Insight

Joining the #RaceToZero

Crystal Mirallegro C6gmjauwmbu Unsplash
Kirsty Wilson

Kirsty Wilson

Managing Consultant

With COP26 in full swing, now is the time to look at our own ambitions in the fight against climate change

November 3, 2021

Development consultants like NIRAS are often hired to make the wheels of international cooperation turn more smoothly. Our clients are typically governments or multilaterals – often based in the global North, sometimes in the South. We specialise in delivering assignments as effectively and cost-efficiently as possible – recognising that our mandate comes from the client. 

However, we are also a group of passionate and committed individuals who, because of our technical skills, world-changing ambitions and pragmatic mindsets, chose to join NIRAS – a ‘next generation consultancy’.

There are irreversible shifts in our world – some confirm my optimism, whilst others make me question our ability to make and follow through on the tough decisions our planet needs. The dance of politics, economics and human behaviour all play their part.

As an optimistic thinker,  I see the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the progress in annual negotiations as a beacon … a signal that international cooperation is possible and that all countries – regardless of GDP – deserve to have their voices heard. Of course, we all hope that COP26 will make that beacon shine more brightly with concrete agreements and a steady increase in ambition.

However, a beacon is there to signal that as do-ers we need to make sure the nitty-gritty of policy delivery turns commitments into reality and that, as businesses, advocates or advisors, we keep pushing for greater ambition from decision-makers.

The recent announcement on ending deforestation is a classic example – tackling the drivers of deforestation is something we have spent decades on – it requires us to support the conservation wishes of indigenous people, improve forest governance, invest in forest-friendly businesses and more… You can read more about it here.

Our role

As development consultants, we can help our clients produce the analysis they need to participate effectively or build skills in the use of practical tools to make their commitments a reality on the ground.

One of our critical tasks is to help developed country governments deliver the $100bn climate finance commitment by 2023 in a way that produces effective results for the citizens of countries most affected by climate change.

This might be through supporting project development to turn financial commitments into action or working alongside colleagues in country governments to improve the impact and sustainability of the activities that the funds support.

We’re not blind to the politics in our work and we’re guided by our values to ‘do the right thing’. For us, this means figuring out, in every assignment and management decision, how we can maximise our contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

So how can we – as a next generation consultancy – continue to increase our own impact on tackling climate change?

  • Proactive and aggressive in reducing our own impacts: From the publication of our climate accounts, our offsetting policy and our plans to achieve net zero without offsets – how to reduce emissions is part of our management decision-making and, increasingly, our responses to clients’ invitations to tender. However, we know that clients still expect us to fly more than we would sometimes want – so is this something that we can address together?
  • Committed to develop our country presence and expertise: NIRAS works from over 50 offices in more than 30 countries across the world. (For a list of our offices, click here.) We want to increase the proportion of our colleagues who are based close to where the work happens. We’ve made some big improvements here and some significant investments of our own! But we can’t always find the expertise our clients are looking for in the region, and we’d love to have more scope in the course of our routine assignments to invest in capacity development for the future.
  • Exploit digital technology: Finding digital solutions to make our work more efficient, less reliant on costly travel and better able to reach and support the communities our clients serve is a big part of our investment in the future. We created our Digital Futures Hub to explore and invest in digital public administration, remote sensing and the use of new big data sources. This improves the value we bring to our clients and reduces our own emissions.
  • Investing in technical organisation and impact focus: Achieving the SDGs is in NIRAS’ DNA. We want to invest in our technical competence and make decisions based on our ability to achieve impact. It’s not always easy to predict what will work at the start of a project – hence our continued investment in innovation through monitoring and evaluation to help us learn faster and make our work even more effective and efficient.

IF COP26 has inspired you to consider a career in an organisation that is committed to making the world a more equal, sustainable and stable place, please follow us on LinkedIn, register your CV on our database or get in touch to talk about what you’d like to achieve!