Over the last two weeks, world leaders have met in Glasgow, UK for the annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP), to discuss, review and take measurable action to tackle climate change; arguably the biggest challenge of our time.
On the penultimate day of COP26, the agenda was, for the very first time, dedicated to ‘Cities, Regions and the Built Environment’, and brought together national, regional and city level leaders, alongside the private sector who are committed to creating pathways to net zero.
On the day, The World Green Building Council revealed that 44 businesses have signed up to the whole-life-carbon requirements of its net zero carbon buildings commitment.
They promise that by 2030, they will:
+ Reduce all operational emissions of new and existing built assets
+ Achieve maximum reductions in embodied carbon for new developments and major renovations over which they have direct control
+ Compensate for any residual operational and upfront embodied emissions that cannot be mitigated
+ Advocate for wider emission reductions via their business activities and report on their impact, to enable and accelerate the sector wide transition to net zero
The UK also announced the launch of the Urban Climate Action Programme (UCAP) to support cities targeting net zero, in line with the Paris Agreement. The programme will support cities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to take climate action and create a sustainable future, helping them implement innovative climate action plans to become carbon neutral by 2050.
+ ‘UCAP’ will help cities implement projects such as low-emission public transport systems, renewable energy generation and new climate-smart buildings codes.
+ It will be delivered in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global network of cities focused on climate action.
The UK has called on cities yet to make commitments, to step up and set a net zero target in a bid to protect the places where people live and working, and to future proof the world.
The homes we live and work in are fundamental to our lives, however, we must acknowledge that they are responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, and as such the construction industry must play a critical role in the race to net zero.
Currently, an estimated 1.6 billion people will be regularly exposed to extreme heat by 2050 if emissions continue their trajectory, and if we are to keep the global temperature rise of no more than 1.5% (as set out in the Paris Agreement) emissions from buildings globally need to be halved by 2030.
Pledges already made by the UK, which were reiterated at the summit, include the ambition to phase out instalments of gas boilers from 2035, and introduce low-carbon alternatives, such as heat pumps instead. And although the Heat and Buildings strategy were recognised as a ‘step in the right direction’, the UK government have been urged to go beyond these commitments.
In a bid to address the carbon emissions from the wider build environment, the UK is investing £3.9 billion through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, the Home Upgrade Scheme and Heat Network Transformation Programme. This aims, amongst other things, to cut the carbon emissions of all new build homes by at least 75% from 2025 under the Future Homes Standard, and by 31% through an improvement in building standards.
The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) recognises that 80% of the buildings expected to be standing in 2050 already exist, so have backed a ‘transformative shift’ within the construction sector through measures such as retrofitting existing buildings to make them sustainable and efficient.
The UKGBC roadmap also addresses the issue of carbon emissions across the whole life cycle of a building, from the materials used, to the output from its operation, through to demolition.
RIBA President attended on the day, to represent RIBA members, architects, and the wider construction sector, "We’re attending COP to demonstrate that the built environment is ready and willing to make the changes needed to remain within planetary limits – but we need Government’s help, we can’t do it alone."
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