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Miss Alison Crawford
Woodcote Grove
Ashley Road
KT18 5BW

Atkins chief executive calls for urgent action to tackle climate change

The time has come to move from worthy discussion about climate change to action, according to Atkins chief executive Keith Clarke.

Speaking as he chaired a seminar for the Major Projects Association (MPA), he urged the construction industry to take on the challenge of responding to a "carbon critical economy" as a matter of urgency.

He said that mistakes will be inevitable but are an important part of the journey which needs to be made.

"We are in what we might call the 'carbon critical line dance' or the 'save the planet shuffle' and we need to get six billion people on the dance floor so that we do it together," he told the audience.

"We certainly need several million people out of the UK's 70 million population to show us the way. We have to get on the dance floor and look silly for a while. That is what learning line dancing is like; you go three steps forward, back two and spin around a lot because the dance is complex. At the moment there are people in their own corners doing the 'carbon trading twist' and all sorts of worthy waltzes, but we need to link arms and move together."

Keith argued that we have reached a tipping point which demands a serious change in the way our society operates. In terms of the construction industry, this means changing the design question so that minimising carbon is at the heart of every project.

"If that requirement is not factored in then the assets or the infrastructure we are creating today will not be sustainable," he said. "Whether planning for a railway, another runway at an airport or building an asset for a Middle Eastern client, if we do not change the design question we are embedding a trend that is going to make things worse."

The scale of the challenge is such that Keith believes it demands evolution at a rate the industry has never before seen. This is exacerbated because the Government has yet to create standards to which the profession should work because accounting methods for carbon do not yet exist.

Keith encouraged clients, consultants and contractors to work together to find solutions, adding: "We need to agree that it is urgent to do something this year, next year and the year after, so that in 10 years time the situation at least looks a little less parlous. We have the wit and the skill and the capability in our professional community to do it. All age groups need to be working in a way that perhaps we have not always worked before. It does require us to go on a war footing, even if we know there are many people who will not."

"The change will manifest itself in all we do. We must talk to other disciplines that perhaps we have not talked to before, and to politicians in a way they can understand. It will be difficult and possibly embarrassing, but it should be intellectually exciting - even frightening, because it is what humanity is about. Society is not just about surviving: it is about art and culture, respect and joy, and freedom and dignity. All those things must come into your projects and designs. It is a difficult line dance, but it might just save the planet."

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