Ministers need new policies, fast, says ICE
The ICE has challenged government to get serious about making UK infrastructure low carbon through a series of bold new policies, including making motorists pay for road space.
It wants government to look far more holistically at the carbon created by infrastructure when making long term investment decisions.
By considering, for example, the carbon emitted by vehicles using roads, or pumps circulating water around water mains, the ICE believes different projects would be invested in.
Less carbon, less cost
These could be more expensive in both capital cost and upfront carbon emissions, but over the whole life would emit far less carbon and even cost less because of carbon floor pricing.
“If we as a country want to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 we need to take care about emissions from our infrastructure “
Tim Chapman, Arup
Building a road with sliproads instead of roundabouts, or a tunnel, instead of going over a steep hill, could significantly reduce the carbon emitted by vehicles, it believes (see box).
The approach is outlined in its report Building a Sustainable Future, launched this week.
It sets out five priority actions, three of which challenge government to make new policy, including introducing demand management for road use.
Wider, faster road
A wider, faster road would limit carbon emissions only if demand is retrained, it argues.
“Our aim is to challenge government to take the low carbon initiative seriously,” says Arup director Tim Chapman, who chairs the ICE’s Infrastructure Trajectory Project Group (ITPG) that produced the report.
“If we as country want to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 we need to care about the emissions from our infrastructure.
“We have got 40 years to tackle this, but if you consider how long we take to build, then we have to act now.”
Update next month
The first annual update to the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) - to be published later this month - will include initial ideas on how to cut carbon in infrastructure. It is expected that the update will also commission the Engineering the Future group of engineering institutions to do further work.
The ICE hopes that the ITPG study will be a significant contribution to that work.
The first priority, says Chapman, is to turn the NIP into a “proper plan”, with future requirements for each aspect of infrastructure expressed as output - based performance requirements.
“This report is swimming with the tide, and it should be followed through. It is not about building more, but building rationally”
Tim Chapman, Arup
These performance requirements would then be reported on a National Infrastructure Scorecard that also covers
the adequacy of investment plans and the health of the underlying skills base to deliver change.
The scorecard could be used to hold government and other asset owners to account and provide information on the health of UK infrastructure generally.
The second priority calls on government to rationalise carbon pricing.
The government has set the carbon price floor at £13/t CO2 for introduction in 2013, rising to £30/t CO2 by 2020.
The report says the government is right to set this, but it needs to be applied across all infrastructure - including aviation.
The third and fourth priorities are largely for industry.
First, the report calls on industry to ensure that its core practices lead to the systemic reduction in carbon from the construction and operation of the UK’s infrastructure networks.
To embed this thinking into industry practice, the principle of optimising capital expenditure (Capex) and operational expenditure (Opex) should be extended to carbon management, it says.
This would introduce the concepts of capital carbon (Capcarb) and operational carbon (Opcarb) into the options appraisal process.
Capcarb would consist of carbon expended in construction - mainly embodied carbon in materials and emissions arising from energy used in the construction process.
Change of practice
Opcarb would consist of carbon emitted during the operation, use and maintenance of an asset, and critically would also include emissions associated with users of the infrastructure, for instance vehicles on roads or water being pumped around a network (see box).
“This is a change from current practice where most asset owners only consider their own usage, but it is absolutely necessary if designers are to optimise carbon performance,” says Chapman.
The second industry-led priority action is to develop a high-level evaluation tool for use at the appraisal stage.
“We have tools like Ceequal [Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Award Scheme], which are very good. But they come too late in the process,” says Chapman.
Finally, the report calls on government to accept that greater use of demand management is essential in eliminating congestion during periods of peak demand - which is a massive creator of unnecessary carbon emissions.
The ICE has committed to support the development of its ideas, saying it will ensure engineers are educated and trained in the science of carbon evaluation and systems engineering.
It will also promote the Capcarb and Opcarb idea by getting case studies from industry and encouraging research in universities.
It also says it will take the lead on developing the high-level evaluation tool needed to underpin the approach.
Finally, it says it will convene a working group of designers and design code bodies to look at ways of reducing embodied carbon in structures through conservative overdesign.
“This report is swimming with the tide, and it should be followed through,” says Chapman. “It is not about building more, but building rationally through a series of targeted improvements over a number of years.”
Priorities in action 1
What would change if the ICE’s low carbon infrastructure approach was adopted? Taking the road network from London to Plymouth as an example…
Under priority one, the government through the National Infrastructure Plan will set a goal for how well Plymouth should be connected to the national road network and may set capacity and journey time for vehicles travelling from the South West of England to the Midlands and London.
The aim of this will be to ensure that the economy of Plymouth can be integrated into the whole national economy and industry will have every reason to choose to locate into the region bringing jobs and prosperity.
From priority two, a price on carbon will ensure that the chosen journeys from Plymouth will be sensibly considered and priced by users according to the potential harm done.
The civil engineering industry will, under priority three, have created the raw knowledge on which rational transportation investment choices can be made to fulfil the fundamental aim. The methodology in priority four will allow the choices to be evaluated and an optimum investment decision made.
And the steps in priority five will mean that the capacity created is not swamped by random leisure journeys stimulated by the easy connections.
Hence these five linked propositions create the optimal framework for long term investments in low carbon infrastructure to serve national goals.
Priorities for action 2
The study assessed two proposed options to address an existing pumping station in need of replacement.
Option one would replace the existing pumping station.
Option two would abandon the existing pumping station and instead collect water by constructing a bypass culvert and raise river banks upstream.
Through consideration of the construction phase alone, the replacement of the existing pumping station is favourable - mainly due to the large amount of embodied carbon in the materials required to increase the height of the banks upstream.
But the conclusion changes when the maintenance, use and operation phases are also considered. Option one would require a constant energy supply and a more intensive maintenance schedule over option two - resulting in option two being favourable in carbon terms.