Higher temperatures, rising sea levels, drought and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events are the forecast impacts of climate change on Gulf states, and they are spurring action.

All GCC countries have signed the Paris Agreement, which commits them to implementing carbon reduction plans aimed at keeping the global temperature rise well below 2°C.

They are also signatories to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which reinforce action on climate change by committing governments to integrate effective measures into national policies, strategies and planning.

Greenhouse gases

Although the region’s share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is less than 2 per cent, five of the six GCC members rank in the top 10 for per-capita emissions, producing about four times the world average per person.

On average, 93 per cent of total GHG emissions are generated by the energy sector in the six GCC countries, compared with a world average of 78 per cent.

The infrastructure sector, encompassing buildings, communications, power, transport, waste and water, will play a key role in reducing both embodied and operational carbon emissions. New assets in planning, or existing ones being updated, need to be designed and delivered to be low carbon.

International influence

In the UK, Mott MacDonald was the co-author of the UK government’s Infrastructure Carbon Review, which outlined how cutting carbon cuts costs.

The consultancy also co-authored PAS 2080, the world’s first carbon management standard for infrastructure. This voluntary standard provides a consistent approach to methods, measurement and reporting, enabling companies across the supply chain to ensure carbon management is central to strategies for all infrastructure projects.

Gulf states plan to invest huge sums in infrastructure over the next few years as they seek to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons. In an era of low oil prices, securing outside investment is crucial to funding these ambitions.

Low-carbon infrastructure projects are attractive to global investors, who are reluctant to finance schemes they believe are not sustainable, may become stranded assets and provide little or no return.

The greater focus on climate-related financial risk is now shaping investment decisions, whether finance is via a traditional or public-private partnership route – making it an opportune moment to ensure that what is built or repurposed in the Gulf is low carbon.

Financial returns

The good news is that cutting carbon also saves money and creates value. Mott MacDonald’s research for the UK government showed that carbon is a good proxy for cost. Those who have been most successful in cutting carbon have unleashed innovation and enjoyed financial returns as a result.

Mott MacDonald has helped clients achieve this through our carbon reduction hierarchy, which ensures that innovative thinking is applied to all projects, at all stages.

Carbon reduction hierarchy

The hierarchy consists of four levels, beginning with build efficiently, which involves using modern construction techniques and eliminating waste. The company took this approach on a road scheme in Australia and achieved 25 per cent cost and 57 per cent capital carbon savings.

At the other end of the spectrum is build nothing. This focuses on challenging the need for new infrastructure and assets. In the UK, Mott MacDonald used existing infrastructure to increase water supplies to an expanding town, while reducing cost by 82 per cent and securing capital carbon savings of 94 per cent for associated materials.

Positioned between build efficiently and build nothing are build smart and build less. Building information modelling is increasingly helping to design components that are easier to manufacture and consume fewer resources. This smarter approach to delivering infrastructure assets is about maximising the performance of existing assets while building less.

Practical application

Now, Mott MacDonald is applying this approach and lessons learned elsewhere in the Middle East, where large carbon cuts are possible. In the UAE, the firm has already worked with one utility company to assess carbon emissions, identify potential reductions and provide a sustainability roadmap.

By developing a carbon footprint calculation tool and forecasting scenarios, Mott MacDonald helped to identify potential emissions reductions of 1 tonne per capita. We are now working to deliver those savings.

High priority

Mott MacDonald is also building carbon into the early decision-making processes for a port development in the region. The design-stage carbon management process quantifies emissions to enable the selection of low-carbon options for the project.

Our experience shows that by measuring, reducing and reporting emissions, it is possible to minimise climate change impacts and costs.

If the Gulf is to play its part in the Paris Agreement and attract private investment, it should ensure best-practice carbon management is embedded in all infrastructure projects.

About the author

Luay Khdeir

Lu’ay Khdeir is Mott MacDonald’s Middle East Infrastructure Development Director