgin construction carbon and extend the life of existing infrastructure. Operating in this way would give us an important suite of transport options required to reduce personal and commercial carbon emissions from transport – be it hydrogen, electric overhead or battery. We also need to change our behaviours and expectations for moving goods and ourselves around.
I am currently working closely with the Welsh Government, who has made it clear that building brand new is no longer the default option in the majority of cases. It’s a bold statement, but it’s one that is in line with the global standard for managing infrastructure carbon (PAS2080). In openly taking a step back from business as usual, they are considering what a programme of infrastructure investment should look like through a low carbon lens. The principle is simple; build nothing, build less, build clever and build efficiently.
The Welsh Government has consolidated this approach in their new National Transport Strategy (Llwybr Newydd). For the transportation industry, this means engineers should take their skills and apply them in new ways. For example, repurposing vehicular networks for active travel or to accommodate electric vehicle (EV) options to reduce the need for new builds.
We must however do more than just start. We really must fire out of the blocks. The most significant part of this is less about how we do it – the engineering community is clever enough to do anything! But more about how quickly we can make the change.
Read more about our discussions from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Virtual Festival here.