1. Envision a Just Transition
One of the critical—and, for many, seemingly impossible—tasks is to imagine what a just world could look like.
We don’t have a collective vision of the world, so a key step is taking the time to dream of what we want society to look like and to feel like, and to work toward greater consensus.
Today, social empathy is not adequately reflected in engineering codes, making it even more challenging to finance an equitable future.
2. Go Beyond Code
For most engineers, building to code is the bar. But to achieve more resilient and “just” outcomes, the bar needs to be raised; engineers need to go beyond code.
Part of the problem is the codes themselves, which are not kept current enough and do not account for the speed of change we’re experiencing now.
But it’s also a mindset problem: Engineers should be connecting with other disciplines to evolve their thinking about what’s possible—engaging with health practitioners, for example—to access data that can inform decisions about air pollution and water infrastructure and develop solutions fit not just for the challenges we face today, but those on the horizon.
If you were to ask a community what sustainability and resilience mean to them, it’s unlikely you’d get a unified, actionable answer.
In fact, most people don’t really understand the question. They know the world is changing, they face growing challenges and that too many times planners and politicians have entered their communities to present a project or solution that didn’t reflect the voices or vision of the people who live there.
By engaging earlier and translating complicated ideas into accessible narratives and clear options, we start to create some real answers.
It’s relatively easy to put measurement around climate—emissions, efficiency, science-based targets—but much harder to measure resilience or social justice.
Developing a set of shared metrics will require collaboration, conversation and an understanding of specific community and individual priorities.
5. Finance Resilience
When it comes time to rebuild after a hurricane or flood, a decimated community faces some very expensive decisions.
Should the city rebuild its levee as it was, hoping another storm of the same magnitude will not hit? Or should it build a higher levee? Is the solution to mix traditional gray infrastructure with green infrastructure? Should they explore a “managed retreat”? And who pays for the changes, and how?
In an ideal world, these questions would be addressed prior to a disaster, not after, and the cost of more resilient solutions should be baked into the analysis of current versus future costs.
6. Create Value-based Incentives for a Just Transition
The most underfunded communities in the U.S. have the fewest electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.
EV manufacturers consider people in those areas to be less likely customers, and, therefore, spend few resources attracting them, which then means fewer EVs sold in those areas, and the cycle continues uninterrupted.
Building for sustainability means flipping the narrative to provide financial reward through incentives or subsidies.
7. Get Creative with Funding and Financing
Some of the most successful financing options are public/private partnerships (P3s). Some P3s include community resource funds that bake in support for the people most impacted by climate change.
Some funding solutions require a local workforce to develop the community socially as well as physically.
There are a lot of ways to think about using available funds that are different than what we’ve done in the past.
While Climate Week NYC 2022 is behind us, WSP is eager to attend COP27, where these issues will continue to be discussed, debated and, we hope, advanced.