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Bringing together a coalition for change

How should engineers contribute to the urgent need for action on climate change, and the need for more resilience?

A powerful and committed group of founding organisations is driving a newly-formed global Coalition to take immediate action and is asking all those working across the infrastructure life-cycle to get involved.

The International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) hosted its 2020 Action Summit Plenary in April (15/04/2020) to update interested parties on its progress and propose next steps. Originally to be hosted by Stanford University, the Summit moved online as have most other events this spring due to the major impact of Covid-19.

The Summit was hosted by founding organisers the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM), The Resilience Shift, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and its ASCE Foundation, WSP and LA Metro, along with contributions from Siemens.

When the Coalition was first launched at the ASCE’s International Conference for Sustainable Infrastructure in November 2019, its aims were to globally leverage engineers skills as reputable and uniquely suited catalysts in understanding the gaps and barriers to resilient and sustainable infrastructure, to create partnerships between the engineering community and other sectors worldwide, and to determine how best to bring practical, fundable solutions to the marketplace in a more immediate and action-oriented way.

Coalition progress and direction

Since the demonstration of commitment expressed by the signing of a pledge at the launch, a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was agreed between GCOM and ASCE, an interim governance structure has been created, and four initial Action Tracks have been defined. The Coalition is now seeking to engage more widely to advance these Action Tracks.

We believe that the current global situation will ultimately present a new and immediate opportunity to accelerate change as the Covid-19 pandemic leads to fiscal stimulus that includes infrastructure.

Tom Lewis, an engineer and sector president from WSP, commented, “This is a unique time of opportunity for all infrastructure sustainability and resilience professionals to step up and initiate actions that will have long-lasting positive impacts. There are people looking to bring good minds to the discussion about how we restart the economy in a smarter way that will pay dividends for many decades to come.”

In the short term, the focus is on action and on expanding partnerships so as to make immediate progress throughout 2020 and into 2021. Therefore, the interim governance set up is simple, led by the founding organisations with ASCE’s Chief Operating and Strategy Officer, Jerry Buckwalter as Chair.

Summit overview

Introduced by Seth Schultz, The Resilience Shift Executive Director, WSP’s Tom Lewis focused on the purpose of the Coalition and the important role of engineers and other infrastructure stakeholders to address the urgent need for action on climate change.

Tom emphasised how infrastructure underpins sustainable development and he urged engineers to step forward as a catalyst for action. He highlighted how engineers have the knowledge and skills to develop and implement solutions that are achievable and practical. They are uniquely suited to be a part of the solutions puzzle and to help shift the focus from solely carbon reduction to achieving sustainable, resilient urban infrastructure. He also noted that COVID-19 presents a very near-term opportunity through economic stimulus to ensure that we are picking the right infrastructure projects to fund and then designing and building them right, so that we get not only short-term economic benefit of construction activity now but also the long-term benefits of sustainability and resilience at the same time.

At last year’s Conference, over 40 leaders from across different sectors, committed to drive practical sustainable resilient solutions and a real focus on action. Engineers can facilitate that action, working across disciplines and sectors to break down silos and make an impact across the whole infrastructure lifecycle.

Jerry Buckwalter spoke about we made this commitment to combat the effects of climate change around the world and how, at the heart of the Coalition is this commitment for action. He added that this is not just an ASCE- or even a U.S.-based activity but rather will include the addition of other like-minded global organisations.

As change agents, engineers and this broader Coalition can speed up the move to more resilient and sustainable infrastructure. To do this, we are using Action Tracks and these were set out for webinar participants by Juliet Mian, Technical Director, The Resilience Shift.

Initial action tracks proposed

  1. Funding and financing – Lead, Amanda Eichel: To provide guidance, establish standards, and deliver direct technical support through the GCoM City Climate Finance Gap Fund (Gap Fund) which will support the development of sustainable and resilient project concepts.
  2. Innovation – Lead, Jerry Buckwalter: To accelerate innovative ideas that improve sustainable design/performance and resiliency of infrastructure.
  3. Leadership and whole-of-life costs – Leads, Tom Lewis and Dr. Cris Liban: To facilitate a culture of leadership in fostering a changed project selection, scoping and funding paradigm. Adopting whole lifecycle cost approaches to demonstrate why sustainable and resilient infrastructure outperforms lower-capital-cost traditional alternatives when climate, natural resource and socio-economic and community quality of life impacts are taken into account.
  4. Guidance, tools and standards – Lead, Seth Schultz: To provide clear and coordinated guidance and standards to plan, develop and assess sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Reducing fragmentation across the value chain.

Discussion highlights and next steps

A Q&A was hosted by Amanda Eichel, Executive Director, of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and included all speakers plus Cris Liban, Chief Sustainability Officer, LA Metro, and Chair of ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability, and Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development, Siemens.

Topics discussed included the role of Coalition in shaping engineering culture, investment prioritization, the link with the development of the ASCE-ANSI standard for sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and opportunities for more formal alliance and collaboration with others who have similar goals – including but not limited to  the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), or the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers (CSCE), who had representation at the Summit and expressed interest in exploring the appetite and potential for further collaboration.

The issue of standards and the related Action Track generated lively discussion and Dr. Cris Liban highlighted some of the thinking around the ASCE-ANSI Sustainable Infrastructure Standard that directly incorporates the triple bottom line – community/social, natural world/environment and life-cycle costs. He said it must be “a universal standard for financiers, constructors, engineers and designers that they can be held up to, and can look up to, to define and create sustainable and resilient infrastructure”.

This first Summit is the start of many planned activities, with further action-oriented Leadership Summits to be focused around the Action Tracks. We want to co-create viable, impact-driven and timebound Action Plans, while building a global network to amplify our collective efforts while respecting that unique solutions will be needed for the diverse mosaic of global circumstances.

We cannot do this alone

Although a diversity of international organizations and geographies were represented at the Summit, we desire even broader global participation and engagement, and welcome those from all sectors and parts of the world with a commitment to action. Now is the time to turn our collective vision of sustainable and resilient infrastructure into reality. ​

As Siemens’ Martin Powell said, “if we crack this, it will benefit the communities that need it the most as we emerge from Covid-19”.

If you are interested in joining the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure and making a commitment to change, please submit a letter of interest to the Coalition from your organisation or personally.

To get involved, please email Andrew O’Connell at [email protected].

In your letter, please specify the type of commitment you are interested in making towards the Coalition. The types of commitments we are currently seeking include participating in calls and meetings, providing in-kind services towards advancing and shaping our action tracks, and providing financial and other necessary resources for the Coalition’s activities.

We hope you will join us.

With thanks from all founding organisers of the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure.

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