Project professionals will play a critical role in our response to climate change and delivering clean growth - APM

Posted On: 
12th September 2019

Tim Banfield, Chair of the Association for Project Management’s Projecting the Future thought-leadership Group, writes that project professional will play a critical role in our response to climate change but argues the profession must be clear about the way forward.

For APM, as the professional body for the project profession, examining their profession’s response to climate change is a critical part of their readiness to face the future.
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For many years, climate change seemed an abstract concept: visible to scientists in remote parts of the world, perhaps, but unseen by most people. That has changed. In the UK, recent years have been the warmest on record, while powerful storms have caused millions of pounds’ worth of damage to homes and businesses. Extreme weather has been evident around the world. Climate change has shot up the political agenda, with schoolchildren’s strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests coinciding with significant steps in UK government policy – not least the adoption in June 2019 of a legal target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Significant as that is, targets are not solutions. The UN has warned of “an enormous gap between what we need to do and what we’re actually doing.” The UK’s own independent Climate Change Committee warned in July 2019 that “actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target.”

In practical terms, responses to climate change include mitigation projects, seeking to limit climate change by reducing emissions; adaptation projects, to manage the impacts; and, in all likelihood, increasing numbers of ‘crisis’ projects, where mitigation and adaptation have proved insufficient. In every case, the role of the project profession will be critical.

So, for APM, as the professional body for the project profession, examining our profession’s response to climate change is a critical part of our readiness to face the future. It’s a theme we’re addressing with a new paper as part of Projecting the Future, our ‘big conversation’ on the future of the profession – a conversation that has already included individual project managers, employers, and others with a stake in the discussion.

Our paper asks some urgent questions. Where might the influence of the project profession be greatest in promoting sustainability? It could be when shaping a project, programme or portfolio; scope is critical. It may also be felt in procurement, in stakeholder management, in finance, speed, and risk. Do today’s standards adequately reflect the urgency of climate change? And how do we improve delivery? Too many major projects are bedevilled by time and cost over-runs and for climate-critical projects, the environmental cost could be significant.

There is even an argument that professional project expertise could help deliver quicker global progress on cutting emissions. There is a case for applying project governance principles to the international climate change effort. Could a single point of authority (SPA) approach – whether at national or international level – be a solution to drive change? And a project, or programme, management office (PMO)? For all the debate about the outcomes needed from climate change policy, there has been very little debate about governance, or the mechanisms employed to achieve better delivery of outcomes.

It does not fall to the project profession to provide all the answers to the challenges of climate change, clean growth and sustainability – but if humanity is to successfully respond to the challenges posed by climate change, the project profession will have a vital role to play. 

The Projecting the Future paper on climate change, clean growth and sustainability can be found here

Tim Banfield is Director at the Nichols Group and Chair of the APM Projecting the Future Group. Contact APM via ptf@apm.org.uk