How climate smart are you?
At Aurecon, we believe we have a role to play in helping communities and economies in creating a better future for people and the planet – not just as designers, engineers and advisors, but also as innovators and individuals.
To uphold this responsibility, our people need to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to help our clients manage both the transition and physical risks of climate change. Our interns and graduates are a core part of this journey as they bring new approaches and thinking to our business – join us, and that could that be you!
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), less than 40 per cent of the 183 countries committed to the Paris Agreement have any plans for skills training or retraining to achieve their targets. But as more organisations commit to solving the climate crisis, people with climate smart skills have an advantage when applying for jobs in an increasingly competitive market.
We sat down with our Group Director for Sustainability, Paul Gleeson, as he shared five climate smart areas that employees need to learn to help businesses and their clients progress on their sustainability journey.
- Navigating climate risk
- Undertake scenario analysis and planning
- Employ unconventional thinking
- Recognise all stakeholders
- Be an influencer and change ambassador
Navigating climate risk
To fully understand the climate challenge, we need to understand the two components of climate risk: physical risk and transition risk.
The physical risks people most often associate with climate change include extreme heat, drought, and rising sea levels, but there are far more immediate ones such as more frequent and intense storms, bushfires, cyclones and flooding. We are starting to see these natural events more often now.
Learning how to mitigate the rising costs of natural hazards and embed resilience in our assets and infrastructures to avoid any disruptions to our productivity and ensure the protection of lives and livelihoods will help address these risks. This requires planning for climate impacts, building resilience into those impacts, restoring essential structures and functions, and increasing infrastructure resilience.
The other aspect of climate risk to understand further is transition risk, which is associated with transitioning to a low carbon or net zero economy. Decarbonising the economy means decarbonising the assets created: the construction activities, the mining activities that produce the raw material, the electricity that is used; everything throughout the production supply chain.
"Embedding sustainability into every aspect of Aurecon’s operation and project delivery is fundamental to driving change."
While the ultimate risk of not transitioning to a low carbon economy is suffering greater impacts from climate change, for many businesses, the immediate risks are associated with how to transition in a way that is cost-effective and protects their current assets. This is something we need to consider and address.
For Aurecon, the shift to a decarbonising economy means implementing appropriate measures to reduce the negative impacts our operations have on the planet. Embedding sustainability into every aspect of Aurecon’s operation and project delivery is fundamental to driving change. Our people need the same mindset to help our clients embrace a low carbon future.
Undertake scenario analysis and planning
Traditionally, historic data was used to design asset solutions. But now that a 1-in-50-year event is sadly becoming a 1-in-3-year event, that approach is fast becoming irrelevant. Today, we need the ability to look forwards more than backwards and be realistic that unfortunately, a certain amount of climate change will likely happen and should be planned for accordingly.
The skillset of scenario analysis is the ability to run multiple scenarios on an asset over periods of time in the context of climate risk to understand the implications of them. For example, how will the efficiency of our renewable energies be impacted by altered weather patterns caused by climate change? You need to become practiced at thinking ahead to what might happen and build a network of experts who can help you and your clients mitigate those risks.
As advisors and engineers, we need to think about how these physical climate risks will impact a project: what will these changed conditions do to a project or asset over the next 30 to 100 years, or whatever its design life is? What are the scenarios that we should be overlaying on these assets now to ensure we are designing them for the future?
Employ unconventional thinking
Related to scenario analysis is the skill of unconventional thinking. This helps in developing different solutions for traditional engineering problems and steering clients to more effective and sustainable solutions. Unconventional, is also the name of our Aurecon Graduate Programme.
Instead of building hard infrastructure, or grey infrastructure as it’s commonly known, there may be solutions that involve green infrastructure, or ‘nature-based solutions’ that are more efficient and safer for the ecosystem. For example, recreating wetlands surrounding an airport prone to flooding could help manage the rise and fall of water as effectively as building concrete banks and pumps. With the green infrastructure solution of the wetlands, we would also get the overlapping benefit of creating a carbon sink through carbon sequestration from the plants. Win-win!
"Imagine if we think beyond just rehabilitation and aim to make the land better than it was before?"
For clients such as mining companies that have a historical obligation to rehabilitate land, imagine if we think beyond just rehabilitation and aim to make the land better than it was before? Being cognizant and respectful of history and heritage can also provide new perspectives and solutions. What has worked well in the past that we can use in the future? How did indigenous people use this land? Can we reimagine these solutions for current and future problems?
Or perhaps instead of extracting new minerals when building new infrastructure, we can reduce or eliminate the need for new materials through design or recycling to help decarbonise our economy.
Recognise all stakeholders
The UN Sustainable Development Goals recognise the importance of balancing people, planet and prosperity. The inclusion of the prosperity goals acknowledges the reality that if people can’t feed their kids, you can’t expect them to engage on other topics, like climate change. This why understanding systems theory is another important climate smart skill.
Transitioning societies to the green economy will displace many people’s jobs and create new ones too and the impacts to their daily lives can be much, much deeper than what we know from the surface. This is important for businesses to understand.
What will be the social impact of our ingenious sustainable and cost-effective solution? Will the newly created jobs be in the same industry or the same geographic area? How much adjustment do they have to make for this transition and are they even supported to do so?
When considering how to repurpose, regenerate and reuse assets, remember to keep in mind the community and social implications of change, as well as the environmental ones. Rather than just decommissioning a coal-fired power station that employs most of the town built around it, we must also think about how we can repurpose it for the health and productivity of the community it serves.
Be an influencer and change ambassador
To achieve net zero targets, the whole economy needs to decarbonise, not just parts of it. Similarly, since climate-fuelled, extreme weather events are the ‘new normal’, it is our shared responsibility to be better prepared for when they strike. This means cultivating the skills of empathy and influence to bring everyone on the journey.
We need to understand that the client may not be as far along the climate journey as we are, or they may not even fully understand what it means and requires. Rather than imploring them to commit to net zero or invest in improving water quality because it’s the right thing to do, we need to understand their business context and use the right language.
"We need to understand that the client may not be as far along the climate journey as we are..."
Take them through the processes and systems that they have in place and explain how every step of their value chain may be impacted (for better or worse) depending on their business decisions – from possible scarcity of resources to long-term cost of operations.
The ability to unravel the complexity of climate change and make it meaningful to everyone is crucial, as is being able to engage with people from every side of the debate, not just those who agree with your perspective.
For more on this topic, read 'How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference' by Dr Rebecca Huntley.