The Copenhagen Conference is nearly upon us, putting climate change at the top of the global agenda. What can engineers do to set the pace and where do we start? Jo Stimpson takes a look at the challenge.
Over 12 days in December representatives from 193 countries will meet in Denmark to discuss climate change. Their goal will be to establish a global agreement to start when the Kyoto Protocol’s commitment period ends in 2012.
Debate has raged over whether this will actually happen. Danish minister for climate and energy Connie Hedegaard insists that failure is not an option. “If we don’t deliver in Copenhagen, then I cannot see when again you can build up a similar pressure on all the governments of this world to deliver,” she says. “It would be irresponsible not to use the momentum now.”
But others, including US President Barack Obama, have dampened optimism by wanting to postpone a global deal, preferring to use Copenhagen as a starting point.
“Don’t lose heart and be defeatist − we’ve really got to concentrate on what we can achieve.”
Paul Willson, Parsons Brinckerhoff
Still, the summit is a psychological milestone and an emblem of the world’s awakening to climate change. “We must keep sight of that fact and maintain momentum,” urges Parsons Brinckerhoff deputy director of engineering Paul Willson.
He is the main author of the firm’s new multi-sector low carbon study Powering the Future (see News). “Don’t lose heart and be defeatist − we’ve really got to concentrate on what we can achieve,” he says.
And Grontmij’s director of sustainability Frank Price points out engineers are at the centre of the transformation to a sustainable future. “Intelligent engineering is going to be the way we can adapt and mitigate our way out of the climate change issue,” he says.
There are a number of areas to be looked at. “Where we can have the biggest impact is in delivering for clients, by delivering projects that are sustainable in themselves,” says Price. He says sustainability should apply from the design phase through to and beyond completion. “We’re working on making sure our designs are efficient.”
Transport emissions are hugely important too, says Price. “If you are an office-based consultancy like us with people moving around a lot you can make a big impact there.” He says that of the 2,000t of CO2 emissions Grontmij recorded for 2008, 1,500t came from transport.
For contractors, he says, materials are key. Too much waste material from sites is sent to landfill, he says, and contractors should interrogate the green credentials of their suppliers.
Meanwhile, energy and climate change consultancy AEA’s knowledge leader on carbon management Mark Johnson says those in construction should tackle confusion about who is responsible for which emissions.
While a contractor may not be obliged under the CRC Efficiency Scheme for emissions, a developer on site and paying bills during the 2008 qualification period might be; and while emissions from on-road vehicles are not covered by the scheme, those from on site transport are.
“There are financial attractions as well as carbon benefits so it shouldn’t be a hard sell.”
Janet Laing, Mott MacDonald
Multidisciplinary engineering consultants can play a significant role in helping clients reduce their carbon emissions, says Mott MacDonald sustainability champion Paul Ashley.
“Combining innovation with traditional engineering expertise is critical for projects such as carbon capture and storage. But by joining up different disciplines we’re also able to develop smart solutions where you can save on materials, labour and environmental impact during construction, and reduce resource use and energy demand in operation.”
In some sectors, taking a wider view of the problem and potential solutions can yield opportunities to reduce energy demand or generate renewable energy, adds Mott MacDonald energy director Janet Laing.
For example, digesting sewage sludge, industrial and food waste produces methane. Land may be used to build wind turbines or solar arrays. Waste heat can be captured from one asset and reused for the benefit of another. “There are financial attractions as well as carbon benefits so it shouldn’t be a hard sell.”
Top 10 to watch at Copenhagen
This is the final instalment in NCE’s Road to Copenhagen series. The much-anticipated climate change summit has arrived and will be taking place in Denmark in 10 days’ time.
Opinions vary on how much the delegates will be able to achieve at the summit − but here’s a useful checklist to help keep track of their efforts.
10 things that could come out of Copenhagen:
- The attendance at the conference of major world leaders including President Barack Obama
- A consensus on how much industrialised countries are willing to do to reduce their emissions
- A consensus on how much money each country will commit to tackling emissions
- Clarity on how much major developing countries such as China and India are willing to do to limit their emissions’ growth
- An accord and unified effort between developed and developing countries
- An understanding on how the engagement of and assistance to developing countries in reducing their emissions will be financed
- New global emissions targets for each country
- A legal framework for a global climate change agreement
- A politically binding broad interim agreement on climate change
- A legally binding global climate change treaty
Price is keen to emphasise the emissions-reducing impact of small changes in the workplace. “We’re now only sending onethird of the material to landfill that we did two years ago.”
There are similar feelings at Balfour Beatty. The company has this week published a sustainability strategy for its operating companies outlining the steps it will take to tackle climate change. As well as ambitious targets, the strategy takes in more day-to-day plans such as recycling arrangements and waste and water monitoring.
Balfour Beatty’s strategy sets measurable targets, including “expectations” for 2012 (the mandatory standard), “excellence” for 2012 (the step ahead) and the ultimate goal for the company’s 2020 vision. Come 2012, a new set of interim goals will be decided. It is a detailed plan of action, and the company believes having an action plan is the key to success.
“We see this as a differentiator from our competitors − and a lot of this helps us on a cost base, which then also makes us more competitive,” says group managing director Mike Peasland.
Group head of environment Jonathan Garrett says wise businesses will formulate environmental strategies now. “Customers will want sustainability by 2020,” he says.
The strategy also sends a message to employees that sustainability is not just a marketing concept; it is something that every worker is expected to take on. Measurable targets allow progress to be monitored and priorities to be defined. “We might have to accelerate parts of this road map as things change,” says Garrett.
But strategy making is only the beginning of what companies can be doing now to improve their climate change credentials. Price notes that Grontmij has joined the 10:10 campaign to cut emissions by 10% in 2010, while Balfour Beatty has formed a relationship with sustainable development charity Forum for the Future and takes part in its Engineers of the 21st Century programme for young engineers.
“Customers will want sustainability by 2020. An independent facilitator to guide us through the process paid dividends.”
Jonathan Garrett, Balfour Beatty
Johnson of AEA recommends working towards the Carbon Trust Standard, which is awarded to organisations reducing their carbon footprint. Current standard holders include Aecom and Capita Group. He says it is also worth companies getting to grips with the CRC Efficiency Scheme even if they are not required to participate in it.
Although it currently applies only to organisations with an electricity consumption of at least 6,000MWh going through half-hourly meters in 2008, it is thought that the CRC’s second phase in 2013 could be expanded to include organisations with lower consumption, or to cover emissions of different greenhouse gases.
Understanding your own carbon footprint is an important first step towards managing emissions, says Johnson. Gathering data and setting targets are crucial. “The first thing to do is really understand your position,” he says.
Setting up a group to oversee the process is another good first step, says Balfour Beatty’s Garrett. “An independent facilitator to guide us through the process paid dividends.”
Peasland adds: “Having a key senior member of the organisation feeding into that group was key because it meant we could actually make decisions quickly.” Keeping an eye on the Copenhagen conference is undoubtedly another must-do for engineers.
What are the experts hoping to see post-Copenhagen? Price has guarded hopes for the summit: “The best thing from it will be a political agreement to a timescale for change,” he says. “As a profession the best we can hope for is that we finally get full understanding that climate change is going to affect us − whether you believe in man-made global warming or not.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff’s principal development engineer Phil Lucy says action from Copenhagen won’t be easy: “We need strong government leadership and a close track on the markets to make sure they are following the objectives.”
Willson agrees: “There’s going to be a need for leadership − how do you get an 80% reduction across the country?”
It is a difficult question, and one that will be even more pertinent post-Copenhagen.