The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, has been a wake-up call for governments and industries to take much needed steps on the path of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implement new, green and sustainable solutions. What does it mean for construction? Check out the biggest COP26 takeaways for the industry!
Sustainability is no longer a "nice option" - it is an absolute necessity. COP26, which took place in Glasgow between 31 October and 12 November, was called by many "the last chance". And by no means was that just "being dramatic". If humanity doesn't start acting right now to cut down carbon emissions, we won't be able to uphold the Paris Agreement’s aim of keeping global warming under 2°C, which scientists deem to be the point of no return.
Many people have been disappointed by the outcomes of COP26 as the final agreements were watered down last minute. But there are still some things to be hopeful about that will need to be put into practice immediately. So today, let's have a look at the biggest COP26 conclusions that will affect the UK's construction industry.
While it is not always mentioned in the mainstream discussion about the climate crisis, the built environment and construction industry have a massive impact on global warming. Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials. As the number of people on the planet is constantly increasing, it is prognosed that by 2060 the world's building stock will double its current size, with over 70% of people populating urban areas.
To put it shortly, the construction industry is a massive participant in carbon emissions, which fuels global warming and climate crisis, and uses up a substantial amount of non-renewable resources.
It is clear that the net-zero emissions target is unattainable without transforming the building industry. To keep the warming within the limit of 1.5℃, as set out in the Paris Agreement, emissions of the building projects need to be globally halved by 2030! There is no time left - countries need to begin investing in energy-efficient buildings and construction now.
Do you want to learn more about the industry's impact on the environment?
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The host of COP26, the UK, is aware of the urgency for construction transformation. Therefore, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced multiple initiatives to further reduce its harmful impact on the environment. Let's go through the biggest of them.
The Glasgow Climate Pact - The most significant outcome of COP26 was an agreement accepted by all 197 participating countries. It includes 97 articles introducing measures to keep global warming within 1,5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
One of the most notable parts of the new deal is Article 36, which defines the need to transition to low-emission energy systems, scale up clean power, increase energy efficiencies and 'phase down' coal power. The latter was a great disappointment for many, as the original record spoke of the "phase-out" of coal power but has been toned down by the request from India and China.
Nevertheless, it is a clear sign that the only way forward for any industry is to transition towards more flexible and clean energy sources. This will create new opportunities for energy-efficient building technologies and implementation of energy-efficient solutions, such as grid-interactive buildings, in a growing number of projects.
Support for sustainable solutions globally - another issue that has been highlighted during the event was the need for financial aid for developing countries to help transition to clean technologies and sustainable infrastructure.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £3 billion funding package starting a Clean Green Initiative aiming to help scale up public and private investment in sustainable infrastructure globally. The UK has also increased its international climate finance to support developing countries in accessing clean technology.
In the second week of COP26, the UK has pledged £27.5 million of new funding for the new Urban Climate Action Programme. It aims to support cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America to implement innovative climate action plans to become carbon neutral by 2050 - an important area of action as urban infrastructure is responsible for around 40% of global emissions. It will help prepare sustainable infrastructure projects, like low-emission public transport, renewable energy generation, sustainable waste management, climate-smart buildings and climate-risk planning.
However, although it is an undeniable step in the right direction, it must be stated that the level of funding is by and large insufficient to make a real difference. Together with other wealthy countries, the UK will need to increase financial aid in the future.
Building Back Greener - in the run-up to COP26, the UK government published the long-awaited Net Zero Strategy: Building Back Greener. The document outlines how the UK will deliver its commitment to reach carbon net-zero by 2050. The measures include:
£3.9 billion of funding for decarbonising heating and buildings
Additional £500 million of funding to green technologies to decarbonise houses, industries, lands and power
Extra £350 million to enhance UK vehicles' electrification and supply chains, and £620 million for targeted electric vehicles and infrastructure
Opting for Sustainable Materials - One of the goals established during COP26, especially significant to the construction industry, is to provide near-zero emission steel in every region. Construction accounts for more than 50% of the world's steel demand. As the need for new infrastructure is continually increasing, it is of utmost importance for the industry to adopt sustainable materials.
To ensure the demand for sustainable materials on the market, a group of 25 US-led buyers, called First Movers Coalition, have made purchasing commitments to help the commercialisation of clean technologies to make them "accessible and scalable". The UK government has pledged to bring down clean technologies and materials costs through billions of pounds of investment.
If you want to learn more about sustainable construction materials, check out this article!
The Environment Act - COP26 has brought about a real milestone in environmental law, as the Environment Bill was passed, becoming the Environment Act 2021 on 9 November. Why is it essential for construction? Because it's essential to any business in the UK as the post-Brexit framework for environmental governance is now legally binding and setting targets for air pollution, biodiversity, water quality and waste.
The act also established the Office for Environmental Protection, which is meant to hold government and public authorities accountable for their commitments and newly established environmental law.
Net-Zero targets for government supply chains - in the preparations for COP26, it was announced that all companies bidding for government contracts worth more than 5 million pounds a year must commit to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050. It also requires them to report direct and indirect owned carbon emissions, as well as the emissions coming from business travel, employee commuting, transportation, distribution and waste.
Although it currently applies only to government contracts, the reporting can become an advisory part of the Common Assessment Standard in 2022.
Urge to take Climate Pledge - SMEs make up to 99% of UK businesses. The construction industry is responsible for 25% of all UK's carbon emissions, so the efforts of smaller companies are essential in achieving Net Zero targets. However, small businesses can often lack the resources needed to transform their business.
That's why during COP26, they were encouraged to sign up to the UN Race to Zero Climate Commitment, which includes a focus on supporting SMEs on the way to becoming more sustainable via the SME Climate Hub.
Companies that signed up, commit to halving greenhouse gas emissions before 2030, achieving net-zero emissions before 2050 and disclosing their yearly progress in achieving these goals.
Meanwhile, the SME Climate Hub provides support in the form of tools to help an organisation understand its emissions, how to tackle them and plans on how to make your commitment and communicate it to your customers and community.
There is no other direction than forward, and the future of construction has no other option than to be green, sustainable and carbon-free. People worldwide come to terms with the immediate threat of global warming. If you do not choose to save the planet, you will have to change your priorities because it's the only way your business can stay at the top of your game.
Mark Macaulay points out why adapting to change is a necessity for construction companies:
The ones that won't adapt their business practices will come under increasing pressure from customers and will face damage to their reputation and commercial interests.
Adapting early can enable the development of new supply chain relationships, faster scaling-up of new products and processes, long-term cost reduction, enhanced reputation and ability to win work and attract the best staff.
Businesses without net-zero policy may find it increasingly harder to attract young talents, as the environmental awareness and desire for change is very strong among the youngest.
The industry has a significant part to play in ensuring the better future of upcoming generations and making sure that our home planet stays habitable and welcoming. This may be the biggest challenge humanity will have to face - let's make sure that we do everything we can to make the difference for the better.
Are you wondering how to make your company more sustainable?
Check out 5 ways to reduce your company's carbon footprint!
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