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Infrastructure and urban systems for a net zero, sustainable, resilient and prosperous economy

Credit: London Crossrail 2022. Photo by Alexander London on Unsplash.

Dr Tom Dolan and Dr Joanne Leach | UKCRIC

3 min read Partner content

We need a systems-based approach that places infrastructure at the heart of a greener UK.

Infrastructure and urban systems create economic and social multiplier effects that could not happen without them. This is their purpose, to enable societally beneficial outcomes for the places, populations and economies that they serve. The UK’s infrastructure systems provide its population with energy, water, communications, transport, housing, safety and security. Its urban systems achieve vast economies of scale in supporting the provision of food, goods, education, mobility, health and wellbeing.

This comes at a cost. Infrastructure and urban systems play a substantial role in contributing to the level of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Crucially, this means they also play a substantial role in meeting net zero targets. They have the potential to catalyse wider value chain, societal and economic responses to the climate emergency and, as such, belong at the very heart of net zero, resilience and climate emergency strategy.

The UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) is a globally unique collaboration of 15 UK universities. UKCRIC connects policy and practice with internationally leading, systems-based transdisciplinary research for the transformation of infrastructure and urban systems. It engages and convenes government, industry and other stakeholders to better understand and address complex infrastructure and urban challenges through collaborative research. This engagement, research and UKCRIC’s distributed national facilities provide evidence, analysis, and innovation for infrastructure and urban systems adaptations for a safer, more resilient, and more sustainable future. UKCRIC’s four scientific missions encapsulate the collaboration’s belief that infrastructure and urban systems can and should be catalysts for a sustainable, resilient, and net zero future.


The UK is home to some of the world’s most sophisticated but ageing infrastructure and urban systems. It has committed to invest £650 billion[1] of public and private investment over the next 10 years in a pipeline of future infrastructure projects that, together with existing systems, is central to meeting net zero targets and enhancing the nation’s resilience and sustainability.

UKCRIC believes that the climate emergency is driving the need for urgent systemic transformation of the wider systems and governance structures from which it has (and continues) to emerge if the UK’s high quality of life is to continue. Failure to do so will greatly reduce the feasibility of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and of achieving societal resilience to the disruption caused by global warming.

Systemic transformation can only be achieved by grounding policy and practice in sound, innovative research and development

Systemic transformation can only be achieved by grounding policy and practice in sound, innovative research and development. This is UKCRIC’s mission, to underpin the renewal, sustainment and improvement of infrastructure and urban systems. UKCRIC’s highly qualified academics and technicians are experienced in working on complex problems and are committed to taking a systems approach to de-risking investments and decision-making and to producing outcomes that deliver an extensive range of benefits.

To find out how we can help right now, visit or email us at 

[1] Figure from IPA report 

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