Global challenges, geosynthetic solutions and counting carbon

The earth is experiencing unprecedented change driven by increasing population, industrialisation and urbanisation. This is leading to rapid climate change and scarcity of resources. There is growing agreement globally of the need to deliver sustainable development to improve the lives of millions of people in low and middle income countries through provision of clean water, sanitation, energy and transport solutions. The response of the international community to this challenge is via the United Nations programme (published in January 2016), which establishes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) including response to climate change. These SDG will guide decisions taken by nations and organisations over the next 15 years. This paper is the written version of the opening keynote lecture delivered to the 3rd Pan American Conference on Geosynthetics in Miami Beach, USA, in April 2016; it considers the role that geosynthetics can make in achieving the SDG. Scientific evidence for climate change is presented and the value and uncertainty in available climate change information is discussed to inform its use in design. International agreements on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are based on country specific action plans for mitigation and adaptation against climate change, and the potential for geosynthetics to help achieve these targets is identified. Finally, approaches for calculating embodied carbon for solutions incorporating geosynthetics are introduced and case studies that provide evidence for the ‘sustainability’ case for geosynthetics are summarised. The geosynthetics community is challenged to play a leading role in helping to deliver the SDG and hence a better future for populations world-wide.