Setting expectations with the FIDIC climate change charter - with Tracey Ryan

From a young age, Aurecon’s Managing Director Tracey Ryan has been deeply passionate about the natural world. “As a four-year-old growing up in Ireland I would take any opportunity to go to work with my father, a surveyor. I always wanted a career that took me outside.”  

Her quest for a profession that would impact people and the environment for the better led her to study hydrology and then pursue a technical career in the professional services industry – from brownfield regeneration in the UK to post-war urban reconstruction in former Soviet states.  

More recently she was Director for Sustainability and Climate Change at EY, before joining Aurecon New Zealand in the top role.  

“My work around the world was always about driving change for people and planet.”  

She’s been called a ‘tree-hugger’ and more recently, ‘ahead of her time’. Undeservedly, says Tracey, who thinks the climate change writing has been on the wall for some time.  

“The UN Sustainable Development Goals have been in place since 2015 but we’ve been slow to act as an industry. We get fixated on the here and now, and while there are many other issues that need our immediate attention, climate change is becoming more and more impactful.  

“There’s a sense of urgency we simply can’t afford to ignore.”  

Starting the conversation 

Tracey’s own sense of urgency made her the ideal candidate to chair the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) Sustainable Development Committee.   

Established in 2020, the committee’s role is to advocate, guide and monitor best practice in sustainable development across the global engineering industry.   

One of the first projects the international 11-strong committee set in motion was the FIDIC Climate Change Charter, a call to action for the engineering and consulting community to take immediate steps to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and to support the transition to net zero. 

“We discussed the most impactful action we could take during our three-year term and decided it was to put a stake in the ground in relation to climate change. Especially given our influence as a global organisation.” 

The FIDIC Climate Change Charter encourages engineering and consulting companies to make commitments across their business, including:  

  • Creating a culture that encourages the development of net zero solutions   
  • Assigning a climate champion to every major project    
  • Developing their engineers’ climate skills and supporting their competence in carbon literacy   
  • Investing in tools and platforms to help employees to calculate the carbon load of their designs   
  • Resource teams to assess and report the total carbon load of every project 

“The charter was designed as a conversation starter, to raise awareness and start setting expectations as an industry of what needs to be done to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.  

“Another important role of the charter was to foster partnerships around the world, to connect a global community to solve a complex problem.”  

Connecting and collaborating 

The FIDIC Climate Change Charter is not binding, Tracey notes.  

“The aim was to create guiding principles and ways for companies and individuals to connect. A lot of companies will have made a commitment to the relevant climate goals in their country, so it’s not intended as a compliance document.” 

The charter was designed in a way that each signatory could take something from it, recognising that organisations around the world are in varying positions of climate change awareness and response.  

“Many firms in merchant economies are deeply concerned about climate change but may not yet have the same resources as firms in other countries that have been working on climate change adaptation and mitigation for longer.  
“The idea is to support one another and share information through membership organisations on the ground, as there is no real competitive advantage when it comes to climate change response.  

“We’re all living on the same planet.”  

Why sign up? 

Signing up is mainly to signal intent, says Tracey, but the charter can also help companies set internal climate change targets.  

“I’ve spoken to several companies who are using it as the basis to challenge their way of thinking and set their own path towards net zero. People are using it to look inside their businesses and set their own goals.”  

In 2020, Aurecon committed to becoming net zero by 2025. The business also signed up to the UN Global Compact and is committed to helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

“It was therefore a no-brainer we also become a signatory to FIDIC’s Climate Change Charter. As well as our own internal response, we also believe the work we do with our clients to protect and enhance their performance by responding to the risks and opportunities created by climate change will be Aurecon’s biggest contribution to the climate change response. Our industry plays a vital role and I strongly believe that by connecting and collaborating with organisations across the world we can collectively drive the change that is required.“

Signatories can also access training tools and resources and share knowledge through the FIDIC Academy.  

“We intend to keep building on the library and resources, as well as providing best practice templates and clauses that can be incorporated at the scheme, project and programme level – to integrate the values of the charter across the board.”

Next steps  

For Tracey, relationships with industry membership organisations such as ACE New Zealand are key to joining the dots between theory and practice.

“The next stage is to build up case studies with member associations to be able to draw on companies’ experiences and lessons learned. Then we can use these examples to showcase thought leadership and share knowledge from around the world.”  

And where to from here for the engineering industry in the face of the climate crisis?  

“Firstly, we need to acknowledge the sense of urgency that climate change has created. We’re seeing the impact of climate change firsthand in Aotearoa, from the floods in Auckland to Cyclone Gabrielle.  

“Secondly, we need to acknowledge the role we play as engineers and start walking the walk to fundamentally drive the change that is needed. 

“As leaders, we need to bring together innovation and diversity of thought to challenge ourselves out of the status quo. We might not have all the answers, but we can work together to find them – whether it’s within the sector, with our clients or the community. 

“We’re designing and building structures that will last for generations to come, so we need to ask ourselves what legacy we want to leave behind.  

“There is still time to make a difference.

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