Infrastructure is the carbon king. Investors demand change, digital will enable it

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Infrastructure is the carbon king. Investors demand change, digital will enable it

Infrastructure, construction and operations are responsible for 70 per cent of global carbon emissions, according to the World Bank. Yet the cash required to fund projects is increasingly flowing into sustainable investment funds expected to reach $53 trillion by 2025 according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

That makes the need to deliver net-zero outcomes as much of a financial imperative as an environmental one.

A new report by four industry participants argues that organisations require a whole-of-business, systems-based approach across the entire asset lifecycles if they want to accelerate their journey to net-zero.

Australian Constructors Association, Consult Australia, Infrastructure Sustainability Council, and Autodesk have released a joint report to support the industry in accelerating a net-zero future through the design and construction of the infrastructure pipeline.

Procurement, materials, methodologies, technology and people capability all need to be addressed according to the report.

Their conclusions broadly align with a paper published by Man Yu, Thomas Wiedmann, Robert Crawford and Catriona Tait, in 2016 called The Carbon Footprint of Australia's Construction Sector which concluded, "While the majority of policies and regulations focus on reducing direct emissions from buildings, more attention needs to be paid to the embodied emissions of the whole sector as these can take up anywhere between 10 per cent and 97 per cent of the whole life-cycle carbon emissions. 

Likewise a report by the CEFC in November this year concluded there is "great potential in the building sector to cut emissions, finding that on average, sustainability rated infrastructure projects achieve a reduction of up to 33 per cent in embodied carbon compared to similar designs with no such measures."

While cautioning that it is difficult to compare emissions profiles by country, Autodesk Industry Strategy Manager  ACS, APAC Construction Solutions, Sumit Oberoi told Digital Nation Australia, that by 2015 Australia had the world’s 15th largest greenhouse gas emissions. "Its citizens’ per-capita contribution is around three times the global average."

The new report released this morning called A Net Zero Future: Delivered Through Our Infrastructure Pipeline reveals that, "Infrastructure and emissions Across Australia, it is estimated that infrastructure contributes around 70 per cent of national emissions; with around 15 per cent (or approximately 87 million tonnes of CO2 per year) directly contributed through the delivery and operations of that infrastructure."

Improvements

However, the better news say the authors, is that the infrastructure industry has already demonstrated the influence it can have on the reduction of emissions, with most recently delivered infrastructure projects being able to deliver a combined 11 per cent reduction CO2 equivalent from materials across the assets lifecycle and 68 per cent reduction from energy.

But with 2030 closing in and Australia's governments alone planning to spend $166 billion on infrastructure by 2024, more needs to be done.

"More progressive government jurisdictions are driving sustainability outcomes including climate action, resilience,  and materials and resource targets. The most progressive proponents have adopted a consistent and third party assured approach to sustainability performance measurement, over $200 billion of investment registered with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council since 2012 and implementing the IS Rating Scheme."

And as the report notes, governments aren't the only ones seeking to invest in sustainability, with carbon a key focus of the finance sector. "Global Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)  investment assets are currently expected to reach $53 trillion by 2025, representing more than one-third of the $140.5 trillion total assets under management. Investors are looking to decarbonise, with less ambitious responses to climate change being seen as an additional investment and performance risk with the potential for reduced growth and risk of greater externality costs." 

Part of the solution

According to Jon Davies, CEO of the Australian Constructors Association, “The record investment in infrastructure creates opportunities for the construction industry to be part of the solution to net zero. We all have a role to play, and it must be performed in partnership.”

There are many tools identified in the report which maps key enabling levers against asset lifecycle phase, as well as a net-zero delivery model to prompt and guide decision-making  from rethinking and redefining problems and solutions through to reducing carbon intensive materials and ensuring regenerative approaches are integrated into asset design and construction.

Although the industry has a significant footprint it has already started to demonstrate the influence it can have on the reduction of emissions said Ainsley Simpson, CEO, Infrastructure Sustainability Council. “The 24 As-Built Projects certified over the last four years by the Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Scheme reduced their whole-of-lifecycle emissions by 26.5 million tonnes of CO2e, which is equivalent to the 26 CO2e saved by the whole Australian economy in 2020.” 

The release of the framework follows the COP26 climate talks which called for accelerated decarbonisation before 2030 to keep the global temperature within 2 degree limits and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

“Strong leadership and collaboration across the industry is going to be required to achieve accelerated net-zero and keep our sector globally competitive,’’ said Nicola Grayson, CEO of Consult Australia.

According to Grayson, net-zero is a shared responsibility and the organisations who produced the report are committed to driving the continuous improvement required to achieve this shared outcome.

Digital imperative

According to the report, "With the advent of digital technologies, asset owners are now better placed to comprehensively monitor and optimise the performance of their existing assets and drive decisions on whether to opt for refurbishment or new construction."

For instance, the report's authors say the design phase provides opportunities to work with all stakeholders to maximise the impact on emissions while also increasing the resilience and lifetime value of assets.

Furthermore, "Advancements in digital design methods, standards and technologies provide platforms for practically implementing a net-zero vision."

Andy Cunningham, ANZ Regional Director, Autodesk, said technology supports the infrastructure industry with the tools they need to unlock insights, make better decisions, and achieve superior outcomes. 

“Software helps automate complex processes and transform data into actionable insights that empower innovators to improve the impact of everything they design, make, own, and operate. Cloud solutions and connected data environments fuel innovation — across technology, processes, supply chains, and industries. This opportunity is only accelerating,” said Cunningham.

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