Keith Clarke addressing Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference, 24 October 2019 (Rod Sweet/GCR)

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“Buy a shotgun”: Keith Clarke warns industry to heed science on climate change

24 October 2019 | By Rod Sweet | 5 Comments

Using apocalyptic language, former Atkins boss Keith Clarke today called on the global infrastructure industry to learn from Extinction Rebellion protestors and immediately make CO2 reduction a foundational design parameter.

Urging executives to follow protesters’ example in taking climate science seriously, he told a construction technology conference in Singapore that people should forget about their pensions if global temperatures rose beyond 2°C in the next 20 years, and instead should “buy a shotgun” because there will be “mass migrations, upheaval and extinction”.

Embracing digitalisation was a challenge, but it would not change “fundamental business drivers” the way climate science should, he said in his keynote address to Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference.

“Technology is going to come to your site. The question is, does science come to your boardroom,” said Clarke, an architect whose 40 years in construction include eight as chief executive of WS Atkins. He now chairs the climate advocacy group, Forum for the Future.

“Science has come to the young people: they’re on strike every month,” he added.

Technology is going to come to your site. The question is, does science come to your boardroom– Keith Clarke

Clarke referred to a report published in October last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned of damaging impacts to human wellbeing and security if global warming exceeded 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052.

It also warned that warming of 1.0°C has already happened, and that limiting it to 1.5°C by 2030 would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems”.

The transitions needed were unprecedented in scale, the report said.

Calling a 2°C rise “unconscionable”, Clarke challenged the business-as-usual mindset that prevented the necessary action now.

“If you’re thinking we can go to a four degree world – and I’m really shorthanding the science here – if you think we can get to a four degree world my strong advice as a non-financial advisor is forget the pension, it’s not worth saving. Buy a shotgun, because there’s going to be mass migration, there’s going to be mass upheaval, there’s going to be mass extinction. This is science, and it is now.”

Clarke said infrastructure had a major role to play in reducing global emissions because $30 trillion worth of assets are set to be built around the world between now and 2030. He said it was equivalent to six times the existing infrastructure and buildings in Europe now.

However, he said carbon reduction had to become a “fundamentally different design parameter”, and warned that the changes needed must happen “at a rate we’ve never achieved but in war”.

“There are no pathways to getting there without all aspects of the economy doing their bit,” he said.

Image: Keith Clarke addressing Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference, 24 October 2019 (Rod Sweet/GCR)