University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Engineering Department Geotechnical Research Seminars > Engineering a low carbon future for the UK

Engineering a low carbon future for the UK

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It is clear that carbon has provided a focus for political action that sustainability could never achieve. As a nation, we passed primary legislation in 2008 on reducing carbon emissions and the consequences of this new law are now being rolled out through our different industrial sectors. For the geotechnical engineering community, the key issue for debate will be how the emerging low carbon economy will affect the design and delivery of low-carbon infrastructure.

We might, for example, develop an entirely new perspective on infrastructure – challenging the Victorian concept of an indefinite design life and designing for maximum efficiency, performance and ease of renewal. We might also need to reflect on the interaction between infrastructure and how project selection is managed in a more systems oriented approach. We certainly need to reflect on how we can accelerate the innovation cycle in civil and geotechnical engineering to make better use of our research base and strengthen our capability to take up new knowledge across industry.

As the Copenhagen Accord develops into a wider global agreement during 2010, the race will be on to offer new engineering services and low-carbon solutions on a world scale. Informed clients have demanded more ‘sustainable’ engineering solutions from our industry for some years, but sustainability as a concept has become diluted. In the UK today, sustainability is seen as embracing a wide range of issues that engineers have to consider in projects, from biodiversity to employment.

The challenge for geotechnical engineers is to recognise that after years of important but low level commitment to sustainable engineering solutions, very soon we will be required to design, to tender, to construct and to operate our buildings and infrastructure to a carbon budget as well as a financial budget. The consequence of Copenhagen for the engineering profession may be that we start to see carbon as a primary design determinant, not simply as one of a list of desirable environmental outcomes to be traded one against the other. For geotechnical engineers around the world this will require new models, new tools and new training, all of which need urgent research and rapid implementation.

This talk is part of the Engineering Department Geotechnical Research Seminars series.

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