Reducing embodied emissions in infrastructure

Infrastructure New South Wales (iNSW) recently released a discussion paper which provides guiding principles to help decarbonise the delivery of public infrastructure across the planning, design and construction phases.

Focusing on reducing embodied emissions, the paper brings the NSW government closer towards its adopted goal of net-zero emissions across the NSW economy by 2050 and deliveing a 50% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.

The paper defines embodied emissions as ‘emissions resulting from the production of materials used in the construction of infrastructure, their transport to site and from the construction process itself’. With embodied emissions currently estimated to be approximately 5% to 10% of Australia’s total emissions and rising, the need for action is clear.

The paper firstly poses the seemingly obvious question of, do we need to build it. Simply not building new infrastructure is the easiest way to reduce embodied emissions, which is why iNSW recommend the use of options analysis and design optimisation to apply a hierarchy of approaches which include non-build solutions or adapting an existing asset.

In cases where it is concluded that new infrastructure needs to be built, RA welcomes and supports iNSW’s principles identified in the paper, which align closely with recommendations made in The Journey to Net-Zero – Inspiring Climate Action in the Australian Transport Sector, delivered from an industry-first partnership between RA, the Australian Railway Association (ARA) and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC).

In both publications, the measures discussed include the measurement of decarbonisation, earlier collaboration, recycled materials, and the including and assessment  of the climate impacts  transport infrastructure projects will have across their lifecycle

In the discussion paper, the principle to adopt a whole of NSW Government approach to measuring embodied emissions in infrastructure is a significant step in achieving RA’s calls for a national measurement framework to accurately track and measure progress towards net-zero.

There was also the theme of increased and earlier industry collaboration to facilitate the implementation of low emission designs and approaches in both publications.

Echoing RA’s work on transitioning to a circular economy with a focus on recycled material, the discussion paper included maximising the use of recycled and low emissions building materials where possible and regularly reviewing whether standards are constraint.

RA welcomes the discussion paper’s contribution to providing our industry with clarity on a practical approach to reducing embodied emissions.

Read Decarbonising Infrastructure Delivery

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