INFRASTRUCTURE

A proactive approach to climate change

Andrew Spencer discusses how Equans is creating sustainable communities through effective place-based decarbonisation.

The reality of climate change is undeniable, and its effects are already evident. However, it's essential to shift the conversation away from framing it as a battle we are losing, and instead focus on proactive climate adaptation measures. By prioritising adaptation strategies, we can better mitigate the impacts of global warming and work towards a more sustainable future.

In the past few decades, we've witnessed much needed and commendable progress in phasing out coal and greening electricity; but the built environment, namely sectors including heat, buildings, and transport are not only lagging; they are already beginning to suffer the side effects of our changing climate; including overheating, flooding, and storm damage.

To meet the Climate Change Committee's Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-2037), a significant shift is required in how we heat and power our communities and get around. A range of low carbon measures, from heat pumps to energy efficient lighting and EV adoption, offer support; but climate change cannot be tackled in silos. In the current economic climate, a joined up strategy is essential to deliver these net zero measures at scale within UK communities.

The question is, who is leading this endeavour? Our local authorities are facing unprecedented financial challenges against the backdrop of mounting pressure to decarbonise. As a company that's business model is centred on supporting local councils – it's something we know all too well and feel incredibly passionate about tackling in partnership with them.

Place-based decarbonisation goes far beyond carbon reduction – envisioning a transformation of the built environment, economic landscape, and social dynamics, tailoring measures to each region's requirements, and championing socially cost-effective solutions.

More than 50% of the required emissions reductions rely on individuals and businesses adopting low-carbon solutions – choices influenced by local and personal decisions. The implementation of supportive infrastructure and systems significantly impacts these decisions.

While local authorities are accountable for just 2-5% of local emissions, they possess various tools to drive broader local initiatives for emission reduction and climate resilience.

To address this, we have worked to develop a holistic, sustainable regeneration model that integrates technical systems optimisation, a blended funding strategy, social impact maximisation, and legal and commercial innovation. This is in addition to the delivery of all physical works: we have the expertise and experience to provide a complete end-to-end offer at scale. This multifaceted approach aims not only to reduce carbon emissions but also to create a lasting positive impact on the economic, environmental, and social fabric of the places and communities that we live and work in.

No two places share the same challenges, infrastructure, or people, so we cannot expect a one-size-fits-all solution to a very complex problem. A whole system approach, which is tailored to a specific area, is the only way we can achieve positive results.

This approach is already having a considerable impact across the UK in scaling net zero projects. In the West Midlands, we are working with Dudley MBC to deliver the UK's first net zero neighbourhood, which is funded by West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) funding.

The landmark project in Brockmoor will look to tackle climate change through decarbonisation while reducing household energy bills, creating better transport links, and increasing the community's participation in making the neighbourhood cleaner and greener. The project will ultimately act as a prototype to decarbonise neighbourhoods across all seven West Midlands local authority areas.

The WMCA will invest £1.65m capital into Phase One of the scheme – which will eventually see a neighbourhood of up to 300 homes (a mix of privately owned and social housing properties) and associated infrastructure benefit from net zero measures.

Homes will undergo ‘deep retrofit' of energy efficiency and decarbonisation measures using cutting-edge insulation with options for solar panels, batteries, and low carbon heating systems. Other measures introduced on a neighbourhood-scale could include shared bicycles, demand responsive transport, local grid trading, communal food growing initiatives, green roofs, and sustainable drainage systems.

Place-based decarbonisation is not just a technical fix; it is a comprehensive, community-driven transformation. By optimising technical systems, implementing a diverse funding strategy, maximising social impact, and fostering legal and commercial innovation, we envision a future where sustainability is ingrained in the fabric of our communities.

Andrew Spencer is Zero Carbon Solutions Director at Equans UK & Ireland

This article is sponsored content for The MJ

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