Greening the infrastructure that makes our economy go round
The Green Files is a unique CEFC series where we talk to the people making a difference in the race to net zero emissions.
They’re massive assets, yet often taken for granted. They cost billions to build, years to deliver, and we measure their impact in decades. And when they don’t work, the worst case scenario can mean lives are at risk.
We’re talking about infrastructure: those essential assets that make our modern world go round – from transmission to telcos, roads to railways, data centres to distribution warehouses, hospitals to tunnels.
And while the economic and social benefits are often inarguable, the same can’t be said when it comes to emissions.
Collectively, Australia’s crucial infrastructure assets are responsible for an eye-watering 70 per cent of our emissions. Which puts them right at the centre of our national efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Infrastructure Sustainability Council CEO Ainsley Simpson* says the challenge is bigger than any single organisation.
The decisions that we're making around the infrastructure investment that will catalyse 50 and 100 years’ worth of emissions are actually being made today. We need to redefine whether we build. And then what we build. And then how we build it. And we need to do that as a collective endeavour.Ainsley SimpsonCEO, Infrastructure Sustainability Council
Accelerating a resilient future
Simpson is convenor of an exciting new effort to help Australia make the right decisions when it comes to greening our essential infrastructure.
Under the tagline ‘accelerating a resilient future’, Infrastructure Net Zero brings together key stakeholders from 10 industry and government organisations to look at how we can green our infrastructure.
Founding members, including the CEFC, represent all sectors and asset classes, with a shared goal of co-ordinating, collaborating and reporting on infrastructure’s pathway to net zero in a manner that aims to deliver value for community, government, industry and the environment.
As a sector we want to look at the origins of infrastructure emissions and work out how we can best manage them for today and into the future. It’s important work. Decisions made about infrastructure today will have ramifications for decades to come.Ainsley SimpsonCEO, Infrastructure Sustainability Council
Says Simpson: “We also want to look at how we can extract more value from existing infrastructure. Asset-level upgrades might mean we can limit the embodied carbon associated with new builds, such as those created by asphalt, steel or cement. If we ask the right questions at the strategic planning stage, we can ensure emissions outcomes are considered alongside the initial investment decisions. It’s about getting a more detailed view of both the economic and emissions impact of these critical assets.”
Bringing together expertise and experience
Simpson brings considerable experience to Infrastructure Net Zero in her role as convenor.
With qualifications in sustainable resource use, natural sciences and an MBA she has worked in environmental services and as a sustainability advisor.
On behalf of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, she also spearheaded the continued evolution of the IS Rating Scheme, Australia and New Zealand’s only comprehensive rating system for evaluating the economic, social and environmental performance of infrastructure across the planning, design, construction and operational phases of infrastructure assets. The scheme can assess the sustainability performance of infrastructure at the individual assets level, for portfolios or networks, or even at a regional scale.
Our $230 billion opportunity
It’s hard to over-state the urgency of the infrastructure emissions task. Latest Australian Government data, via the Infrastructure Market Capacity report, points to a major public infrastructure pipeline valued at $230 billion over five years. This is occurring alongside a plan to build 1.2 million new homes as well as major investment in the energy sector, which is quadrupling over that same period.
Infrastructure Net Zero has identified transport infrastructure as one of its first priorities. The transport sector currently contributes 21 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and is projected to be the largest contributor of emissions by 2030, reaching 30 per cent of total emissions by 2035.
Says Simpson: “One of our first tasks is to define what net zero specifically means for infrastructure, so we can develop guiding principles for decarbonising each sub-sector, including possible emissions reductions trajectories and pathways.
The members supporting Infrastructure Net Zero already have a great track record of collaboration. With this new initiative we recognise the importance of creating a set of balanced measures to help focus effort on the right areas, to establish a robust performance measurement framework, and to report regularly on our progressAinsley SimpsonCEO, Infrastructure Sustainability Council
“Our diverse foundation members, from industry organisations to investors and Government, means Infrastructure Net Zero can act as a bridge between the key decision makers driving our infrastructure agenda.”
*Ainsley Simpson has moved on from her position as ISC CEO to take on a new role as inaugural Chief Executive Officer of Seamless from March 2024.