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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

A recent report from the Net Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition launched this month – titled 'Is our Carbon Wallet Empty?' – focuses on embodied carbon and highlights the major shortfall in carbon reporting within the UK’s infrastructure industry.

The report, led by Skanska UK, a member of the Coalition, sets out four industry-wide actions necessary to achieve the UK's net-zero carbon commitment by 2050. The report's four key recommendations are:

  1. An agreed carbon zero definition that can be clearly assessed
    The infrastructure industry must develop a single, universally recognised, managed and constantly improving source of carbon emission factors, for the full range of construction products and building materials used in projects.
  2. Planning framework guidance for carbon assessment in line with the Paris Agreement 
    Carbon data measuring should be agreed to break the cycle of short-term solutions resulting from short timescales, short political cycles and reactive solutions.
  3. A shared understanding of the sector share of UK carbon budget 
    This would involve the development of common, long-term sector targets and trajectories, from which individual companies and projects can be measured against.
  4. A carbon neutral design option for every asset 
    Every asset solution must have a carbon neutral outline design option, prior to planning and tender, by the asset owners.

'Is our Carbon Wallet Empty?' presents the challenges the UK’s infrastructure industry faces and its key recommendations underline the urgency to change – once the project is built, part of the whole-life carbon budget is spent and it can’t be undone, while the current rate of spend means the carbon wallet will soon be empty.

Unless we think big, we will never change. The time is not for tweaking the existing system, it’s about changing our mindset, therefore accurately forecasting and understanding carbon data in infrastructure is critical to reaching net-zero. 

The report also stresses the need to collect good data, “data that has been filtered, integrated, assimilated, aggregated and contextualised to enable decisions”. Reliable carbon data is crucial to inform the industry’s understanding of how to plan, design, deliver and operate net-zero infrastructure systems.

The Coalition acknowledges that the will is there, but “the tools do not have consistent emissions factors applied across the sector leading to unreliable assessment and forecasting capability”. While there is a lot of pressure on asset owners to become net-zero, unless a consistent, agreed approach is developed and initiatives put in place to upskill the sector, the industry risks missing its net-zero target.

The report’s opening and concluding message sums up the ethos and change agenda advocated across the industry: “Unless we think big, we will never change. The time is not for tweaking the existing system, it’s about changing our mindset, therefore accurately forecasting and understanding carbon data in infrastructure is critical to reaching net-zero.”

About the Coalition

The Net-Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition was formed in 2019 in response to the UK government’s 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emissions commitment. This report was led by Skanska, with coalition members comprising Mott MacDonald, Pinsent Masons, the Carbon Trust, the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC), Leeds City Council, National Grid and Transport for London.

• Related links: see CSIC Publishes Carbon Reduction Code





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