COP26 construction
© Chris Dorney

As the final week of the COP26 climate conference draws to a close, and world leaders begin to finalise plans, we take a look at what the takeaways of the summit mean for the construction sector as the industry moves towards a sustainable future

Urban Climate Action Programme

Early in the week, the UK pledged £27.5m of new funding for the new Urban Climate Action Programme (UCAP) to support cities targeting net zero.

Urban infrastructure is responsible for around 40% of global emissions, and as the demand for new housing rises, a sustainable solution to our expanding cities has never been more important.

The programme which is funded through International Climate Finance, will support cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America to create a sustainable future, by helping them implement climate action plans to become carbon neutral by 2050 and prepare low-carbon infrastructure projects to reduce emissions.

The programme will help cities to implement sustainable urban developments, through projects such as low-emission transport systems, climate-smart buildings, and climate risk planning.

The UCAP will be delivered in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global network of cities focused on climate action, and GIZ, the German development agency.

The agreement aims to build on the Climate Leadership in Cities programme established in the 2015 Paris Agreement, by developing pathways to net-zero by 2050 and committing to interim targets by 2030 to keep 1.5 degrees within reach.

Urban sustainability ‘vital’ to climate goal

Commenting on this, business and energy minister Lord Callanan, said:” From our homes and workplaces to our towns and cities, the buildings we live in are a fundamental part of our daily lives, but also a significant source of global emissions.

“That’s why at COP26 today we are calling on cities, regions, governments and businesses to seize the moment and set bold net zero targets as we work together as a global community to end our contribution to climate change.

“The world’s urban buildings, including homes, workplaces, schools and hospitals, are responsible for around 40% of global carbon emissions.

“By 2050, 1.6 billion people living in cities will be regularly exposed to extremely high temperatures and over 800 million people living in cities across the world will be vulnerable to sea level rises and coastal flooding.

“Accelerating the transition to net-zero emissions for the world’s cities will therefore be vital to achieving the goal of keeping global warming to close to 1.5 degrees.”

Tackling climate change locally

The fight for our climate goes beyond the summit, as many local areas come together to tackle climate change.

Local climate schemes include:

  • The Gateshead District Energy Scheme – a renewable heat network for up to 1,250 new homes, backed by £5.9m government funding.
  • Suffolk County Council has also set out plans to build new walking and cycling infrastructure.
  • Local Net Zero Programme – the government has invested almost £22m in the programme, which aims to support councils to reduce local carbon emissions.

The Environment Act

Week two of the summit also marked a milestone in environmental law, as the Environment Bill was officially passed, becoming the Environment Act 2021.

This marks a breakthrough for sustainable construction, as a post-Brexit framework for environmental governance in England is now in place and legally-binding targets for air pollution, biodiversity, water quality, and waste.

The Environment Act has also established a new Office for Environmental Protection which will hold government and public authorities to account against their commitments and environmental law.

Commenting on developments from COP26, Alex Minett, head of products & markets at CHAS, said: “There is a lot of good work already underway to tackle climate change in the construction industry but COP26 highlighted the scale of the challenge that still lies ahead.

”It was also a reminder that everyone must play their part and we expect scrutiny on the environmental performance of construction supply chains to continue to increase.”

Industry response

Andrew Carpenter, CEO of Constructing Excellence South West (CESW), said: “Construction and the built environment are responsible for a shocking 40% of global carbon emissions – and that means when it comes to achieving a net zero future, building matters.

“The sector has an urgent responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint, and I was delighted to be among the construction professionals who gathered on day 12 of COP26 to discuss exactly how we do that.

“Top of the list of talking points was the Construction Leadership Council’s Co2nstruct Zero plan – a clear, impactful nine-point programme, with 28 metrics, for making construction fit for the net-zero age.

“By working together to achieve its recommendations, including switching to zero-emission vehicles, supporting the development of low carbon materials and processes, embracing green heating solutions and collaborating with government to deliver a wide-ranging home retrofit programme, we can have an enormous positive impact.”

‘Achieving a net-zero carbon built environment by 2050’

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has launched a Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the UK Built Environment, detailing the necessary actions government and industry must take to achieve net-zero across the sector.

The built environment is directly responsible for 25% of the total UK carbon footprint, and therefore has a critical role to play in the national transition to net xero.

The new roadmap provides a shared vision and set of actions for achieving a net zero UK built environment by 2050, in relation to construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC, said: “After all the talk, it’s time for action. The UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy is a step in the right direction but fails to address several key priorities that this analysis clearly demonstrates are non-negotiable to achieving a net-zero carbon built environment by 2050.

“The net zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap pulls together disparate strands of recent policy and action into one coherent pathway, with clear recommendations for National Government and Local Authorities, as well as the private sector and the wider industry.

“We urge policy-makers and industry to embed these recommendations into policies and strategies to make good on the promises and commitments of COP26.”

The Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment

The World Green Building Council announced 44 businesses who have signed up to the carbon requirements of the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment pledging to take increased action to decarbonise the built environment across their portfolios and business activities, representing annual turnover of $85bn.

By 2030, these signatories aim to:

  • 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.

Cristina Gamboa, CEO of the World Green Building Council, commented: “Today, at the COP26 Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day, we have announced businesses and organisations that are leading the built environment industry, and beyond, in their efforts to go further and faster to decarbonise.

“They have committed to pursuing a reduction first approach, tackling both operational and embodied carbon emissions.

“Acting on whole life carbon creates a powerful catalyst towards keeping a 1.5°C future within reach and achieving the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The Commitment has representation from all stakeholder types across the building lifecycle, whose business activities and actions influence emissions reductions beyond their own buildings.

“Their efforts to advocate for further market transformation will be crucial to increasing mainstream uptake of net zero and meeting our shared goals.”

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