Last Friday COP26, the annual UN international conference on climate change came to a close. The summit brought together over 190 delegates working together to combat climate change. The UK was the host of this year’s conference, held in Glasgow. The essential aim was to discuss plans to keep global warming below the 1.5-degree threshold that could result in disaster. This entails enormous reductions in greenhouse gases and a transition to a greener economy.
This year’s conference was given particular attention as goals became even more ambitious. On the heels of the 2015 conference, which resulted in the formation of the momentous Paris Climate Accord, COP26 was focused on putting pledges into action. However, this will take enormous international, cross-industry collaboration.
Amongst an extensive programme of debates, the summit shone a spotlight on the built environment and climate change. The forum “Building to COP26” brought together key players from the sector to discuss the development of zero-emissions buildings and optimal energy efficiency, ideally by the ambitious date of 2030.
A sleeping giant
The built environment has a vital role to play in tackling climate change and reducing emissions. This is because globally, buildings are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions and half of all extracted materials. Roland Hunziker, director of sustainable buildings and cities at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), described these emissions as “the sleeping giant”.
With a constantly expanding urban environment, reducing these figures is crucial. This isn’t only a result of the extraction that happens due to construction; it’s also the waste and pollution produced and energy consumed. Currently, cityscapes account for 60-80% of the world’s total energy consumption and this is expected to rise as 70% of the world’s population is predicted to reside in cities by 2050.
Ambitious new targets
To stick to the limit of no more than 1.5℃ of global warming, emissions from the built environment need to be halved by 2030. In order to achieve this, the forum Building to COP26 set out the ambitious target that by that date, 100% of new buildings must be net zero carbon in operation. Meanwhile, embodied carbon must be reduced by at least 40%. On top of this, the forum made a commitment that by 2050, all new and existing assets must be net zero across the whole building life cycle.
This is certainly an ambitious goal; however, energy-efficient buildings are a substantial investment opportunity. According to a recent study, the sector will be worth an estimated $24.7 trillion by 2030. Right now, just $3 of every $100 spent on new construction goes towards energy-efficient buildings, so the most pressing project is getting organisations across the sector to commit.
A huge collaborative project
As is clear, this will take an enormous cross-industry, international effort. Thankfully, there are positive signs that the UK is leading the way. According to a recent government statement, more than half of the UK’s largest businesses have committed to eliminating their contribution to carbon emissions by 2050, with big players like GlaxoSmithKline, Sainsbury’s and the National Grid on board.
In the construction sector specifically, projects like the Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment, which we discussed in a recent article, are providing concrete tools to reduce carbon. Along with an imperative for transparency and accountability, these guidelines will facilitate the collaborative action we need.
If the outcomes of COP26 tell us anything, it’s that the time for talk is over, and it’s time to take action – especially in construction. What will be crucial is working together to achieve these ambitious targets.