17 September 2021
Construction to take centre stage at COP26

As November approaches, the focus of the world turns to the climate change crisis that is becoming more urgent with every moment that passes.

In just a few short weeks, all eyes will be on Glasgow as Scotland hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (abbreviated to COP26). It is being touted as the most important climate summit since the 2015 Paris Agreement set out the landmark ambition to keep global warming from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. And, due to the location of the conference, particular attention will be paid to the UK’s own climate credentials.

What’s on the table?

According to the government’s COP26 Explained document on the official COP26 website, 70% of the global economy is now covered by net zero targets, up from 30% when the UK first took on the presidency of COP26. Therefore, world leaders will be using the conference to report back on their progress in fighting climate change since the Paris Agreement.

Secondly, despite over two weeks of tense negotiations and a conference that went two days over schedule in 2019, world leaders were unable to reach agreement on a number of key areas at COP25, which was held in Madrid under the presidency of Chile. Countries must also move forward with proposals for more ambitious goals to eliminate their contribution to climate change.

The role of the built environment

Both the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) and the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) have spoken up to remind the construction industry of its vital role as we approach this milestone on our journey to prevent climate disaster.

In May 2021, the UKGBC published an article on its website setting out its climate change commitments ahead of COP26. It said: “The built environment is fundamental to many of the themes of COP26. It has a critical role to play in mitigating climate change, responsible for 39% of energy related CO2 emissions.”

With this in mind, it sets out four main commitments:

  1. Developing a strong profile for the built environment at COP26 while positioning the built environment and the UK built environment industry as a key part of the solution.
  2. Using the driver of COP26 to leverage even greater industry leadership and commitment across the sector.
  3. Advocating for the strengthening of key elements of UK Government buildings policy.
  4. Providing opportunities and a platform for UKGBC members to engage with COP.

A focus on buildings and architecture

This year, the built environment certainly will have a stronger profile at COP26 than ever before. The conference will actually include a dedicated ‘Built Environment Day’ request from the World Green Building Council to COP26 president Alok Sharma. Sharma, who quit his role as business secretary to focus on his climate role full-time, confirmed its inclusion in a letter of response just before Christmas 2020. For the first time, the day will focus solely on emissions from buildings and cities, amid growing concerns that they have previously been neglected in efforts to tackle climate change.

So, what can construction expect?

The conference marks a unique opportunity for the construction sector, which has historically had a reputation of being slow to embrace technological advances and green solutions, to demonstrate its commitment to the vital task of combating climate change.

In addition, UKGBC will be launching its net zero whole-life carbon roadmap for the UK built environment, which was first announced in 2020. It will set out a science-based trajectory to 2050 for reducing built environment emissions, as well as setting clear carbon allowances, targets and actions for the sector. The draft roadmap was open for consultation until 15 August 2021, and invited the opinions of a wide range of stakeholders and professionals across the industry.

It is clear that the final roadmap, and indeed COP26 as a whole, presents a huge opportunity for the construction sector to really step up and make a difference at this crucial juncture.