Launching a Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure

What role can the engineering committee play in identifying and bridging the gaps in infrastructure climate adaptation and resilience?

Caroline Field reports from the Future World Vision Leadership Summit and the collective action the engineering community is taking in infrastructure climate adaptation and resilience.

To address this issue, The ASCE Foundation and ASCE, in collaboration with international expert Seth Schultz, convened a small, cross-cutting working group of action-oriented global leaders for a summit to envision the future, identify the biggest gaps to infrastructure climate adaptation and resilience, and to engineer and develop clear, actionable plans to bridge these gaps.

It culminated in a declaration our commitment to move these actions forward through a “Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure”.

Christine Williams, CFRE, Aff.M.ASCE, Executive Vice President, ASCE, thanked all who attended for their leadership on the issues: practical and sustainable solutions to adapt our infrastructure, closing the resilience gap, and breaking down barriers to action.

The ideas that emerged during the Summit will inform the Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure, as it moves forward. The next summit is likely to take place next year and it’s hoped that together all partners can have an impact on the future of resilient infrastructure.

Seth Schultz, also thanked those who came and participated, saying: “I am extremely pleased with the overall outcome. There have been numerous follow ups, discussion and proposals that have already emerged, and I am sure more to come.”

Why is this collective action so crucial? It’s clear that the global population will face unprecedented challenges over the next 50 years, from rising seas to more frequent extreme weather events, all of which will happen against a backdrop of significant demographic changes and technology advances. These global trends are already posing well-documented challenges. For instance, the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card estimates between 2016 and 2025, the U.S. alone will underinvest in its infrastructure by $2 trillion.

Practical solutions are needed to adapt our infrastructure, close the resilience gap, and break down barriers to action. While there has been some progress in developing favourable environmental, economic, and social policy to lessen the impacts of the changing climate, we need a larger scale commitment among stakeholders to adapt and incorporate sustainability into our infrastructure. This is particularly evident in large and rapidly growing cities around the world.

The Future World Vision Leadership Summit (see programme) took place immediately before the 2019 International Conference of Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) in Los Angeles in early November 2019 and brought together infrastructure pioneers and global leaders to:

  • Identify, prioritise and better understand the gaps and barriers for the planning, designing, building, maintaining and operating of sustainable and resilient infrastructure now and in the future
  • Cultivate and unlock the full potential of untapped partnerships and funding investments designed to reduce the impacts of extreme weather events, create sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and effect social change
  • Understand and identify practical plans of action and resources for implementing strategies that influence realistic short-term goals and also have measurable, long-term effects.

The workshop agenda included a Future World Vision talk to inspire the participants and three break-out groups that focused on:

  1. Bridging Gaps to Deliver Sustainable Infrastructure – a Deep Dive into Funding
  2. Transferring Infrastructure Resilience Theories to Practice – Incentives, Standards, Rating Systems, Tools, etc. – led by Caroline Field, Resilience Shift
  3. Applying Integrated Systems Approaches for Sustainable, Resilient Infrastructure of the Future – led by ASCE

The second, led by Caroline Field representing the Resilience Shift discussed “What does good like in resilience practice and where are the gaps?” Most of the gaps identified by participants focused on policy measures, as can be seen in the figure below.

There was then a short discussion on how we measure resilience. This was seen as key for building the business case for investing in resilience. Participants noted that it was important to understand responsibilities and standards of federal and local government. There was vibrant discussion around the ability of engineers to help visualise the future for clients and decision makers to convey the message more powerfully.

We were asked to come up with a list of actions we could take and our table came up with the following:

  • Influence policy law through the development of best practice, standards and codes. Demonstrate the urgency through visualisation of current, future and resilience scenarios that illustrate the value of resilience initiatives.
  • Develop best guidance/standards for adapting existing infrastructure and transforming communities following disruption.
  • Institutionalise resilience – local authorities develop office for resilience to manage resources and resilience building agenda.
  • Insurance – engagement with insurance industry to help define economic incentives for action.
  • Managing public expectations. Engaging with the public to help them understand risk and manage expectations in terms of performance and community outcomes.

Each group shared their findings. The day culminated into a declaration of our commitment to move these actions forward through a ‘Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure’.

The workshop included senior representatives from:

  • LA City Department of Public Works
  • LA County Department of Public Works
  • California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Burns McDonnell
  • Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy
  • Stanford University
  • Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
  • ASCE President
  • City of Houston Public Works
  • Zurich Insurance
  • LA Metro
  • WSP
  • Harvard University
  • Siemens
  • Skanska
  • Mayor of Vancouver
  • US Army Corp of Engineers
  • Mott MacDonald
  • HDR
  • Granite Construction