Our best chance

22 January 2016

THE TAIL end of 2015 saw an historic agreement to combat global carbon emissions. The hope is to keep global warming below a 2oC threshold (actually aiming for 1.5 oC) and in so doing save the planet. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference Agreement, better known as the Paris Agreement, or COP 21, has been celebrated by pundits and politicians worldwide, despite some of the legally binding phrasing being edited out.

The crux of the deal is that developed nations should cut carbon emissions, while also preventing developing nations from getting hooked on carbon-heavy routes to prosperity. This is supposed to be largely financial, with USD 100bn set to _ ow from richer countries to poorer from 2020 to help with climate-friendly initiatives. And there's some detail on relief from the effects of climate change, non-binding, and a general spirit of sharing the burden.

Zia Qureshi, a non-resident senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development Programme for the Brookings Institute (a US think tank) and formerly a director in the Development Economics department of the World Bank, highlights infrastructure as a key part of this climate fight.

In a document published just prior to COP 21, he writes: "Infrastructure development, economic growth, and climate protection are intimately related. Infrastructure is a key driver of economic growth and development [...] Infrastructure is a key element of the climate change agenda. Done badly, it is a major part of the problem; infrastructure accounts for more than half of global carbon emissions. Done right, it is a major part of the solution, vital to both climate change mitigation and adaptation."

The world has been under-investing in infrastructure according to Qureshi. There is a need to substantially scale up investment across all sectors: transport, water, energy systems, and city development. Global investment needed over the next 15 years is some USD 90 trillion. As a point of reference, the Gross World Product (GWP), the total value of the global economy, was close to USD 78 trillion in 2014 according to the World Bank. And the international community is looking to build sustainability in to this impending investment mountain.

In February 2015 we published a Q&A with ITA president Søren Degn Eskesen in which he highlighted the work done to get the tunnelling industry on the UN planning agenda. Mostly Eskesen looked at storm and flood mitigation schemes; protection against the effects of climate change as they arise, but with this enormous political will moving towards green planning, perhaps a new focus on material science advances, or efficiency of design will come through in client requirements.

It is now more important than ever to raise the pro_ le of the tunnelling industry with decision makers, in light of the investment to come, and the benefits that underground space can bring. Initiatives such as the UK's first national tunnelling day help to increase general awareness of tunnelling, and deserve a shout out (see cover).

Even thinking cynically, at the very least this investment in climate action will be another in a long line of boosts for underground solutions to efficiently deal with a rapidly urbanising (and developing) global population