At the opening of COP28 this afternoon, the UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Simon Stiell, gave a powerful speech, urging delegates to accelerate climate action. His stark message was: “If we do not signal the terminal decline of the fossil fuel era as we know it, we welcome our own terminal decline. And we choose to pay with people’s lives”.
With building operations and construction accounting for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, our industry clearly has to be part of that call to action. Read this week’s blog for what one industry expert says are the key points that the sector should be thinking about.
COP28 and the Global Stocktake
This year’s COP (the UN Climate Change Conference) opened today (30th November) in Dubai and is set to run until 12th December. More than 70,000 delegates are expected to attend during that period, including world leaders, business leaders, climate scientists, young people, indigenous peoples, charities and other stakeholders.
This event is basically where the world comes together to agree on ways to address the climate crisis, such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, helping vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
This year, it also going to be the place where the first ever Global Stocktake comes to a conclusion. The Global Stocktake is a process for countries and stakeholders to see where they’re collectively making progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement – and where they’re not.
Worryingly, what the stocktake has already revealed is that the world is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and that “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.
Given that 2023 is a year in which we’ve also seen highest temperature records broken, extreme weather events, heatwaves, wild fires, devastating floods, and record lows in polar sea ice, it’s clear that delegates at the conference will have a lot to talk about and governments will need to take note of Simon Stiell’s call for accelerated ambition when it comes to climate action plans.
What to watch in relation to construction
The built environment will be firmly on the climate agenda at COP28, with one of the key sessions to watch being the Multilevel Action, Urbanization, Built Environment and Transport Day on 6th December 2023. It will feature a built environment roundtable, a ministerial meeting on urbanisation and climate change, and sessions on nature-positive cities and urban water resilience.
According to Amanda Williams, Head of Environmental Sustainability at the Chartered Institute of Building, there are six issues and themes which should be on everyone’s minds during these discussions. These are:
The UK is one of 25 countries that has so far signed up for a Buildings Breakthrough target, calling for near-zero emission and resilient buildings to be the new normal by 2030. The construction industry must be ready to rise to this challenge, ensuring its commitments address new buildings and the decarbonisation of existing stock.
2. Embodied carbon
As buildings have become more energy efficient, embodied carbon (the carbon emissions of a building created by the extraction, transportation, construction, maintenance, replacement, and end-of-life treatment of materials) now accounts for a higher percentage of a new project’s whole-life carbon footprint.
The current pace of action to address this is another concern and so there are calls adopt a standardised approach and to accelerate both a requirement to carry out embodied carbon assessments and to set limits for embodied carbon on some projects.
3. Costing carbon
Another idea that might come into the COP discussions is that development projects should come with a carbon budget which, just like its financial counterpart, is scrutinised at every stage of the project. This would drive early consideration of carbon impact in decision-making, prevent opportunities from being missed, and inform a new understanding of value in projects, preventing sustainability features being ‘value engineered’ out.
UN Sustainable Development Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals – highlights that we cannot solve the world’s greatest challenges in isolation. So perhaps it’s time for our industry to start valuing collaboration as highly as it does competition. This has to start with collaboration across the value chain, the only way we can achieve the required reductions across the lifecycle of a building.
5. Climate risk, resilience, adaptation
Another point to consider is that the built environment sector should be leading on resilience, placing adaptation at the forefront of how we design, build, maintain, and occupy buildings so they are fit for a future defined by the impact of climate change. This is not giving up on the idea of managing/ mitigating against current climate risks but rather setting things out so that we’re ready for an uncertain future.
6. The climate crisis and the nature crisis are two sides of the same coin
According to the UK Green Building Council, hard infrastructure is the second largest driver of man-made pressure on biodiversity. The climate crisis and the nature crisis are deeply interconnected, and so the last point on this list is that if we don’t seek ways of solving these crises together, we risk solving neither.
The built environment industry must therefore take a stand and carefully consider its role in protecting and restoring nature. That means everyone in our industry has to commit to strong and decisive action, so that we become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Find out more about COP28 here – https://unfccc.int/cop28
Or follow the schedule here – https://www.cop28.com/en/schedule
Feature image: Freepik
Source of information: This blog is based on information largely drawn from the United Nations Climate Change website plus an article published by the CIOB (featuring the six themes/ issues highlighted by its Head of Environmental Sustainability, Amanda Williams).