A new approach for net-zero

The place-based approach focuses on the decarbonisation of cities, rather than infrastructure projects.

A report released by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council and global engineering, management and development consultants Mott MacDonald, highlights a new way to achieve net-zero emissions.

According to the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, infrastructure contributes up to 70 per cent of emissions through planning, design, building and use of assets.

While solutions for emission reduction do exist, implementation across the whole infrastructure sector and across interconnected infrastructure systems, has proven to be a challenge – until now.

The Place-based approach to net-zero report, written by Infrastructure Sustainability Council and Mott MacDonald, highlights a new approach which focuses on climate action in cities and regions, rather than just assets and materials.

As Cathy Chesson Technical Director – Environment and Sustainability for Mott MacDonald says, the report is inspired by similar action taken in the United Kingdom (UK).

“In May 2019 the UK Government legislated to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, acting on advice and recommendations from its advisory group, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), that rapid and total decarbonisation of the economy is required to achieve a stable climate and a sustainable future,” Chesson says.

“The Net-Zero Infrastructure Industry Coalition was set up to support the delivery of this UK net-zero commitment.  Clare Wildfire, Global Cities Lead at Mott MacDonald, led the team that prepared the initial Place Based Approach to Net Zero report, a key delivery of the coalition, looking at the interplay between national and local government as the UK steps up its decarbonisation ambitions.

“The Infrastructure Sustainability Council approached Mott MacDonald late last year, interested in preparing a similar piece for Australia and New Zealand.”

The UK report detailed how infrastructure could be used to achieve net zero through place-based solutions. It also acted as a call-to-action for the infrastructure sector to lead by example.

“It’s putting a systematic approach to decarbonisation of cities and regions, rather than thinking about individual infrastructure assets or projects,” Chesson adds.

Adapting the report from the UK application to Australia and New Zealand did present its challenges due to differing government structures between the three nations, however it’s content is still highly applicable for Australia and New Zealand, says Marianna Southwick, Mott MacDonald Australia Precincts Lead.

“The challenges of urbanisation and the need for climate action are common to all countries, cities and regions. But the responses to address them require a bespoke and nuanced approach, depending on where they are located,” Southwick says.

“The place based framework in the original report is robust and applicable to multiple different places, enabling a targeted response to the challenges, vulnerabilities, opportunities and community considerations of each location.”

The place-based approach incorporates the transport habits of each region or city.

Key findings

Major infrastructure projects, such as the Parramatta Light Rail in Sydney’s west, are already employing sustainable construction methods, which in turn, support broader benefits to the local community.

Southwick says the Parramatta Light Rail Project’s use of ‘green track’, which involves planting grass or groundcovers between and beside the light rail tracks, is a good example. 1.3 kilometres of green track will result in 81 per cent less concrete, reduced carbon, reduced urban heat, improved dust filtering, reduced stormwater and enhanced natural habitat. Plus, the benefits will extend to localised social and community outcomes.

Creating and connecting communities was a key goal for the Parramatta Light Rail. Use of the green track and overhead wire-free technology though heritage parklands and reserves, ensures the Light Rail will seamlessly pass through valuable green spaces, rather than acting a major infrastructure barrier. Optimising local green space connections will further contribute to health and wellbeing benefits, protect heritage values, and support increased community participation.

So how else can the place-based approach be implemented?

The report contains a case study at Hobsonville Point, in Wellington, New Zealand. Here the focus was setting and achieving ‘sustainable transport targets’.

As Chesson explains, the case study provided an example of applying the framework to a specific location and their communities. She adds that the behaviours, perceptions and priorities of communities may have been derived through decades of precedent, but its important in tackling pathways to net zero that we look at these motivations and behaviours and look for opportunities to release new funding and resources.

“The project team asked ‘how do people move around within Hobsonville Point? How do they get to work? Is everything they’re doing within their community?’” she says.

The safe and convenient movement of people on foot or on bikes within the community has been made a priority. The coastal walkway also allows residents to walk or bike ‘off road’ between their homes and the schools, parks, shops and ferry wharf. Living in a walkable neighbourhood reduces the need for families to own more than one car.

“By identifying what’s relevant to communities, we can also identify what infrastructure is needed to foster behavioural changes,” Chesson says.

“I think the report sets up a framework for other places, cities and regions to actually implement place based approaches to achieve carbon reduction and other environmental and community benefits.”

Marianna Southwick, Mott MacDonald Australia Precincts Lead, says the need for climate action is universal, but the nuances of each region are different, a reason for the development of the place-based approach.

Looking ahead

Southwick says a key to the success of the place-based approach will be collaboration and partnerships as well as appropriate governance.

“The framework identifies the four pillars of change, which are powers, partnerships, platform and people. These are critical to success – ensuring that for every place we have the right powers, the right governance and the right leadership to effect meaningful change,” she says.

She adds that momentum is growing across the infrastructure sector to achieve place-based outcomes and solutions.

“It’s very encouraging that all tiers of government, industry, business and communities are coming together to resolve how we can work together to optimise outcomes.

“We’re at an important point politically regarding the net zero conversation, and I think this report is well timed for Australia. A place based approach enables more effective cross sector solutions, working more effectively across jurisdictions, and mobilising local community engagement. These are all key to a net-zero future.”

This report is a call-to-action for the infrastructure sector to lead by example, thinking globally, acting locally in the cities and regions in which people live, work and play. Following from the report the Infrastructure Sustainability Council is encouraging industry (government department, delivery authorities, private industry, consultants and contractors) to join the ISC Climate Action Coalition or to start similar conversations.

Since the launch of the report, the Infrastructure Sustainability Council has launched an EOI for a Member Coalition which will collaboratively lead the progression of place-based approaches to net zero for every town, city and region.

To find out more, visit www.iscouncil.org or email coalitions@iscouncil.org

This article was originally published in the July edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.



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