Infrastructure in 2022: a horizon scan of the year ahead for civil engineering

This inaugural report from ICE’s new community advisory boards identifies the key challenges that need to be tackled by the sector in the year to come.

Reducing infrastructure's carbon footprint will be crucial for a sustainable future
Reducing infrastructure's carbon footprint will be crucial for a sustainable future

Civil engineers are responsible for the infrastructure all around us. Our roads, bridges, power cables and streetlights are part of the daily fabric of life and – in most cases – we probably take them for granted.

However, climate change and trends such as growing urbanisation have disrupted the status quo and underlined the need for profound change – and soon. The Covid-19 pandemic has also brought a stark warning of what challenges could lie ahead.

Reducing our carbon footprint is crucial for a sustainable future and, with infrastructure being responsible for more than half of the UK’s total carbon emissions, civil engineers know they can, and must, play a vital role. That is why ICE is proud and excited to have established a vibrant group of experts, through its new community advisory boards, to make a significant contribution to ICE’s vision and especially for net zero.

ICE President Ed McCann, in his 2021 presidential address, set out how during his tenure ICE would examine the issue of improving infrastructure productivity within the context of delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

It is with this imperative that the nine community advisory boards, comprising infrastructure experts from a wide variety of sectors, sought to identify the significant challenges facing civil engineers and society in the year to come and present them through this report.

What does the report identify?

The report sets out the major issues that need to be addressed in areas aligned with ICE’s core objectives. These include:

  • Productivity: fresh procurement models are needed in 2022 to drive a step change in the efficiency of the civil engineering industry
  • Data and digital: proving the value of information management is crucial to encouraging meaningful transformation in working practices across the sector
  • Decarbonisation: a key area of focus in 2022 should be the way infrastructure contracts are awarded and structured
  • Flooding: evidence suggests that changing climates will easily overwhelm engineers’ ability to fully protect all communities from excess water, so a switch in approach is required
  • Low carbon energy: the recent jump in energy prices should act as a catalyst for people and businesses to take ownership of their own electricity generation and embrace renewables
  • Structures and geotechnical: the failure of recent high-profile civil engineering projects to pass smoothly through the planning process should act as a wake-up call to the sector
  • Sustainable, resilient infrastructure: future designs will have to anticipate climate-related changes as well as consider new technologies, cybersecurity and economic and social priorities
  • Transport and mobility: a new approach to infrastructure provision and planning is needed from clients and policymakers at all levels, driven by an economic imperative to achieve pressing aims with limited resources
  • Water and sanitation: without extra effort, improvements by the water sector to achieve net-zero operational carbon by 2030 will diminish, so it is essential that the industry embraces new approaches and technology

The topics identified are wide-ranging but offer key insights to engineers and the infrastructure industry on some of the core challenges that need to be addressed in 2022.

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