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COP21 - WHAT NOW?

Christine Cambrook - C

By Christine Cambrook, Associate at BuroHappold Engineering

Christine is an Associate in the Sustainability team Buro Happold, she is a Chartered Engineer and Member of CIBSE.  She has managed sustainability projects across a variety of scales, from small housing developments through large masterplans to borough and city wide energy mapping.  Her experience covers energy and water strategies, heat mapping, and carbon emission management.

What is COP 21?

By now most of you are familiar, but to recap 196 parties have reached agreement to limit global warming to less than 2°C, to review each country’s contributions every 5 years, and to provide climate finance to help poorer nations adapt to climate change.  Within COP 21 an entire day was dedicated to buildings – the first time this has happened and a good indicator of the importance of buildings in reduction of carbon emissions.  Buildings are said to be responsible for between 30% and 50% of global carbon emissions, depending on the accounting.

The agreement reached at COP 21 in Paris is a great achievement, and an excellent lesson in international negotiation – the introduction of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) has been widely credited with achieving agreement between parties, with each party bringing to the table what they think they can achieve to cut carbon emissions, meaning far less wrangling over quotas.   Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a planet saving agreement in itself and its success will be highly dependent on the 5 year reviews which are intended to act as a ratchet mechanism to tighten the targets over successive years.  [The currently committed INDCs do not achieve sufficient reduction in carbon emissions to achieve the limit of 2°C global warming].

The UK, for its part, has committed along with the rest of the EU to achieving at least a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

What does this really mean for the UK property sector?

The UK desperately needs policy which sets out a clear path to delivering this target, along with the existing legally binding Climate Change Act.  It is critical that this INDC is turned into action - particularly at a time when the policy space around green issues is being deliberately dismantled.  The UK needs clear, long term policy that isn’t changed by each successive government in order to give businesses the confidence to invest.

Given that such a strong policy position seems unlikely at present, and the Paris agreement does not come into effect until 2020 – businesses in the UK property sector will need to act in advance of such certainty.  Many businesses are looking at their portfolio and weighing up the risks and costs associated with climate change in a post 2°C warming world, and finding that investment in reduction in carbon emissions as well as climate change mitigation makes good business sense.

So where should we as a property and construction sector focus our energy?

Climate change should be firmly on the agenda for every organisation; each organisation needs its own targets to for reducing emissions at corporate level.  We all have a responsibility to review and identify what parts of our businesses are responsible for the majority of our emissions, and setting out a path to reducing those emissions.

We should also focus on what our sector can support others to achieve, around enhancing the performance of the existing building stock and continuing to drive down emissions associated with new buildings.  Schemes such as ESOS and MEPS provide a space for consultants to engage with owners and managers of existing property, and these schemes should be used as a springboard to improve the existing stock as far as technically possible, not just as far as financially viable.  Performance of existing building stock should be considered part of corporate social responsibility – to give organisations another incentive to push further.  Whole life carbon assessment should be used to support decisions about demolition or refurbishment – the construction of new buildings is hugely carbon intensive, and the decision to demolish and rebuild should not be taken lightly but following a detailed review including environmental costs and benefits.

We also need to continue to drive forward better design of new buildings, and use the forums available such as CBx, UKGBC, etc. to continue learning from past projects, to understand energy consumption in use, and to provide case studies to demonstrate to clients that there are successful precedents in order to reduce the perceived risk of going greener.  We also have a duty to push clients to truly enhance their building sustainability, not just hit the minimum requirements, and to stop designing all glass buildings.  We need more precedents that go beyond the norm, PassivHaus and net zero carbon developments, and to make the information about those projects widely available to give developers confidence that these types of projects can be done.  We need to continue to support renewables, despite the reduction in subsidies and the recent fall in oil prices, and we need to understand, interrogate and push the supply chain further, to truly understand the impact of our purchasing, and to encourage use of low impact materials.  The circular economy and how it fits with your business model should be high on any construction company agenda, as should demand side management and local energy storage, which give opportunity to adjust energy demand so it can better work with intermittent energy supply.  At BuroHappold we are developing compelling business cases for client action based on basic compliance, enhanced performance, resilience, and the ability of buildings to enhance occupant health, wellbeing and productivity.

If each organisation was to take a good hard look at what barriers are stopping us from delivering lower impact buildings, and take steps to remove just one or two of those barriers, we would be able to make great leaps forward as an industry.  There is no shortage of tools to get us where we want to be in terms of building design, we need to understand why we are not going further already.

Don’t miss your chance to hear from Christine, along with other speakers at our February event.

  • Ioannis Orfanos, Commercial & Corporate Finance Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
  • David Short, BBP Commercial Real Estate Lender Sustainability Working Group