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CIC Members Conference: Decarbonization and Skills Shortages

Posted: 19th May 2023

Nooshin Akrami

Environmental Sustainability Training Manager


I was honoured to attend CIC’s Members Conference (May 18-19), to have the opportunity to listen to some very insightful talks and debates and take part in a panel discussion on opportunities for decarbonisation within built environment too.

The Members Conference audience and participants were made of some of the most distinguish individuals including Chief Executive Officers and Presidents of the UK’s construction industry’s professional bodies. It was somewhat overwhelming to share the space and the stage with these powerhouses.

The conference commenced with a pre-conference evening meal and the after-dinner speaker and networking opportunity. While skilfully light-hearted, Kate Cooke who is a Nutrition Coach presented the audience with the serious matter of health through “The Business of Wellness” and the delicate link between a healthier lifestyle and better business.

The conference Keynote speakers Craig Bennet (Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts) and Dame Fiona Reynolds (Deputy Chair of Food, Farming and Countryside Commission) presented the Members with some thought-provoking insights.

Craig Bennet provided the Members with pointers for action. With his “Nature and Built Environment: Reasons to be cheerful”. Craig introduced 10 areas where Construction Industry can move from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution and changing the fate of our current climate and environmental path.

Dame Fiona Reynolds brought to forth the resource intensity of our current “linear thinking” and the importance and the urgency of the need for “circularity” within built environment, and moving beyond just cultural heritage our current stock of buildings represent and saving them for all the resources used in creating them, with consideration of “retrofitting” and repurposing our current building stock as opposed to newbuild. Fiona’s reference to GDP as a redundant and degrading measure to support the nation or the industry in the direction of NetZero was truly remarkable.

It is hard to think that our industry is unaware of our current state of climate, our impact on biodiversity loss, resource degradation and pollution including some of the forever chemicals produced and disposed along the way. It is difficult to believe our industry is unaware of energy intensity of built environment, beyond what is happening in a design office, and industry’s both socio-economic and socio-political impact. However, the reality remains that while these issues may have been grasped in isolation, understanding them in a context and drawing our relationship to all, is still a massive mystery for many players, and for those who perhaps grasp it, when priority is “economic growth” and winning the competition in an unforgiving market all else take the back seats.

An interesting insight came from Julie Evans, the Chief Executive of BSRIA, with a concluding phrase of “emit less” during our panel discussion. Those who have looked at the carbon reduction trajectories for achieving NetZero by 2050, mathematics of action demands for “emit far more less and do it swiftly”. We are indeed far behind the targets we have set for ourselves as a nation. Amazing if anything, since the articulation of Sustainable Development Goals at COP21 in 2015, globally there has been reduction on “Climate Action” (SDG 13). It is also very important to note that following a ruling by the High Court last year which deemed the UK’s NetZero strategy unlawful, the UK government admitted its “new net-zero strategy will fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hit its own legally enforceable targets”.

During the conference Justin Sullivan, the Chair of CIC, quoted a phrase by Graham Watts, the CIC Chief Executive, on governance, which I found so right on the point: “governance is doing the right thing in the right way”. When one puts 2 and 2 together, it is not surprising for the construction industry, despite the effort they make, remaining part of and in fact a major contributor to the problem of climate change.

Some of the key complexities raised by members during the conference included the size of the SME organisations in the UK, skills shortages, and the urgent need for up skilling the current workforce. These make the role of the Professional Bodies massively important considering the time we have to meet our targets and to ensure our contribution to a global goal, in order to sustain humanity and our livelihood.

Today we are at 1.3⁰ degrees temperature rise since the preindustrial revolution and only 0.2 degrees away from Paris Agreement’s (2015) and IPCC’s recommended limit to temperature rise of 1.5⁰. While our NetZero strategies are set to dates as far (or as ambitious!) as 2050, the current trends shows that we are highly likely to hit 1.5⁰ before the end of this decade. The implications of human activities on the planet have resulted in serious breaches of our “Planetary Boundaries” which define safe operating environment for us and life as we know it. We are the age of “Extinction” but despite all the evidence around us, the direction of action seems to be blurred and actors if not paralysed and overwhelmed with enormity of the task, in fact sprinting towards extinction. One only need to follow outcomes of recent G20 and G7 gathering to map where we are heading to.

Time is pressing and we need to start looking the problem in the eye, we need to ask the right questions, we need to move beyond our silos, we need to see the borders we have created are somewhat artificial. While the global economic system in which we live and operate may have decided climate casualties of the poor of the global north and the nations of the global south, the implications of tipping point imposed by our planet, our “motherland”, will know no race, religion, class and boarder. The awaking needs to come from within. We need to regain consciousness and reconnect with our environment, not as the “Masters” of this earth but as co-organisms who live with the rest of species in a cooperative way. The message is a highly used, and badly exploited at beauty pageant: “The World Peace”! but now, well and truly, that is what we need. Working together as “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” (SDG16) for “Partnership for the Goals” (SDG17).

Nooshin Akrami

Environmental Sustainability Training Manager


A Chartered Environmentalist with a background in construction industry in Iran, Turkey, and the UK, Nooshin is also a Chartered Architectural Technologist who has spent over a decade in Higher Education as an academic within built environment and engineering.