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COP26 and the Built Environment

On 11 November, 2021, a group of business and government networks, focused on sustainability in the built environment, are scheduled to come together at the UN’s annual COP26 climate conference to discuss how the built environment can help in accelerating climate action. COP26 will take place at the SEC Centre in Glasgow. This is the first time that an entire day has been dedicated to discussing the emissions of the built environment. The event will bring together and promote collaboration between all stakeholders in the built environment towards sustainability by promoting awareness, action and collaboration. This comes to address the growing concern that the sector responsible for around 40% of the carbon emissions, has been neglected in the climate change action plan.

Cities, Regions and the Built Environment

Currently, almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions come from buildings and 50% come from all extracted materials. It is predicted that by 2050, about 1.6 billion urban dwellers will have to deal with extreme high temperatures, and over 800 million people across 570 cities will be at risk of sea-level rise and coastal flooding.

By that time, the world’s building stock will have doubled as 70% of the global population is expected to live in urban areas. By 2060, the use of global materials is expected to more than double and a third of this will be due to the various materials used in the building and construction industry. The natural resources required for the built environment have the power to accelerate climate change and lead to a negative impact on the health and well-being of human beings. Hence, it is even more important to focus on building efficient and sustainable buildings. Energy efficient buildings can be considered as one of the biggest investment opportunities and is estimated to reach USD $24.7 trillion by 2030. Despite this growing industry, out of every $100 spent on new construction, less than $3 goes to efficient buildings.

As mentioned in the Paris Agreement, countries need to limit global warming to no more than 1.5℃ and in order to reach this goal, emissions from buildings need to be reduced to 50% by 2030 and to net zero life-cycle emissions by 2050. It is essential for those involved in the built environment to work together towards solutions and policy pathways so that these goals can be met.

Another important topic that is to be discussed on this built environment day is the creation of net-zero buildings. Net-zero buildings are those which do not contribute any net carbon emissions to the atmosphere through embodied carbon emitted by the construction supply chain or while the building is in use. To achieve this, it is important to engage investors, developers and architects and encourage them to create solutions that help the industry towards this path.

Architects and Low Carbon Solutions

According to the UN climate champion Nigel Topping, architecture is among the least well-represented sectors in the race towards net zero and more action is required from architects. Architects have been among the slowest to sign up for the UN's Race to Zero initiative and the UN is working hard to change this. In order to achieve the set decarbonisation goals for the industry, participation and collaboration from all stakeholders in the industry is essential.

The goal of the Race to Zero campaign by the UN is to get about 20% percent of companies across each sector of the economy to commit to the same goal. Other activities discussing zero-carbon buildings and changing of policy demands include the Built Environment Summit at RIBA in London.