Now is the moment of truth. After the time of commitments, it is time to implement transformative and impactful actions to make a real shift towards a post-carbon world. So, are you in or out?
According to Copernicus, the European climate observatory, 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on record. Storms Ciaran and Domingos in France, hurricane Otis in Mexico, megafires in Canada and Greece, landslides in India... the planet is rumbling.
But has a climate emergency really been declared? Scientists have been warning us for thirty years. The challenge of the century is to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere by 2050 and thereby keep the average rise in global temperature below 2°C by 2100. Why this threshold? Because beyond that point, the climate machine will spiral irreversibly out of control, with catastrophic consequences for the living world of which humanity is a part.
In France, for example, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 55% between 1990 and 2030. So far, we're halfway there, and we now have seven years to do what took us 33 years.... It is clear that we need to speed up and pull more powerful levers. The policy of small steps will not be enough.
At the same time, climate change goes hand in hand with a massive deterioration in biodiversity (we are making giant strides towards the sixth mass extinction of species) and the depletion of natural resources (sand, iron, copper, aluminium, lithium, water will become increasingly scarce in the coming decades...). All these issues are interrelated, which makes the equation so complex to solve.
The planet is a complex system and this system is becoming unbalanced. As a geophysical engineer by training, I know how impossible it will be to negotiate the physical planetary limits imposed on us all; six out of nine planetary limits have now been exceeded!
The imbalance is so great that geologists believe we have entered a new era: the Anthropocene, a new geological phase brought about largely by the industrial revolution of the 19th century. This is the big tipping point.
The situation we face requires a rapid and profound transformation of our economies. It is clear that there can be no viable economy on a planet that is not viable. We will have to reinvent our methods of production and consumption, our business models and, more generally, our lifestyles.
Everyone must do their part within their own sphere of influence. We cannot deny the growing awareness of environmental and energy issues. Many companies have made ambitious commitments. Even the simplest actions have been taken. And now it's the moment of truth, the moment when companies will or will not dare to switch to new models to really deliver on their promises.
At Egis, through our businesses, we are at the forefront of providing operational solutions to climate challenges throughout the lifecycle of the structures we help to create. We are fully aware of both the urgency and the difficulty of creating a low-carbon world while continuing to meet people's essential needs.
In recent years, this has given a profound and new meaning to our business and has led us to rethink in depth the act of planning, designing, building and operating regional developments, taking into account the specific challenges of sustainable development in each major region of the world.
- Our ambition is to be a facilitator and accelerator of social, energy and environmental change:
- by designing and operating sustainable, future-proof infrastructure that respects the environment and makes life more comfortable for local people.
- by supporting the emergence of new regional development models in line with the Paris Agreements
- and by helping to strengthen the resilience of local and regional authorities in the face of increasing extreme weather events.
We have three main levers for action:
- First lever: a thorough review of the way we design our projects, with a global approach covering the entire life cycle of the works. We are rolling out eco-design practices across all our businesses. In practice, this means putting minimising environmental impact on the same level as our technical, functional and structural optimisation. By 2030, 100% of projects that can be eco-designed will be. This will be Egis' technical signature, our "trademark".
- Lever 2: A proactive innovation policy to develop new solutions and services that contribute to EEO. Our field of action is that of solutions that can be concretely implemented in regional projects to transform sectors (transport, construction) that by their very nature are highly emissive. Our main areas of exploration are the circular economy (e.g. our start-up Cycle Up, a marketplace dedicated to the re-use of construction materials), carbon sequestration through nature-based solutions (our Landboost, Seaboost and Soil-is solutions), adaptation to climate change (identification of climate vulnerabilities, resilience planning, crisis management) and innovative financing schemes (green finance).
- Lever 3: Progressively develop our business portfolio to increase the proportion of our sales that make a significant contribution to the environmental and energy transition. This is the most strategic area, and involves integrating ESG criteria into the core of our company's strategic decision-making processes, following the example of acquisitions or GO/NO GO projects. It also means accepting that we will have to give up some of our commitments. We have done this by strengthening our fossil fuel divestment policy. The strength of our commitments is measured by the extent to which we back down. It's a question of consistency.
Is that enough? No. We have to recognise that, collectively, we are far from the goal set by the Paris Agreement. We need to shift gears. It is still possible. The big challenge today is to accelerate, scale up and massively scale up truly transformative action. And to do that, we need to act at the level of industries and sectors: breaking down barriers, sharing and exploring new sources of value together. That is why is why we have set up a research chair on digital twins for sustainable construction with six other industrial and academic partners (ESTP, Bouygues Construction, Schneider Electric, Arts et Métiers, BRGM, SNCF Réseau). This could only be achieved by combining the views and expertise of all the partners.
The crux of the matter will be to rethink our business models and gradually move away from the linear economic logic that prevails today (based on the sequence extract, produce, consume, discard) towards more virtuous economic logics based on circularity, use and sharing. It's about continuing to do business, but in a different way. Together, we need to be a driving force behind proposals to ensure that methodologies and regulatory frameworks evolve when they are no longer adapted to the new challenges. This is what we are currently working on at Syntec Ingénierie.
Finally, the last change we need to make is a cultural one.
"Enthusiasm is the basis of all progress." — Henry Ford
The situation is frightening. And we know that fear is paralysing. The best cure for eco-fear is eco-action. What sets things in motion are emotions, aspirations and positive visions that give meaning. This is what we have been experimenting with at the Egis Foundation, which is dedicated to the fight against climate change and a just transition. As part of the annual Innovation Challenge for students around the world, we have partnered with the biennial PhotoClimat event to raise public awareness through art and youth empowerment.
The pathways to a post-carbon society do exist, and they need to be opened up and explored... Challenging but exhilarating!