We, together with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the United Kingdom, recently hosted a webinar on key considerations regarding sustainable and resilient mobility. Our panel of speakers which included Maria Pereira (Partner in DLA Piper's Finance, Projects and Restructuring department), Laura Harding (Head of Environmental Policy at HS2 Ltd), Ricardo Ferreras (Construction Director at Ferrovial Construction UK Ltd) and Amal-Lee Amin (Director of Climate Change at CDC Group). The panel, moderated by Steven Gray (Counsel at DLA Piper), discussed the national and international approaches being taken in the delivery of sustainable and resilient mobility projects.

Economies require a large amount of mobility to keep growing and thriving and this mobility creates a significant proportion of the world’s global emissions. As a result, there is, rightly, a big focus on reducing emissions and ensuring mobility is sustainable. This includes a shift to more energy efficient mobility and using clean energy in mobility, but also a shift to mass transit and ride-sharing to reduce the number of journeys taken. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, made people question what a safe space looks like and has led to people avoiding busy modes of transport, raising the issue, at least in the short-term, of the resilience of sustainable mobility both in terms of business models and technical viability.

The panellists were asked to consider the key pillars of sustainability in mobility as well as those challenges facing mobility both in terms of sustainability and resilience. Some of the key remarks made by the panellists during the webinar included:

  • Large-scale transport infrastructure projects need to align with the UK's binding net-zero carbon target. Laura Harding discussed the "green corridor" and HS2's other green initiatives which include plans to plant 7 million trees and to cultivate new wetlands, pond lands and meadows. She also provided insight into how HS2 has integrated circular economy principles based on strategic objectives that translate into key requirements for contractors. These principles relate to: 1) keeping resources in use for as long as possible; 2) recovering and regenerating resources at the end of each use; and 3) maintaining resources at their highest quality and value at all times. Laura also spoke of the need for strategic direction or vision created at the top of the procurement chain to flow down to subcontractors – i.e. having “top down” ESG requirements.

  • Ricardo Ferreras highlighted the importance of Environmental Impact Assessments and how Ferrovial Construction takes short-term environmental and long-term climate factors into consideration during the project ideation phase through the use of detailed KPIs which are viewed through an ESG lens. Ricardo discussed the growing focus on sustainability indexes like the FTSE4Good Index and the DOW Jones Sustainability Index. Ricardo highlighted the significant advancements achieved in the construction sector in terms of sustainability, both by developing new techniques in the manufacturing processes and also in the construction phase, by looking at all aspects of construction including in the delivery and transportation of materials.

  • Amal-Lee Amin explored the importance of mobility in developing countries, highlighting how a lack of dedicated forms of transportation can be problematic when balanced against issues like air quality and congestion. In many such countries, urban transportation is dominated by road traffic such as cars and buses as it more cost-effective than investing in light rail or metro systems and as such the priority would be to achieve cleaner and more efficient road systems and vehicles. Amal-Lee discussed how federal and municipal planning departments should invest in sustainable mobility infrastructure such as dedicated bus lanes, improved traffic management infrastructure, electro-mobility (the use of electric vehicles) and vehicle charging infrastructure in order to bridge the socio-economic gap between cities. All of these objectives can be realised alongside the development of ‘smart cities’ as governments and communities start to recognise the opportunities that come with the internet of things. Amal-Lee concluded by recognising the immense value which multilateral and bilateral financial institutions bring in the form of financial investment, fiscal advice, and tendering guidance.

The panellists ended on an encouraging note, all suggesting that through continued investment into sustainable mobility initiatives, the UK and other countries would see themselves overcome and grow from the challenges posed by COVID-19. Amal-Lee was optimistic in observing that the "new normal" may consist of societal changes like an increased uptake in green transportation methods like cycling and walking which are more sustainable than their electric and petroleum-based counterparts.

It is clear from the insightful discussion that in order to achieve a truly sustainable and resilient mobility, all efforts must be coordinated and new collaborations needed to reach strategic goals. The public sector has an important role in internalising some of the hidden cost of unsustainable mobility (e.g. health and loss of productivity) and leading these efforts with a view to ensuring a cohesive mobility strategy that relies on technical and digital developments within the private sector to progress on the sustainability and resilience fronts. With an eye on existing infrastructure, a large number of infrastructure projects in the UK will be reaching handback / transition stages – here both the public and private sector will be faced with the practical realities of the circular economy in the near future, something which is acknowledged in the UK NAO report ‘Managing PFI assets and services as contracts end’ published in June 2020. It is important to ensure that discussions on the new and the existing must be linked to reach the goal of a sustainable and resilient mobility.

DLA Piper advises clients on mobility and sustainability issues. Should you wish to discuss any of the issues raised during the webinar or would like to consult us in relation to mobility or sustainability please contact Maria Pereira.

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