By David Kidd, WSP in New Zealand Director of Client Experience and Strategic Advisory

This year marks 50 years since former DSIR scientist Dave Lowe first pointed a flask into the teeth of the wind and started taking CO2 measurements on a rugged headland at the exposed southern edge of the North Island.

When records began at Baring Head the average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 323 parts per million (ppm). In recent weeks the reading has been  as high as 414ppm. While it’s not too late to halt this trajectory, the stark reality is that the world is lagging far behind scientific assessments that warn of irreversible impacts from rising temperatures.

The 2020s are make or break for the planet. Estimates indicate 20 percent of global carbon emissions relate to the construction of the built environment, with a further 30 percent coming from its operation and maintenance. Reducing these carbon emissions is our sector’s single greatest opportunity to contribute to climate action.

The time is right and the time to act decisively is now. That’s why last November WSP New Zealand made a bold commitment to halve the carbon footprint of infrastructure designs and advice provided to clients by 2030. While low carbon optioneering is not new to WSP, we’re materially accelerating our ability to help reduce the carbon emissions relating to the built environment at scale over the next 12 months. It’s a leadership imperative and one of the most important strategic priorities we have right now on behalf of the generations to come.

Setting targets without determining how they’ll be achieved is a pathway to nowhere and a distraction from action. So, to achieve this commitment we’ve established an organisational taskforce to lead the work – headed by a dedicated programme manager with executive sponsorship.

We’re baselining the current carbon emissions profile from WSP’s advice and designs and making a significant investment in our people and resources. Working with global peers at WSP UK and WSP Sweden who made a similar commitment, we’re developing a comprehensive suite of training and tools. These include a consistent way to capture, track and monitor the carbon emissions associated with projects. We’re also drawing on the expertise of our specialist research and innovation team in Petone who are already at the forefront of developing low and zero carbon construction materials.

Working at pace, our mantra is not to allow perfect to be the enemy of good progress. Our goal is for low carbon optioneering to become the norm on every relevant WSP project within 12 months. This mirrors the ambition and requirements of many of our clients for low carbon solutions.

New Zealand is firmly on the path to a low-emissions, climate resilient future, with several big-ticket decarbonisation items on the Government’s agenda – especially in the transport space. We’re actively providing clients with low carbon advisory services to help them develop effective decarbonisation and sustainability strategies, and to plan for how a just transition can be achieved.  The shift to a net zero environment will have social and economic impacts. It’s critical the initiatives which support this – including incentives and disincentives – are equitably distributed.

Achieving our commitment will require us to collaborate with clients, partners and other stakeholders to determine the most fit-for-purpose low carbon solutions. This will undoubtedly drive innovation, which will further accelerate our collective progress and benefit all.

While the path forward may not be easy, it’s key to helping take climate action now – on behalf of New Zealand and the world. With a 152-year legacy of pioneering the built environment in New Zealand and overseas, we’ve put a stake in the ground for future generations. Our hope is that this will encourage others to follow.