Climate change, clean growth and sustainability have been thrust into the limelight in 2019 like never before.

Amid rising public concern, the government has set in law a target for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Achieving that will require big changes across the economy, in every major sector. It will be a significant factor in every project professionals’ work in the years ahead.

This is the second of six challenge papers within APM’s Projecting the Future initiative, a ‘big conversation’ about the project profession’s future, which is asking a critical question: how does the project profession thrive in a changing world?

It is a question that can only be answered by the profession as a whole. We look forward to your views.

This paper briefly summarises some of the contributions to this conversation

Download feedback paper 

Download Challenge paper two





It is a challenge like no other. The effects of climate change are both global in reach, and local in impact. They could spell disaster for millions of people in the decades ahead. Building a ‘clean’ and sustainable carbon-free economy will be far from simple.

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: from hurricanes, floods and fires in the US, to the South Asian floods that affected over 45 million people in 2017, to wildfires in the Arctic circle in summer 2019. Globally, the last four years were the four warmest on record, while evidence continues to mount showing accelerations in the retreat of polar ice caps, deforestation, species loss, and ocean acidification.

Climate change has been thrust into the limelight in 2019 like never before. Schoolchildren’s strikes have made Swedish student Greta Thunberg a global figure. Extinction Rebellion’s protests and political demands, summed up in their book This Is Not a Drill, have caused disruption – and generated headlines – around the world. At the same time, there have been significant steps in UK government policy, not least the adoption in June 2019 of a 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”.

Clean growth – that is, low-carbon or carbon-free growth – is one of the four Grand Challenges identified in the government’s industrial strategy. Whether in energy generation, in its consumption by industry and in homes, or for travelling, there are significant technical, financial and regulatory challenges to be resolved. And, as the strategy acknowledges, energy use is not the only pressing dimension of sustainability: the world will need 60% more food by 2050, for example, while demand for water is rising. Land and resource use are critical topics, and there are deep concerns about the vulnerability of eco-systems around the world and the impact on biodiversity.

Efforts to achieve clean growth are given added urgency by powerful countervailing trends around the world. The growth of the global population creates upward pressure on emissions, compounded by economic development that offers increasing numbers of people access to living standards previously enjoyed only by the minority in the global North – a trend likely to drive per capita emissions higher.

The climate change challenge is genuinely global in scale, yet it is also rooted firmly at a local level. It involves complicated, complex, interrelated systems, both natural and human. Solutions rely on changes in economic activity, in individuals’ behaviour, in technology and in international politics alike. It does not fall to the project profession to provide all the answers – but if humanity is to successfully respond to the challenges posed by climate change, the project profession will have a vital role to play.



Throughout Projecting the Future, we want to explore the questions that matter about the future of the project profession.

We want to hear your views, ideas and case studies relating to these questions – and if we have missed a critical question that you think needs to be discussed, we want to hear that too.


  1. How do you expect climate change to affect the project profession over the next 5-10 years?
  2. What are the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in your sector? How could projects be delivered to reduce these emissions?
  3. What other impacts does your sector have on the environment, and how could they be reduced?
  4. In your experience, are climate change and sustainability currently given sufficient consideration in the way that projects are defined, designed, developed and delivered? How could they be given greater consideration? Should they have greater prominence in, for example, statements of requirements, in reports, in monitoring – and/or in other aspects?
  5. What are the climate change and sustainability responsibilities of project sponsors, end users, and project professionals in your sector? How can the project profession influence other stakeholders to move climate change and sustainability up the agenda?
  6. Do existing professional standards give sufficient prominence to climate change and sustainability or should this be strengthened? If so, how?
  7. Should addressing climate change and sustainability be considered an ethical obligation for project professionals?
  8. What sustainability standards are applied in your organisation? How effective have they been in driving change and could they be made more effective?
  9. How can the project profession help drive national or international progress on climate change? Could the principles of good project governance – single point accountability, or a dedicated project management office – help drive progress?
  10. What change could you make tomorrow to improve the climate change impact and sustainability of your work?
  11. Finally – is there anything else that we, as a profession, need to be discussing in relation to climate change, clean growth and sustainability?



Continuing the conversation

Projecting the Future has been defined by discussion and a spirit of collaboration about solving the challenges, and seizing the opportunities, ahead of the project profession. That will continue to be vital as we take forward the ideas and actions outlined here.

Stay up to date and contribute through APM’s social media channels.


This paper briefly summarises some of the contributions to this conversation

Download feedback paper 

Download Challenge paper two




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