The Future of Infrastructure

Sustainable Legacies: COP26 Report

In this special edition of our flagship thought leadership report, we focus on priority actions in the fight against climate change.


Welcome to the special COP26 edition of our Future of Infrastructure report.

The ‘Conference of Parties’ (COP) summits have been bringing together world leaders to discuss action on climate change for almost three decades. As we look to the COP26 conference in Glasgow, we’re at a pivotal moment in dealing with this challenge. At AECOM, we understand both the urgency and our responsibility to help our clients adapt and improve resilience, reduce their carbon emissions and achieve net zero ambitions.

At the same time, the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity to invest in green infrastructure and bring about lasting change. To be a success, COP26 must clarify where investments and activities should be prioritized, transforming promises into funded and much-needed, widespread action. It is no longer enough for organizations to set ambitious net zero carbon targets without a clear pathway for how to achieve them.

For our part, we’ve adopted science-based emission reductions targets and were the first U.S.-based company in the engineering and construction sector to have our targets approved by the globally recognized Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Our Sustainable Legacies strategy, launched earlier this year to ensure that the work we do in partnership with our clients leaves a positive, lasting impact for communities and our planet, serves as a roadmap for our engagement.

COP26 is an opportunity for all of us to establish and cement the partnerships needed to make the transition to a carbon neutral economy work. At AECOM, we will be partnering with government departments and industry bodies, showcasing our work, contributing to panel discussions, and engaging with our clients to help them realize their own ambitious climate targets.

Implementing these efforts requires cooperation on many levels – between individuals, local communities, local government organizations, federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations. As the world’s most trusted infrastructure consulting firm, we’re best positioned to advise and execute for them – driving innovation in climate change, sustainable design and social value.

We’re excited to play our part in this global conversation and moment of climate action.

Executive Summary

What role should infrastructure play at COP26?

The World Bank estimates that infrastructure construction and operations account for approximately 70 percent of global emissions. To win the battle on emissions reduction, the industry needs to change.

Given that parts of the world have been living with climate change for some time, we know what needs to be done to adapt to climate change and protect ourselves and our communities from the worst impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s sixth report shows that there is no longer any time to wait. To ensure we are delivering a better world and a better future for us all, we must act now.

In this special edition of our Future of Infrastructure report, authored with clients and partners around the world, we’ve identified priority actions needed in the fight against climate change for each of the COP26 themes – finance, energy, nature, resilience, transport and cities. In each of these areas we highlight practical solutions that improve environmental and social outcomes while tackling climate mitigation and improving resilience.

We all know that the challenges of the climate crisis can only be overcome by working together. At AECOM, we’re ready to play our part, collaborating with like-minded governments, organizations and businesses who want to leave a positive, lasting impact on communities and the planet.

Financing climate action

At the heart of the debate at COP26 is how adaptation and mitigation to climate change will be financed. In addition to sourcing funds, solutions require a new kind of thinking: one that embeds climate considerations into all business and financial decisions.

The science on climate change shows that all regions of the world are now vulnerable to its impacts and will become increasingly so. Along with reducing carbon emissions, it is now clear that we will need to drive resilience to anticipate, absorb and recover from the effects of climate-related events.

As a result of this, investors are increasingly looking at the climate dimension of long-term asset management, challenging companies to think about how to report and forecast climate-related risks that lie outside traditional risk analysis.

In this article, AECOM’s Sally Vivian looks at the challenges of assessing climate risk — and the opportunities for businesses who pave the way forward.

Special Feature

How embedding climate factors into financial and commercial decisions can help businesses adapt to a changing environment

As the drive to combat climate change gathers depth and speed, accurate and benchmarked financial risk reporting by companies will take on an increasingly important role


Decarbonizing the energy system is essential in the fight to combat climate change. But transitioning to a truly net zero-emissions energy system is a hugely complex task requiring a holistic appraisal of how energy is generated, transferred and utilized across all forms of infrastructure.

To incentivize the transition to a lower carbon world, targets are being set to reduce the net emissions associated with both the generation and utilization of energy. If we're to attain these targets we must embrace the complex world we inhabit, and build in flexibility to adapt to the circumstances of tomorrow. 

This, says AECOM's Toby Uppington, requires a  holistic appraisal of how energy is generated, transferred and utilized across all forms of infrastructure. Changing one part of this system has repercussions for other parts of the system that have to be considered in the round.

Special Feature

Decarbonizing energy: why a holistic and systems-based approach is needed

To switch to a world in which infrastructure of all kinds contributes to net zero targets, we must embrace complexity.


By working with and enhancing natural habitats to take advantage of their ability to sequester carbon, nature-based solutions (NBS) have the potential to tackle climate mitigation and adaptation challenges at relatively low cost while delivering numerous additional benefits for people and nature.

We are now fully aware of the extent of the climate and biodiversity crises, and there is growing recognition of the critical need for companies to play a positive role in tackling these challenges. Rewilding is one way to restore what has been lost.

AECOM’s Chris White looks at the approaches developed on a landmark project that can be replicated to enable landowners to better steward their land.  The Natural Capital Laboratory in the Scottish Highlands is a project to restore 100 acres of forest, connect communities, and reintroduce lost species. Over five years the project will capture data about environmental conditions at the site and act as a live experiment to develop, test, and commercialize new tools and approaches for better managing the environment. 

Special Feature

Finding answers in nature: the lessons of rewilding

Restoring and protecting natural ecosystems

Adaptation and resilience

Resilience planning should be on every company’s risk register following the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Every region of the world is vulnerable to climate change and businesses need to act to anticipate, absorb and recover from its impacts.

Water scarcity is already becoming an acute concern: at current consumption rates, the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face shortages.

The island nation of Singapore is well acquainted with these issues. Lacking a hinterland that can provide a source of groundwater, it has since 1962 relied on neighboring Malaysia for most of its water supply.

As the Keppel Marina East project shows, desalination can offer a solution. In this article Keppel's Goh Eng Kwang and Scott Dunn of AECOM discuss the world’s first dual-mode water desalination plant, which switches between desalinating seawater and treating reservoir water and won Desalination Plant of the Year at the 2021 Global Water Awards.  

Special Feature

Harnessing water technology for urban self-sufficiency

Lessons from water-stressed Singapore on building water resilience

Clean transport

Over the past decade we’ve seen electric cars go from novelty to normal, but roadblocks to mass transit electrification remain. Developing a comprehensive charging network is a complex and costly affair, and advancement will come in patches. Growing demand is likely to fuel investment.

Internal combustion engine-based transport has a 100-year head start, but electrification is no longer a question of if, but when. In the transition to mass-transit electrification, road bumps lie ahead. Despite the challenges, there are huge rewards for those who take the lead. 

Governments, transportation authorities and private industry have a significant opportunity to help society over the tipping point of transport electrification, say Ben Prochazka of the Electrification Coalition and AECOM's Andrew Bui.  Fleet owners in particular, whose vehicle operations are often more structured, predictable and consistent compared with personal vehicle usage, could act as a highly visible real-world demonstration of the benefits of EVs, were they to transition. 

All parts of society stand to benefit if public fleet owners and policy-makers at local and state levels seize the moment to bring about the benefits of an electric future faster, joining their forward-looking peers, automakers, utilities and infrastructure companies. Waiting longer is a missed opportunity.

Special Feature

Fleet of foot: how forward-looking organizations are leading the switch to EVs

The challenges of electrified transport are complex, but there are huge rewards for those who take the lead

Cities and the built environment

Over half the world lives in cities, making action in our urban centers critical to delivering on climate goals. On everything from energy to transport and nature-based solutions, cities must lead the transition to a low-emissions, climate-resilient future.

The need to adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions to net zero calls for a reassessment of how and where we grow, giving equal emphasis to environmental net gain and social considerations as we have given to the economy and productivity.

To meet these challenges we need to think well beyond today. Projecting themselves 50 years into the future, deliberately beyond most policy makers’ horizons, AECOM's Stephen Engblom and Andrew Jones consider what successful town centers of the future might look like.

Far from diminishing in importance, they see resurgent urban centers taking on a new role as civic destinations and places where communities come alive, rather than just shopping centers. Not only will such spaces be more sustainable, they will also have the potential to be more equitable.


Special Feature

Creating stronger, sustainable urban centers that serve post-pandemic models of living and working

Transport and digital connectivity open opportunities for a greener, more equal future

  • Article


    Infrastructure has an important role to play in the battle on emissions reductions.

    As the world looks to Glasgow for the COP26 conference on climate change, we’ll be discussing some of the changes our industry needs to make and reflecting on the COP debate.

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