The UK hosted the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow from 31 October to 13 November 2021, where JTP Architect, Louise Fields from JTP’s Edinburgh Studio had the incredible opportunity to attend a series of talks and presentations in the second week of the conference. In this Monologue, Louise discusses her reflections on the COP26 event and how the concepts and ideas that were raised could be applied into the built environment industry.
COP26 was a Conference of Parties event that brought together representatives from almost every country in the world to tackle climate change. In 2015 at COP21, every country agreed to work together, meeting every five years, to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably aiming for 1.5°C, adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and make finances available to deliver on these aims; this became known as the ‘Paris Agreement’.
COP26 was called a ‘unique urgency’ with the need to tackle climate change proving imminent. The key focus was that the world is falling significantly short of the target to reduce carbon emissions and limit the rising temperatures of the earth. Continuing at our current rate of emissions, the temperature of the earth will increase by a minimum of 2.4°C by 2050. The conference exposed the disastrous effect this will have on our environments and lives, with evidence provided of countries already suffering due to the nature of these changes.
Whilst highlighting the reality of the situation, the objectives of COP26 were heavily concentrated on the options for limiting and reducing carbon emissions, rather than accepting any defeat. These included:
- Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep a 1.5°C limit within reach
- Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
- Mobilise finance to deliver these solutions
- Work together to deliver solutions
The underlying message in every talk I attended was that, unfortunately, the scale of the problem is severe. Currently communities and countries are not doing nearly enough to achieve the global temperature change target and reduce the imminent effects that will ultimately ensue. In direct relation to the built environment and industry, we must change the way we construct buildings, seeing the value of material beyond cost. By this, we must consider each element involved in the design and construction process and think what impact sourcing or using certain materials will have on the future of all living things on earth.
Despite the gravity of the issues we face, the conference did include a lot of positive discussions and negotiations on strategies, technologies and systems we can employ and utilise to protect the earth, and in turn, improve our health and wellbeing.
Mario Lara Lederman from the contractor Lendlease, gave an incredibly positive summary of the actions his construction company have made to become the most carbon efficient contractor in Europe as part of the Cities, Industry, Finance discussion. Lendlease’s portfolio of projects prove that it is achievable to do larger scale projects through ‘clean construction’, and what was most inspiring to hear, was that the company seek only actively take on projects where their client’s aim for reduced carbon solutions and sustainable builds – and they are highly favoured across Europe due to this approach.
Another interesting talk was a very forward thinking initiative introduced by C40 Cities at COP26. C40 Cities is a network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities with the aim to deliver the urgent action needed right now to confront the climate crisis. Member cities earn their membership through action. Their mission is to halve the emissions of its member cities within a decade, while improving equity, building resilience, and creating the conditions for everyone, everywhere to thrive.
Paris is a member of C40 Cities. In a seminar, Dan Lert, Deputy Mayor of Paris described the financial incentives the City of Paris are undertaking to encourage owners and developers to renovate existing properties, rather than demolish. It is hoped this initiative will be a catalyst for France and roll out across multiple cities in the country.
All talks were delivered by specialists at the top of their field with the conclusion to each the same – there is still hope but we must act now. While we face a difficult reality, there are some real pioneers within the industry who we can take influence from. As a basic starting point, we must consider the thinking of ‘clean construction’ much in the same way we would think about ‘eating clean’.
As designers there are number of principles, we can implement within our designs that can have a significant impact on our carbon footprint.
- Design with the intent to specify products that reduce carbon emissions
- Use renewable heat sources for building operation
- Use local materials to build, reducing transportation
- Use carbon reduction calculators
The global climate and biodiversity emergencies faced across our industry cannot be tackled unless we alter the way we consider, design and construct buildings. As designers we need to champion a carbon-conscious approach at the heart of the design process and prioritise retrofit and reuse in direct opposition to the act of demolition.
In a period that is clouded by the escalating impacts of climate change on our planet, we should endeavour to advance our understanding and choices in the neighbourhoods and places we are designing. As such, in construction there should be greater consideration into placing value beyond cost, thinking more about the longer term impacts of a building product or material on the environment. These choices not only impact the immediate project we undertake but have longer, lasting implications on the health of the earth.
It is pivotal all designers progress in this manner and with this mindset to help cap the rising temperature of the earth and ensure a positive, lasting future for our environment. It is only when we have achieved the temperature limit of 1.5°C that we can truly build a more sustainable future for us all.