CLIMATE change is one of the defining issues of our time, and we are at a defining moment with floods, droughts, and rising temperatures that are negatively affecting our planet. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that human activity is unequivocally the cause of climate change. Civil Engineering Surveyor spoke with Rodrigo Fernandes from Bentley Systems to find out what role the infrastructure industry can play to help combat these challenges.
You attended COP27 to discuss decarbonisation and climate resilient pathways, what did you bring to the table for these discussions and what did you take away?
One of the main topics for COP27 was #TogetherForImplementation.
It was a real sign that the world wants to move from vision and agreements to concrete actions. The companies, societies, and individuals that were present saw that many of the challenges around decarbonisation and climate adaptation can be tackled with technologies available today. Infrastructure is responsible for more than 70% of carbon footprints with a huge amount of the estimated 88% of global spending for climate adaptation needed for it alone between 2010 and 20501.
There’s a lot of pressure and responsibility on infrastructure sector and professionals and – as a company – we wanted to show that solutions are available by sharing case studies from our users and showcasing what they are doing to combat these challenges. That was our contribution.
One of the key messages at COP27 was clean energy transition – diversifying consolidated technologies such as solar, water, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, even green hydrogen.
Infrastructure is responsible for more than 70% of carbon footprints with a huge amount of the estimated 88% of global spending for climate adaptation needed for it alone between 2010 and 2050. Another focus was on open ecosystem collaboration, specifically for large infrastructure projects. No single entity – player, vendor, or company – can address all the challenges around infrastructure projects. This collaborative approach is extremely important to Bentley Systems for addressing the challenges around sustainability and decarbonisation. Integrating (by federating) many different data formats from different applications and vendors into a single view of truth. For example, on a railway programme we can use the iTwin Platform, but that’s just one solution.
Water is a major topic for climate adaptation. Water infrastructure will account for 54% of global spending for climate adaptation1. Technology will play a huge part and is already being leveraged on various use cases, such as virtual inspections for critical infrastructure like dams. Another example is a project involving the NGO Groundwater Relief that studied saline intrusion in Yemen supported by Seequent technology and is changing the lives for those living in the surrounding areas.
Sustainable mobility and transportation are also high on the agenda. In many cases, you have smart cities already planning better with mobility simulation. However, in many developing countries – the challenges may not be focused on digital, smart cities, or sustainable mobility. These countries have other problems, such as access to clean water, droughts, floods, and energy that they need to manage. Africa was indeed a main focal point on many of the discussions at COP27. But a major takeaway was that money will be channelled to the difficulties they and many other countries are facing on climate adaptation.
Will you be going to COP28?
Yes, we will be attending COP28 and planning has already begun.
Are you seeing climate change impacting certain countries higher than others, if so, where? What can lesser impacted nations do to help?
Every country is impacted by climate change. In East Africa, we see a lot of problems around water scarcity and drought. Countries in Asia are also experiencing flood events. The amount of flood events that occur come with horrific consequences.
When developed countries experience flood events, they are fortunate to have the tools, money, and power to prepare, adapt, and recover from them.
In Asia, many countries don’t have resilient infrastructure so they can’t easily adapt or recover in the same way – even if they plan for a flood event. That’s where developed countries have a responsibility.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are the main contributors to climate change and global warming. These countries have the money, technology, and programmes to help developing countries create and build resilient infrastructure for a better quality of life.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are the main contributors to climate change and global warming. These countries have the money, technology, and programmes to help developing countries create and build resilient infrastructure for a better quality of life.
At COP26, a lot of promises and commitments were made to help those countries that don’t have the means, and this topic of implementation and action was spotlighted at COP27. How can we move from that ambition, vision and targets to implementation and action? Now is the time to do that.
Beyond the geographical perspective, there is also the time-scale angle – and the scenario is also not positive. Even if we stopped polluting and achieved net zero today, we will still be suffering from climate change for decades. The impact of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions will stay with us for a long time.
There are tremendous challenges – for instance, it is not that easy to decarbonise important industry sectors that depend on materials or activities such as steel, cement, concrete, and aviation. We do not have the technologies available today to decarbonise these sectors.
The World Economic Forum has established an agreement to fund green technology to start decarbonising and finding solutions within material sectors such as cement, concrete, and steel. It is important to note that while we keep researching, developing, and investing in new technologies for decarbonising some of the material sectors previously mentioned, we can achieve immediate results now. Bentley Systems has a significant role to play by providing solutions that optimise planning and design, increase energy efficiency, and reduce environmental footprints.
One significant example in relation to environmental footprints is our strategic effort to enable embodied carbon accounting and visualisation through Bentley’s iTwin, which started last year with the iTwin Platform (enabling carbon reporting workflows for an ecosystem of ISVs, digital integrators, and third-party organisations developing their own iTwin-powered solutions). That is now expanding to Bentley’s iTwin products (to support all the users and organisations that don’t want to code). We have just launched an early adoption program in iTwin Experience.
Sustainability development goal 9 focuses on industry, innovation and infrastructure, what developments and innovations can we expect to see around infrastructure design and management in the future?
To future-proof industry and accelerate sustainable transition, we need to properly leverage digital technology, following a data-driven approach supported by an open, collaborative platform for infrastructure digital twins. This will allow infrastructure professionals and companies to do more with less, building better infrastructure, and infrastructure better. This will enable companies to become more competitive and more resilient.
The devastating effect of floods and droughts directly impacts on the supply chains resulting in the shortage of specific components or materials. For example, electric vehicles rely heavily on rare metals and specific electronic components.
Just last year, companies in Asia stopped producing electronic chips and components because of floods and this affected major companies like Tesla and Apple. To future-proof in the context of SDG 9, companies need to better understand their supply chains and find alternatives. They need to understand when their businesses are at risk. A challenge for industry right now is to undertake a climate risk analysis. Digital twins can also support the quantification of these climate risk analyses – as well as to test different climate scenarios.
The institution is drafting a white paper on sustainability for our members and clients. What can surveyors and industry do to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly society and future?
Everything starts with collecting data. When we build a digital twin, we begin by collecting information. Let me take the example of flood risk in critical infrastructure. If you want to build a flood risk model, you need the data from surface elevation and that information in many cases is only available from satellite-derived data, and not with enough resolution for high-precision risk analysis. For instance, if you are building critical infrastructure, you might want to know exactly the areas that are most at risk during the construction process.
We can easily build 3D mesh models based in images taken from drone surveys. These 3D mesh models are used as input data on flood simulations, so we can update the flood model based on the changes that are happening in the field – if we continuously survey the plant with drone. Infrastructure is ever-changing. A digital twin is something that evolves over time. It is dynamic and not static. You need continuous surveying to see that evolution, otherwise it is not a true digital twin.
With the current energy crisis affecting people globally, how can cutting-edge technology help to overcome it?
A challenge for industry right now is to undertake a climate risk analysis. Digital twins can also support the quantification of these climate risk analyses – as well as to test different climate scenarios.
I don’t see one specific technology as the solution. It is more about adopting advanced project methodology such as digital twins. There is no silver bullet, we will need to scale all the clean energy transitions and diversify as much as possible. Each country, each company will have their own answer. France may want to prioritise nuclear, but Germany may choose to shut nuclear down and prioritise offshore, while Portugal might focus on solar, wind, and hydroelectric. In Africa, for example, there are opportunities for geothermal energy.
Hydroelectric energy is very important but if you have droughts, you cannot generate hydroelectric power – even the clean energy transition and the renewable sources are affected by climate change. All will be needed, and all will be affected by climate change. Nuclear power for instance is dependent on water. If you have water shortages or water becoming too hot in rivers, you might need to shut down nuclear power, because it won’t have the water that is necessary for cooling the nuclear plant.
One additional aspect to consider is the electrical grid, and the infrastructure required to transmit and distribute energy. We can produce a significant amount of renewable energy coming from several different sources, but we still need an adequate transmission and distribution grid. Grid digital twins can play a vital role in testing and enabling the reliability of the grid. I believe, in some instances, we don’t have the physical or digital infrastructure for managing the grid. This is a major challenge. The increasing frequency of wildfires and storms will also damage the network, and therefore, you need adequate solutions and software to better adapt, prepare, and anticipate the impacts of these climate risks.
Decarbonisation, climate adaptation, and resilience pathways need to be a strategic component of any business. It must also become part of our mission and purpose. It is challenging but we need to act now. I hope my daughter will have the privilege to be here in 50 years inheriting at least the same world as we have today. That’s what I fight for.
Rodrigo Fernandes, Director, ES(D)G – Empowering Sustainable Development Goals, Bentley Systems was talking to Danielle Kenneally and Darrell Smart