Code Green: Experts eye digital engineering to help demolish infrastructure carbon emissions

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

Digital engineering could become one of our greatest tools towards building more climate-friendly public infrastructure.

Infrastructure Victoria is spearheading a push to build better carbon emission monitoring and reduction strategies across major infrastructure projects, recently releasing a new list of recommendations to the Victorian government.

The independent body’s Opportunities To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions Of Infrastructure Report has called for the government to adopt a 28–33 per cent emissions reduction target by 2026.

The recommendations, designed to further limit carbon emissions omitted in the construction of Victorian government schools, hospitals, transport projects and other infrastructure, will require the rollout and development of further digital engineering tools and practices to help track more consistent and accurate carbon data.

However, with construction accounting for 18 per cent of global CO2 emissions, experts say Australia must move fast to reduce emissions from extensive building works in order to reach current targets.

Infrastructure Victoria CEO, Dr Jonathan Spear, says that planning infrastructure to support emissions reduction goals can save money, improve productivity and create jobs.

“There are many ways to reduce the climate impacts of the infrastructure the government builds and operates, such as getting better use from existing assets and prioritising low carbon design and materials,” Dr Spear said.

“Our advice outlines a path for the government to make reducing emissions of infrastructure the new business-as-usual.”

What is digital infrastructure engineering and how does it help?

Digital infrastructure engineering is the development of systems and software to plan better and analyse ongoing projects to help design more sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Australia’s national body for engineering has welcomed Infrastructure Victoria’s recommendations and said the report highlights the role digital engineering is set to play in decarbonising the infrastructure sector.

“The Victorian Government has a plan in place to increase the use of digital engineering in infrastructure planning and delivery. We are pleased to see Infrastructure Victoria highlight the increasingly important role digital engineering and engineers will play in decarbonising the sector,” Engineers Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew AO said.

“From designing less waste and materials into buildings, through to exploring low or non-build solutions and adapting current infrastructure assets to meet future needs, digital engineering will support the sector in finding low carbon solutions.

“Engineers play a critical role in decarbonising our country. We need to see more engineers in government to help to evaluate different solutions and to make decisions on the best technologies and solutions available to achieve this outcome” Ms Madew said.

The report’s recommendations:

  1. Develop a comprehensive approach to measure and manage carbon emissions modelled around the UK’s carbon management standard.
  2. Identify and adopt carbon measurement tools and deliver training.
  3. Place a dollar value on carbon using a target-consistent approach and calculate required values to achieve Victorian emissions reduction targets
  4. Integrate emissions reduction to business case guidelines
  5. Measure carbon in infrastructure cost-benefit analysis
  6. Promote carbon reduction in tenders through procurement frameworks
  7. Update standard form contracts to include minimum carbon reduction requirements
  8. Establish carbon management prequalification requirements for government contracts
  9. Support the industry to develop zero or low emissions solutions by testing alternative materials and adopting performance-based standards
  10. Update assurance processes to include carbon emissions

The report also urges the Victorian Government to follow suit of other state and overseas governments by introducing a carbon dollar value part of its infrastructure planning, starting with an interim carbon value of $123 per tonn.

“We can’t manage what we don’t measure. Valuing emissions in business cases ensures that climate change impacts are considered alongside other costs and benefits of a project,” Infrastructure Victoria CEO Dr Spear explained.

Additional advice includes public sector staff retraining and support for industry to test low-carbon materials.

“Industry told us they are ready and willing to respond to clear direction from the Victorian Government about the level and pace of infrastructure decarbonisation.

“With its multi-billion dollar pipeline of new build infrastructure, the Victorian Government has a big opportunity to influence how infrastructure is designed, what materials are used in construction and the jobs for Victorians in a low carbon economy.”

Engineers Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew AO says reducing infrastructure-related carbon emissions would require complex collaboration across industries and government – however, it is essential to Australia meeting its net zero by 2050 carbon ambitions.

“Australia’s infrastructure sector must take immediate action to start to reduce emissions throughout the whole system while also building in greater resilience to critical infrastructure components,” she said.

“Co-operation between government and industry should be at the heart of the response. Our communities rely on the states and territories to deliver much-needed infrastructure, and those governments should lead the way in reducing emissions.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.