WSP Executive Director Rachel Skinner today discharged her final duties as the 156th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), passing this responsibility to her successor, Ed McCann, during a virtual ceremony this afternoon.
Rachel became the youngest president in the Institution’s 200-year history when she was inaugurated in November 2020 during the largest ICE event in history. She is only the second woman to hold the role.
During her tenure, Rachel’s singular focus was the climate emergency and in particular the crucial role that civil engineers must play in achieving net zero carbon emissions. With around 70% of global carbon emissions linked to infrastructure assets – through their creation and everyday use – Rachel laid out the serious responsibility and incredible opportunity for civil engineers to decarbonise designs, practices and projects through her ‘Shaping Zero’ campaign.
Through two films and dozens of industry keynotes and events held virtually across the world, she has challenged civil engineers to join in with both the attack to net zero and the defensive role, through better resilience and adaptation, that must be played by infrastructure due to onward climate change that lies ahead.
This focus is particularly poignant this week and next during the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference – COP26 – where leaders from across the world will gather in Glasgow and reaffirm their commitment to ambitious goals to tackle climate change.
During Rachel’s term as President, one highlight was the introduction of ‘Carbon Champions’ and a celebration of the 1st cohort to come through this programme, designed to recognise best practice in decarbonisation efforts across the civil engineering community.
She also encouraged collaboration between professional institutions, with engineering experts and with stakeholders across the world, including the Mayors of Los Angeles, Stockholm and Melbourne, with the support of WSP’s global network.
Through her two films, Rachel also opened dialogues with environment and climate experts, including Eden Project Founder Sir Tim Smit, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the world's greatest living explorer, and Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change.
Rachel’s passion to drive climate action through the engineering and infrastructure sectors has pushed decarbonisation and climate resilience to the very top of the ICE’s strategic agenda, and encouraged thousands of people working in the built environment worldwide to ask what they are doing – and what they will do – to support climate action.
Rachel Skinner, WSP Executive Director and immediate past President of the ICE, said: “This past year has truly opened my eyes to the scale of the climate challenge that faces us and the real pace of change we need to deliver on the ground. Urgent action is needed today and every single person in the infrastructure community has a crucial role to play.
“We have to change the way design and build, also how we value and improve the built and natural environment around us, and beyond that we must do more to transform how infrastructure systems are used by millions of people, every day.
“I’m hugely grateful for all of the support given to me during my time as ICE President from the Institution, from WSP colleagues, and from friends and connections across the industry who have been in touch to share their thoughts and feedback. I’m an optimist; with enough creative engineering minds on this problem, I know we can come up with climate solutions that will make a real difference and benefit communities all over the world. That said, time is now very short.
“I said on the first day of my Presidency that this was not a one-year task, but I am excited and re-energised to know that my efforts this year have helped many more thousands of civil engineers and infrastructure specialists to ‘tune in’ to the climate crisis and begin to play their part.”
Mark Naysmith, Regional CEO - WSP UK, CE, MEI & ZA, said: “Rachel’s presidency of the Institution of Civil Engineers has brought the climate emergency to the fore and substantially accelerated the conversation around net zero.
“Engineers will play a key role in decarbonising the built environment and, as a Fellow of the Institution and a business leader in the built environment, I’m proud of the vigour with which Rachel has garnered international support and action for this global challenge.”