New London Architecture

Post-COP26 cities must have ‘pivot to action’

Monday 15 November 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

‘What I really hope for is a pivot to action’.

So said Bex Porter of Arup, COP26 UN Climate Champions - Built Environment Lead, as part of a briefing session on the Glasgow event’s impact – and what happens now.
Porter was speaking about the new emphasis put on the role that cities can make in addressing climate concerns after it barely figured as an issue at the last COP in Madrid, with over 100 events taking place over the fortnight focusing on the built environment. The sector had ‘critical’ targets, she said, with buildings and construction responsible for nearly 40% of emissions, and it had presented a unified front. ‘We’re not confusing people with different agendas, different targets, different goals’, she said. ‘This is the sector ambition, and we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet’.

Arup’s Sowmya Parthasarathy said that some of the discussions at COP 26 had held some ‘really significant implications for how we design cities’, even if more work needed to be done on the whole life carbon of buildings, for example, along with further action on adaptation, resilience, social equity with fairly distributed funding, and sustainable transport.
And Stephen O’Malley of Civic Engineers felt that progress had been made. ‘It’s a complex picture’, he said, ‘but I do feel as though the conversation has moved from: why do we need to do this? to: how do we do this?’

Chair Peter Murray questioned why there had been relatively little on active travel compared to electric cars, and whether any pressure had been exerted, but Porter said her delegation had not experienced anything untoward in that area. ‘There have been pockets of discussions around cycling and walking in particular, it just maybe hasn’t made the splash that some of the other global announcements have made’.

But O’Malley suggested that some of the ways in which net zero was broadcast needed reform. ‘There’s a hair-shirtedness that is perceived to be related to climate-positive lifestyle choices, and we need to change and develop the messaging’, he said. 

Another area in need of a boost in order to achieve climate goals was modular construction, which Parthasarathy suggested was still associated with ‘constraint rather than creativity’. ‘We have to go into a more modular way of building if we are to achieve ne waste outcomes’, she said. As a result of COP26, Parthasarathy added that she would like to see cities around the world ‘rebalancing themselves’, rather than more ‘able’ cities like London or Copenhagen ‘racing to the top’, while another hope was that Sadiq Khan’s new role as chair of the C40 cities might bring good principles and funding.

O’Malley said he was ‘hopeful’, but also angry and frustrated, an anger that he hoped could be channelled to champion and effect positive change rather than be too accepting of COP26’s ‘loose pledges’. O’Malley said he wanted to see pledges for investment in the agenda honoured and implemented. ‘Investment is absolutely crucial’, he said. ‘But it's just the first step. How does that cascade down through the system in terms of governance, in terms of regulation, and ultimately manifesting itself in physical change in our built environment and leading into those society changes?’

Finally, Porter said she hoped COP26 was a ‘pivot to action’ from the sector and all the businesses within it, regardless of the event’s final negotiations. ‘We’re all agreed that we need to move, so yeah, a pivot to action’, she said.

‘There’s no point just talking about it’.

Watch the full webinar here
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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