As the first week of the COP26 summit draws to a close and world leaders come together to tackle climate change head-on, we take a look at what week one of COP26 means for the future of the construction industry

The Clean Green Initiative

At the start of the week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a major funding package to support the rollout of sustainable infrastructure and revolutionary green technology in developing countries, helping to tackle climate change and boost economic growth.

The £3bn funding package will kickstart the UK’s brand-new Clean Green Initiative (CGI), which aims to help to scale up public and private investment in quality, sustainable infrastructure globally.

Alongside this, the UK has doubled its international climate finance of £11.6bn over five years, with an extra £1bn in 2025 if the economy grows as forecast, supporting developing nations to access clean technology and build green infrastructure.

COP26 construction
Prime minister Boris Johnson speaking at the Forest event at the SEC, Glasgow. 02/11/2021. Photograph: Karwai Tang/ UK Government

‘Building back better and greener’

Johnson said: “I want to see the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution go global. The pace of change on clean technology and infrastructure is incredible, but no country should be left behind in the race to save our planet.

“The climate has often been a silent victim of economic growth and progress – but the opposite should now be true. Through the Clean Green Initiative, we can help to build back better and greener from the pandemic and put the world on the path to a more sustainable future.”

He has also pledged an ‘India Green Guarantee’ to the World Bank, to unlock an additional £750m ($1bn) for green projects across India.

The funding aims to support clean and resilient infrastructure across the clean energy, transport, and urban development sectors – increasing sustainable infrastructure and green methods of construction globally.

Commenting on this, foreign secretary Liz Truss, said:” Developing countries need the right form of investment to help drive clean growth, whilst dealing with the impacts of climate change.

“The opportunities are clear and this new initiative will enable us to seize them, working closely with our allies to deliver honest and responsible investment and cleaner and more reliable infrastructure in the developing world.”

Increasing the demand for sustainable materials

Later in the week, the PM announced an international plan to deliver clean and affordable energy everywhere by 2030.

The first five goals, the ‘Glasgow Breakthroughs’ highlight over 50% of global emissions. One of the goals, to provide near-zero-emission steel in every region is highly significant for the construction sector.

The construction industry is one of the biggest consumers of steel, accounting for more than 50% of the world’s steel demand. As the demand for new infrastructure increases each year, the importance of sustainable construction materials has never been more important as the built environment continues to grow.

In order to ensure that sustainability demands are met, COP26 announced the ‘First Movers Coalition’. A group of 25 US-led buyers have signed an agreement to make purchasing commitments to aid in the commercialisation of clean technologies.

Focused across sectors such as steel, aluminium and concrete, these technologies include hydrogen direct reduction, carbon capture use and storage, and electrolysis-based production processes.

Steel purchasers, in particular, have set a target that at least 10% of their annual steel procurement volumes by 2030 meet or exceed the First Movers Coalition definition for near-zero emissions.

Through the Net Zero strategy the UK has pledged to bring down the costs of these technologies through investing billions of pounds of investment.

Industry response to COP26

In conjunction with COP26, the CLC released the names of five new ‘carbon champions’ that have been chosen to lead the UK construction industry to a goal of net zero. The CO2nstructZero programme was released earlier this year to unify UK construction efforts to cut carbon.

The CLC’s new ‘Business Champions’ are:

  • Accelar
  • FES Support Services
  • J Murphy & Sons
  • John Sisk & Son
  • Reds 10

These new additions mean that there are now over 50 companies that are committed to helping the sector drive towards the zero-carbon goal by 2030.

‘Prioritising locally sourced materials’

Phil Cox, director of Modern Masonry, said: “If the industry is to have any hope of getting housebuilding back on track, it needs to prioritise locally sourced materials.

“Along with helping address both net zero and the materials shortage, a domestic approach supports a more reliable supply chain and removes ocean freight costs associated with imported options, such as structural timber or steel.

“Take locally sourced, formed and cured blocks. It’s estimated any construction site is less than 40 miles away from a healthy supply of concrete blocks, meaning less transportation and a lower carbon footprint.

“We can talk about sustainability in a social context as well, supporting and strengthening communities. Using ‘homegrown’ materials supports UK jobs, often in remote areas, contributing to people’s livelihood and prosperity for years to come.”

‘Improving the sustainability of the built environment’

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) announced a new programme at COP26, focused on the progressive Scottish policy environment and industry sectors, which will respond to the needs of the Scottish Government’s targets for a net zero built environment by 2045.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC, commented: “UKGBC Scotland will translate our mission to radically improve the sustainability of the built environment to the specific political, market, socio-economic, and physical built assets in Scotland, and accelerate the transition to a net zero carbon built environment here.

“We are here to support and represent the progressive voices spanning the entire built environment value chain in Scotland.”

The network will include many built environment organisations and enable an accelerated transition to a more sustainable built environment by developing regionally-specific guidance, showcasing Scottish solutions, and stimulating Scottish innovation.


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