"I leave Glasgow stubbornly optimistic," Alison Nimmo told me at the end of the two-week COP26 jamboree in Glasgow. As former CEO of the Crown Estate, now a non-executive director of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and of course New Londoner of the Year in 2020, Alison was a pretty good bellwether amid the plethora of comments on the success or not of the event as we headed back to London.
The NLA programme on Day One of COP kicked off with a discussion as part of UKGBC's initiative to bring together 40 organisations, including NLA, RIBA, National Infrastructure Commission and BPF, to deliver a Built Environment Virtual Pavilion under the headline of “Build Better Now” to raise the voice of the sector during the climate jamboree. Julie Hirigoyen, UKGBC CEO talked about the need for a shared vision and set of actions for achieving a net zero carbon UK built environment by 2050, in relation to the construction, operation, and demolition of buildings and infrastructure. On the last day of COP26 in an NLA briefing streamed from Glasgow Bex Porter, an Arup engineer seconded to the COP26 High Level Champions Team, called for “one voice, one ambition”. She talked about the importance of deep collaboration between all parts of the sector and how buildings must be seen as a critical climate solution.
In contrast, at the Paris COP in 2015 built environment was not even on the agenda. This time there were 150 events in the blue zone and the green zone focused on the built environment sector. Bex talked of $1.2 trillion real estate assets under management as part of Race to Zero - a global campaign to mobilise organisations outside of national governments – and how the percentage of construction companies in the Race to Zero had doubled in the two months before COP26 and that 20 per cent of architects have signed up.
Over the fortnight the UK Government announced a £27.5 million contribution to the Urban Climate Action Programme that will help cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America develop low carbon infrastructure projects; the Welsh Government committed to ensuring all new schools and colleges are net zero from 1 January 2022. At an EG conference Nigel George from Derwent London described how they are putting in a planning application to 60,000 PV panels to the north of Glasgow city centre to reduce their carbon footprint, investors talked on the financing of sustainability and property developers about becoming B Corporations - businesses that balance purpose and profit and UKGBC launched the Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, a common vision and agreed actions for achieving net zero carbon in the construction, operation and demolition of buildings and infrastructure.
The roadmap projects a ‘Business As Usual’ trajectory of emissions reduction based on today’s policy framework which falls well short of net zero when projected to 2050. So UKGBC is calling for a national home retrofit strategy by 2022 and an urgent focus on embodied carbon through requirements to measure and disclose this, and eventually reduce it in line with minimum performance targets, for all asset types.
One of the disappointments of COP26 was around transport where there was a focus on electric cars and very little on active travel. After some hectic lobbying a sentence was added to the Glasgow Declaration saying "We recognise that alongside the shift to zero-emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport." This focus on electric vehicles was highlighted by an electric racing car displayed prominently at the entrance to the Green Zone.
Julie Hirigoyen says that UKGBC will continue to use Build Better Now as an awareness-raising and educational tool to drive forwards the sustainability of the built environment, particularly to ensure younger generations see the potential of the built environment as a solution to climate change.
I too left Glasgow in an optimistic frame of mind that our industry is united and serious in its approach to climate change. The NLA is happy to continue to support UKGBC's excellent Build Better Now initiative. We too believe in "one voice, one ambition" and in collaborating with like-minded organisations to help deliver net zero outcomes.