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Insights Why Engineering Net Zero matters for biodiversity

Meet Kate Vincent, an Associate Director and Chartered Environmentalist at Atkins' Ecology practice. Kate's work centres on Biodiversity Net Gain and nature-based solutions. One of our Engineering New Zero (ENZ) champions, she believes that, "If we work together with nature, ecologists and engineers will create far more effective solutions."

Photo of Abby smiling towards the camera

Kate, what led you to work in the ENZ space?

As an ecologist, I'm fully aware of the biodiversity crisis. But, as an environmentalist too, I can also see the bigger picture of how the climate crisis is interlinked with biodiversity loss. We can't solve one problem without solving the other.

I wanted to ensure that nature wasn't forgotten in the race to net zero. As an engineering organization, our infrastructure designs must be smart, green and environmentally sustainable.

How are you involved in ENZ?

I specialize in including nature-based solutions in any project to benefit biodiversity, people and the climate. I'm passionate about supporting clients and policymakers in delivering biodiversity net gain, combining this to utilize nature-based solutions to achieve a wider environmental net gain and, ultimately, a reduction in carbon emissions.

Climate change dramatically impacts ecosystems and, together with land-use change, is among the main drivers of biodiversity loss. In turn, nature can help people and communities mitigate carbon emissions by restoring habitats that sequester carbon and adapting to climate change by increasing ecosystem resilience.

The high degree of interdependence requires critical consideration of the interlinkages between climate and biodiversity. It's my job to make sure this is actioned by taking a nature-positive approach in all the projects we work on.

How are you helping clients to see the bigger picture?

By seeing nature as embedded in our economy and our health and well-being and not external to it, we're helping clients shift their thinking into one that appreciates, evidences and values biodiversity.

This helps us demonstrate the real costs of not acting to restore biodiversity and enables us to deliver projects that make tangible improvements to biodiversity and people, simultaneously addressing climate change.

We are using environmentally led and digitally supported design to include nature and harness and enhance it. We're ensuring our clients are part of a nature-positive future through collaboration, bringing together engineers and environmentalists at the earliest stage of strategic thinking and project planning.

How does your team inspire you?

Colleagues working in this area are very passionate and driven about how they can make a difference, which can be seen in everyday practice. The team is very proactive and not passive. They're always looking at ways to do things better and actively push to include biodiversity in our work.

Collaboration is vital to us, and colleagues across AtkinsRéalis are keen to learn and engage in making this world a better place. This rubs off and makes me strive to contribute daily to solving this problem.

How will you bring your passion for ENZ to life?

I'm passionate about the natural world, and I can see why it's so important that we don't destroy it. In this future of increasing temperatures and extreme weather events, we need to conserve and restore nature to make the world liveable and sustainable.

I try not to assume I know everything and be open to learning, and then challenge myself to inspire others to be innovative and to find solutions together. We need to work collaboratively to find viable and feasible solutions if we are going to achieve net zero in the timescales we need to.

What is your biggest concern about the future?

On a local scale, the Government's Brexit Freedoms Bill brings with it the prospect of de-regulation, which could lead to the stripping away of a lot of biodiversity protection in the UK, which is currently in place for a reason.

On a global scale, if we don't act now on the climate and biodiversity crises, we are heading towards a point of no return, and the future of a habitable world is at risk.

The UN declared the 2020s a decade of restoration as a push to reverse the damage to biodiversity and advocate the inclusion of nature-based solutions in project design. However, progress is slow, and we need not let this decade pass without action.

The issue of global inequality also needs to be addressed more prominently. As stated by the UN, "The impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations."

The problem is that those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts, and those who have contributed least are likely to feel the effects most significantly.

As a global company, we have a moral responsibility to avoid widening this gap, so we must ensure that our projects leave no one behind.

What makes you confident that AtkinsRéalis can make a tangible difference?

AtkinsRéalis has joined a campaign urging world governments to require all large businesses and financial institutions to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature by 2030.

The 'Make It Mandatory' campaign is led by Business For Nature, a global coalition of business and conservation organizations. It was launched ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) to be held in Montreal this December.

It's heartening to see AtkinsRéalis take a lead on this and push for the disclosure of the industry's impact on nature. Understanding the scale of the issue and the risks and dependencies involved allows us to help clients take the right action to be nature-positive, which will ultimately benefit biodiversity, people and the climate.

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