What does COP26 mean for the construction industry?

As the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) draws closer, industry figureheads have begun to discuss how the construction industry will be affected. What processes and initiatives will be implemented as a result of the Glasgow-based event, and how will they change our approach to project development?

 

Events of the past 18 months have alerted us all to acknowledge how fragile our relationship is with the places we call home, the friends we have, our families and how we make our living. As the impact of the pandemic hopefully draws to a close, there is much talk of learning from the past 18 months and debate about how the ‘new way’ will look. Whether it involves more working from home, more living remote from urban areas, less international business travel or more measured social contact, only time will tell. What is certain is that we have all discovered we have more flexibility. Flexibility over where we work, our quality of life and our ability to make decisions on important topics.

A lot has been written throughout the pandemic that challenges us to recognise how we can respond collectively to a major threat. Governments have stepped in, and individually we know we must follow the rules if we want to beat COVID. The climate crisis shares many of the characteristics of the pervasive virus. It has been an area of interest to scientists and politicians for all my working life and probably more. It has gradually gained airtime as the issues have become more pressing and the scientific evidence more clear-cut. The difference now is that governments are making long term promises, such as ‘Zero Carbon by 2050’, when in truth they will have long since died.

During the pandemic one of my areas of interest was to read more about the climate crisis and how this could be linked to the buildings that we help develop. My training as a mechanical and electrical engineer has taught about reducing energy consumption in buildings. This, in time, has become known as operational energy consumption and remains the domain of the engineers who design systems and must comply with a myriad of guidance and best practice.

As a project manager I am more interested in the embedded carbon that goes into the materials that we build from, and the way in which we plan to reuse those materials in the future. It also makes me want to reuse existing buildings rather than assume the future always involves demolition and new build. Similarly, there is an increased interest in enabling active travel (cycling and walking) and we have seen an increase in the conversation of car parking spaces into new facilities for bike storage, showers and electrical charging points.

COP26 has come at the right time. The next 10 years are critical. We need to change our approach to carbon reduction: if we don’t do more, we will be faced with a real reduction in the quality of life we currently enjoy. During the pandemic carbon emissions dropped by 6.4%. We need to achieve 7.6% to stay on course to limit a 1.5 deg C rise by 2030.

COP26 will be a place for governments to make statements about their commitment to the future. It will be a time when many pertinent issues are aired in the newspapers and on TV that will shock and surprise the public. But at least the general public will have a raised awareness in the UK. It will be a period when small fixes, planes that consume 10% less fuel for example, will be much in evidence. The challenge to individuals to incorporate step changes will undoubtedly continue – is the new car to be electric or a turbo-fuelled gas guzzler for example – but it will be interesting to hear what proposals governments will make for the large-scale interventions. Is the new car to be electric or a turbo fuelled gas guzzler?

In our work we are committed to leading and supporting initiatives that reduce carbon consumption.

At Ashfold we will

  • Lead by example
  • Introduce the principles of the circular economy on all our projects
  • Encourage design teams to use recycled and re purposed products where appropriate.
  • Encourage the sourcing of products locally, within 100km if possible.
  • Engage with other professional team members, contractors and suppliers to find mutual areas of change that can make a difference.
  • Avoid, where practical, use of fossil fuel for travel ie limit travel by plane

 

Further reading that we have found useful:

Design for a circular economy primer Mayor of London
Reducing UK emissions: Progress Report to Parliament Committee on Climate Change
Doughnut Economics Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist Kate Raworth
Let my people go surfing the education of a reluctant Businessman Yvon Chouinard
Loved Clothes Last Orsola de Castro.
Go Big How to fix our world Ed Miliband.
Winning slowly is the same as loosing Bill McKibben Rolling Stone December 1st, 2017